18 August 2015


Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, center, gestures outside a polling station after casting his vote in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. Sri Lankans voted in Parliamentary elections on Monday that will decide the political future of a former strongman leader seeking a comeback eight months after being unseated in a shocking election defeat.
Sri Lanka's former strongman leader narrowly leads in early parliamentary elections results Tuesday as he awaits a verdict on his come-back bid eight months after being unseated in a shocking election loss.

Mahinda Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance has won 21 of the 225 seats in results released so far from Monday's vote, while his closest rival sitting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's United National Party has won 20.

Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's leader for nine years until his Jan. 8 presidential election defeat to a former ally, was running for prime minister, a position that is second to that of president.

However, he faces a daunting hurdle because his party leader and the man who beat him in the presidential election, Maithripala Sirisena, who has vowed not to appoint him prime minister even if he secures a majority.

If Rajapaksa does win a majority it is likely to result in a protracted power struggle, with his loyalists likely to pressure Sirisena to appoint him prime minister.

Since the presidential election loss, there has been a reversal of fortunes for Rajapaksa, his family and friends, who were once all powerful controllers of the island nation. Some of them now face investigations or lawsuits for corruption, misuse of power and even murder.

Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said the election was incident-free other than some minor complaints.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said 35 people were arrested countrywide for election law violations.

Rajapaksa was hailed a warrior king for defeating the Tamil Tiger separatists to end a nearly 26-year civil war. But he is accused of using his popularity to take control of Parliament, the courts, the armed forces and all government institutions.

He was also accused of widespread human rights abuses and suppressing freedoms.

Rajapaksa had been seeking an extended period of rule after abolishing a two-term limit for presidents when he lost in his attempt to win a third term.

Rajapaksa's main rival in Monday's election was the incumbent, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a two-time prime minister.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who was Rajapaksa's health minister and is now the party leader, was backing Wickremesinghe, with whom he formed an alliance in the January election after breaking away from Rajapaksa's government.

Sirisena recently sent a letter to Rajapaksa, which he also released to the media, saying he would not appoint him prime minister even if he secures a majority in Parliament.

In a move Monday to weaken Rajapaksa, Sirisena suspended several Rajapaksa loyalists from his party's executive committee.

Sri Lanka's Parliament has 225 members, so any party or coalition must win at least 113 seats to form a government.