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Ruling coalition leads in Sri Lankan elections

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[April 20, 2010]  COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- Sri Lanka's ruling coalition led in early results Friday from parliamentary elections in which President Mahinda Rajapaksa is seeking to strengthen his grip on power by gaining the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution.

Elections Department results showed that Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance had won 35 of the 225 seats in Thursday's voting, while the main opposition United National Front had won 13. About 20 percent of the results had been released, and the full vote count was not expected before evening.

Nevertheless, the government was quick to claim victory for Rajapaksa's coalition.

"We have already won this election," Information Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said. "People have given the president a strong Parliament as never before."

The other opposition coalition led by former army chief Sarath Fonseka -- Rajapaksa's main challenger in the January presidential poll -- had yet to win a seat. Fonseka is under detention and facing a court-martial on allegations he planned his political career while still in uniform.


Rajapaksa remains a hero among the country's Sinhalese majority for leading last year's victory over ethnic Tamil rebels, and many voters hope he can bring postwar development and reconciliation to the country after a quarter-century of civil conflict.

A two-thirds parliamentary majority would allow Rajapaksa's party to change the constitution to allow a president to serve more than two terms. The opposition fears Rajapaksa will try to remain in power past the end of his second term in 2017.

Opponents also 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.

After Fonseka was arrested, a broad opposition coalition created for the presidential election consisting of the former army chief's party and the United National Front broke apart.

The United National Front said it wanted to contest the elections alone. However, its head, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, faces a leadership challenge and party disunity after a series of election losses.

Election monitors reported a low turnout Thursday, but the elections office said it can't confirm the voting percentage until the final result is released.

The coalition headed by Rajapaksa held 128 seats in the outgoing 225-member Parliament. A key issue confronting the new government will be how to reconcile with the Tamil community following the end of the civil war.

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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.

The opposition has accused the ruling party of illegally using government resources for propaganda and harassment of opposition supporters during the election campaign.

The Elections Department has annulled the results from 38 of the country's more than 11,000 polling stations and ordered a revote there after reports of intimidation and fraud, election official Bandula Kulatunga said.

Final official results will not be announced until the revote is held, although it will not significantly affect the outcome.


The Center for Monitoring Election Violence, an independent poll monitoring group, reported scattered irregularities. It said the home of a ruling party supporter in the south was shot at but no one was wounded.

Buses carrying Tamils displaced during the civil war were blocked from traveling to polling stations in the north, and police prevented Tamils from voting in the eastern district of Trincomalee, the group said.


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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