Sri Lanka's Rajapaksas win super-majority, cement grip on power

By: AFP      Published: 12:45 PM, 7 Aug, 2020
Sri Lanka's Rajapaksas win super-majority, cement grip on power

Sri Lanka's ruling Rajapaksa brothers have secured a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections, giving them powers to change the constitution and unravel democratic safeguards, final results showed Friday.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) won 145 seats and can also count on the support of at least five allies in the 225-member legislature, according to final results.

Rajapaksa, 74, and his brother Gotabaya, 71, who was elected president in November, needed to secure a super-majority to carry out their promised roll-back of constitutional changes.

With two-thirds of votes in parliament, they can overturn the reforms made by the previous administration aimed at decentralising power and preventing the rise of another strongman.

Observers say the siblings -- renowned for their ruthless crushing of Tamil separatist rebels to end a decades-old conflict in 2009 -– want to end presidential term limits, bring the judiciary and police under their direct control, and extend their dynastic power to a new generation.

Official results showed the party received 6.8 million of the votes cast in Wednesday's election, which was twice postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Turnout was more than 75 percent of the 16.2-million-strong electorate.

SLPP stalwart Udaya Gammanpila said the victory was far greater than anticipated.

"We expected a win, a spectacular win, but not this big a victory," Gammanpila told reporters.     

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Mahinda Rajapaksa to congratulate him.

In a tweet, Mahinda Rajapaksa said he looked forward to working closely with Modi and added that the two countries were "friends and relations".

- 'The Terminator' - 

The Rajapaksa family has dominated Sri Lankan politics for the past two decades. 

Mahinda was president from 2005 to 2015 but was ousted after a revolt within his own party and a public backlash against alleged nepotism and corruption.

Gotabaya -- a former army officer dubbed "The Terminator" by his own family -- won comfortably in November's presidential election, running on a law-and-order ticket while capitalising on government infighting.

He swiftly appointed Mahinda as his prime minister.

Since then, Sri Lankans have largely embraced the family's populist platform, with the brothers riding a nationalist wave that followed Easter bombings in 2019 by Muslim radicals in which 279 people were killed.

The brothers are also viewed as heroes by the country's Sinhalese majority for orchestrating a ruthless military campaign to end a decades-long Tamil separatist war in 2009 when Mahinda was president and his brother a key figure in the military.

- Decimated -

This week's election has left the splintered opposition decimated. Former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe lost his constituency, and his party, which had 106 seats in the outgoing parliament, was reduced to just one seat.

A breakaway faction from Wickremesinghe's party headed by the son of assassinated president Ranasinghe Premadasa, Sajith, got 20 percent of the vote and was a distant second with 54 seats.

A total of 196 seats in the 225-member house were decided on district proportional representation while the remaining 29 were decided on the basis of votes polled nationwide.

The moderate Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which had 16 seats in the outgoing parliament also suffered badly and was left with just 10 seats in the new assembly, which is due to sit on August 20.

A leftist party that had six seats earlier was down to three after Wednesday's vote. Former cricket World Cup-winning skipper Arjuna Ranatunga also lost his seat.

Huge economic challenges await the new parliament. On Wednesday, official figures showed economic growth fell 1.6 percent in the first quarter of this year while the Asian Development Bank forecast a 6.1 percent contraction of the economy this year.