Sri Lankan president's governing coalition secures stunning victory in local polls
Fri March 31, 2006 08:13 EST .
DILIP GANGULY - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lanka - 's ruling coalition won an overwhelming victory in local elections, according to results released by the government a win seen as an endorsement of the president's negotiations with Tamil Tiger rebels.
President Mahinda Rajapakse's United Peoples' Freedom Alliance won majorities in 212 out of 249 local councils where results were declared, the Government Information Department said Friday. The main opposition group won 29 seats, and minor parties won the other eight seats.
Remaining results for 17 councils were expected Saturday, the department said. Elections in the north and east where the Tigers operate have been postponed until Sept. 30 due to security concerns.
The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 to create a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils, accusing the majority Sinhalese of discrimination. More than 65,000 people were killed before a 2002 cease-fire, now under threat due to rising violence.
Rajapakse says he wants to go ahead with the talks and come to a settlement. Others oppose concessions to the rebels.
``Sri Lankans have clearly endorsed his policies, especially his handling of the peace process,'' said Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council, an independent think tank.
Controlling the councils which deal with the day-to-day affairs of towns and clusters of villages will provide Rajapakse with a power base for future parliamentary and presidential elections.
Most of the councils were previously held by the United National Party, which is now the opposition.
Rajapakse heads a minority government in the federal Parliament. The present Parliament began in April 2004 for a term of up to six years, but the president can order new elections to try to secure a majority.
Over 10 million people were eligible to vote Thursday in the elections for 266 local councils. Turnout was about 50 percent, the information department said.
Recent violence has threatened the government-rebel truce brokered by Norway in February 2002.
More than 166 people, including 87 government security personnel, have been killed since December in violence blamed mostly on the rebels.
Both sides agreed in Geneva, Switzerland, last month to scale down violence and meet again for talks next month.
Rajapakse says he wants to go ahead with the talks and come to a settlement, but the Marxist allies in his coalition are opposed to any major concessions to the rebels.
Discuss this story
Published: Fri Mar 31 09:43:43 EST 2006