Sri Lanka polls: Rajapaksa brothers heading for landslide

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s powerful and popular Rajapaksa brothers were heading to a landslide victory in the country’s Parliamentary election, according to results released by the elections commission Friday.

The vote could enable them to change the constitution and strengthen dynastic rule.

The Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka People’s Front had won resoundingly in 16 out of the 17 district results released past midnight. Results of five more districts were yet to be released. Out of the 225 seats in Parliament, the People’s Front had secured 112.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is most likely to be sworn in the same position by his younger brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

“Sri Lanka People’s Front has secured a resounding victory according to official results released so far,” Gotabaya said in a Twitter message. “It is by belief that that the expectation to have a Parliament that will enable the implementation of my ‘vision for prosperity’ policy will be reality tomorrow.” he said.

The brothers need 150 seats or a control of two-thirds of seats in Parliament to be able to change the constitution. However, analysts say any attempt by Gotabaya to push for changes that will strengthen presidential power at the expense of those of the prime minister may trigger sibling rivalry.

Sri Lanka had been ruled by powerful executive presidents since 1978. But a 2015 constitutional amendment strengthened Parliament and the prime minister and put independent commissions in charge of judiciary appointments, police, public services and the conduct of elections.

Gotabaya was elected president last November after projecting himself as the only leader who could secure the country after the Islamic State-inspired bombings of churches and hotels on Easter Sunday that killed 269 people. Since being elected, he has said he had to function under many restrictions because of the constitutional changes.

However, Mahinda is unlikely to give away any of his powers that might result in his influence shrinking in promoting his son Namal as his heir. Namal and three other members of the Rajapaksa family contested the election and are likely to control key functions in the new administration.

The victory also raises fears of weakening government institutions such as independent commissions for elections, police and public service.

The election was held in Wednesday. But the counting of votes started Thursday as the election commission laid much emphasis on following health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

More than 70 percent of the over 16 million people cast their votes to elect 196 lawmakers, with the rest being named from a national list according to the number of votes received by each party or independent group.

The election was originally scheduled for April, but it was twice postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sri Lanka has largely contained the spread of the virus with 2,839 confirmed cases, including 11 deaths.

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