Rajapaksa concedes defeat, UNF claims victory

Colombo (IANS): Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was on Tuesday set to take oath again after leading his UNF to a victory in parliamentary elections, defeating the opposition led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa who conceded defeat.

“Let us together build a civilized society, build a consensual government and create a new country with equal opportunities for everybody,” Wickremesinghe said as results from Monday’s keenly fought battle for 225 parliament seats showed the United National Front inching towards a win.

Election officials said Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP), the main constituent of the UNF, had got 93 seats to the 83 of United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) of Rajapaksa.

UNP leaders expressed confidence that it would reach the figure of 113 MPs needed to form the next government with the help of smaller parties.

Minister Karu Jayasuriya, who led the election campaign for his party, said the UNF was confident of winning 105-107 seats and secure the help of friendly parties to take office, the media reported.

“We intend to keep our promises and develop the country,” UNP leader John Amaratunga said after netting the Gampaha seat. He said Wickremesinghe would take oath as prime minister later on Tuesday.

It is the first time in 14 years the UNP wrested Gampaha, indicating a major mood swing in the country where Rajapaksa reigned supreme for over a decade until his dramatic loss in the presidential election in January.

Referring to that election when Maithripala Sririsena defeated Rajapaksa after quitting his cabinet and revolting against him, Wickremesinghe said he planned to “continue the January 8 revolution”.

A sombre Rajapaksa conceded defeat in Monday’s elections.

“My dream of becoming the prime minister has faded away,” Rajapaksa told AFP. “I am conceding we have lost a good fight.”

The former president also told his aides that he expected Wickremesinghe to lure some of his MPs to cobble a majority in parliament.

Election officials said the UNP had bagged 11 of the 22 districts from where results were available. The UPFA had won eight while the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main Tamil party, finished on top in three districts in parts of the Tamil-majority northeastern province.

The UPFA’s victories came from Sinhalese-majority areas including Hambantota, the bastion of the Rajapaksa family. But the UNF made inroads in districts where Rajapaksa had the upper hand in the January contest.

The main battle was between the UNF led by Wickremesinghe and the UPFA, which had Rajapaksa as its main candidate although its leadership is with President Sirisena.

Both Jaffna and Vanni districts, which saw thousands of deaths in the end stages of armed conflict that ended in 2009, voted for the TNA, which is expected to ally with Wickremesinghe, media reports said.

Wickremesinghe urged Sri Lankans not to divide themselves as winners and losers and work together as one family for the betterment of Sri Lanka and to introduce a new political culture to the country.

He said in a statement that people had given a mandate for good governance and consensus-based politics.

President Sirisena showed he intended to take control of the UPFA when he sacked, after the polling ended on Monday, several key leaders known to be close to Rajapaksa and replaced them with his loyalists.