Sri Lanka's ruling coalition wins elections

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ruling coalition has won Sri Lanka's first postwar parliamentary elections further consolidating his political dominance after the battlefield defeat of the Tamil Tigers last year.

Friday's victory follows Rajapaksa's re-election in presidential polls three months ago. Despite opposition allegations the president wants to monopolize power, he is a hero to many of the country's Sinhalese majority hoping for a new era of development and reconciliation.

The Election Department said Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance so far has won 117 of the 225 seats contested in Thursday's polls. Its tally was expected to rise.

A party must win 113 seats to get a simple majority and form a government.

Rajapaksa called the results a "triumph of democracy."

"It is a clear restatement of the confidence the people placed in me," he said in a statement.

It remains unclear whether Rajapaksa's coalition can secure the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution — which could open the way for an amendment to allow the president to serve beyond the end of his second term in 2017.

The closest rival, the United National Front, has so far won 46 seats.

"It's a personal victory for the president," Jehan Perera of National Peace Council activist group said of the election result. "It's a very big majority ... What it means is that the voters have given the government a blank check."

Another opposition party led by defeated presidential candidate and former army chief Sarath Fonseka — who is currently under detention awaiting court-martial — has won five seats, the Election Department said. Party official Vijitha Herath said Fonseka won one of the seats.

A party of the ethnic Tamil minority received 12 seats from its stronghold in the northeast, the department said.

So far, results for only 180 seats have been declared.

The department suspended releasing results for 16 seats after it annulled votes from 38 voting stations in two districts and called for a revote. A date for the revote is yet to be announced.

Another 29 seats are allocated according to the percentage of the vote each party gets.

Rajapaksa's coalition held 128 seats in the outgoing 225-member Parliament.

United National Front official Tissa Attanayake cried foul over the elections but acknowledged his party had suffered a setback.

He said the government illegally used government resources for the campaign and employed violence and intimidation during the campaign and on election day.

"We are of the view that the party should undergo reforms," he said, without elaborating.

The front's leader, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has long faced criticism from his own party members for a series of election defeats.

Despite reportedly winning a seat, it was also a disappointing showing for Fonseka who, before January's presidential election, was seen as the only true challenger to Rajapaksa's dominance.

Soon after his presidential defeat, Fonseka was arrested and he is awaiting court-martial on allegations he planned his political career while still in uniform.

Opponents accuse Rajapaksa of stifling dissent, encouraging cronyism and corruption and trying to establish a family dynasty. Two of Rajapaksa's brothers and a son are running for Parliament.

A key issue confronting the new government will be how to reconcile with the Tamil community following the end of the civil war.

Rajapaksa has yet to follow through on his promise to discuss a power-sharing deal with the Tamils, more than 200,000 of whom remain displaced by the war.

For Tamils, who make up 18 percent of the population and claim persecution by the Sinhalese, the election was an opportunity to choose a new voice for their community, which was dominated by the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels for three decades.


Associated Press reporter Bharatha Mallawarachi contributed to this report.