Counting for Sri Lanka’s parliamentary polls began on July 6, Thursday. The elections for 196 seats in the 225-seat legislature were held on Wednesday after being postponed twice. The remaining 29 members will be part of a National List. Nearly 71% of the country’s 16.2 million voters exercised their franchise.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s older brother, 74-year-old Mahinda Rajapaksa, who played a vital role in the presidential campaign last November, is predicted to lead his party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to victory.
Mahinda enjoys the support of the influential Sinhalese Buddhist clergy and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Mahinda Rajapaksa was president from 2005-2015. His rule saw a brutal conclusion to the decades-long civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure was marked by massive human rights violations, with the minority Tamil community facing repression. He was defeated after his former allies and opponents came together to form a grand coalition in 2015. However, this coalition has fractured with some sections resuming support for him. The main opposition party, the United National Party of former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, suffered a split with its former deputy leader Sajith Premadasa forming the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (United People’s Front).
The final results are expected to be announced late on Thursday night.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory will bolster president Gotabaya’s power. Since the COVID-19 outbreak in Sri Lanka in March, the government headed by Gotabaya has been accused of further militarizing the country, especially by recruiting retired military officers, who have become critical personnel under the present dispensation. In the event of a decisive victory, the brothers may try to repeal the 19th Constitutional Amendment which reduces the powers of the president. The amendment was passed after the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015.
Gotabaya has been accused of crushing political dissent and cracking down on activists, human rights groups, journalists and members of the minority community. The Samagi Jana Balawegaya party, headed by Premadasa, has expressed apprehensions that Sri Lanka might turn into an “autocracy” if more power gets “invested in the presidency”.