Sri Lanka’s uneasy coalition faces local vote test

COLOMBO (AFP) – Polling was under way in Sri Lanka yesterday to elect local councils in what is seen as a crucial mid-term test for the uneasy coalition of President Maithripala Sirisena.

The election heightened tensions between President Sirisena and his senior coalition partner, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, as they campaigned separately for their respective parties amid a growing rift between the two men.

The vote, the first to be conducted by the newly-established independent Election Commission, was the most peaceful in decades, private monitors said, adding there were no campaign-related deaths.

“The gravity and the scale of incidents reported so far is nothing compared to what we have seen in recent decades,” the Campaign for Free and fair elections chief Keerthi Tennakoon said.

“Police have also enforced the law without taking sides to make this the most peaceful election in decades.”

Police said nearly 900 minor incidents were reported during a two-month campaign period and 65 candidates were arrested for violating election laws.

Sirisena was backed by Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) in January 2015 to topple the government of strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse.

But since then their alliance has fractured, with Sirisena publicly accusing the UNP of being more corrupt than the ousted Rajapakse regime.

A Sri Lankan voter leaves after casting her ballot at a polling station in Colombo yesterday. The poll to elect 340 local government bodies across the country is seen as a key mid-term test for the coalition government of President Maithripala Sirisena. – AFP