Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition wins majority of Parliament seats

Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition sailed to victory by winning more than half the Parliament’s seats in this week’s elections, poll officials said Friday, boosting its power and setting off a massive celebration.

A key question amid all the backslapping and victory cheers, however, is what the government will do with the impressive mandate.

Although the showing by President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance fell short of the two-thirds majority it sought after winning a quarter-century civil war last year, the coalition came close by securing 60% of the vote and 117 of the 225 seats in the Parliament.

Several polling centers reported alleged irregularities that have triggered some recounting. And the official results are not expected for a couple of weeks. But Rajapaksa’s government was pleased with the numbers and is still expected to reach the two-thirds target by persuading opposition members to cross the aisle.

A question for some analysts, however, is whether Rajapaksa will use his expanded grip to tackle the country’s many issues, including political reform, economic revitalization, corruption and the need for reconciliation between Tamils and Sinhalese.

Two-thirds is a significant benchmark because it allows the administration to amend the constitution without worrying about first securing a consensus. The opposition is concerned that Rajapaksa might seek a constitutional change that would allow him to run for a third term in six years.

Some analysts expressed concern that a mandate for the ruling coalition could work against national unity in the postwar period.

“We need an inclusive and consensual decision-making process,” political analyst Sathivale Balakrishnan said. “My fear is whether this opportunity is going to be lost because of this two-thirds majority.”

Thursday’s general election was the first since the military defeated the Tamil Tigers, known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The rebels battled for a separate state for ethnic Tamils in the Sinhalese-majority nation.

Herath is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Mark Magnier contributed to this report.