Sri Lanka's ruling coalition has recorded a landslide victory in the local council election held Thursday, strengthening the governemnt's hand in peace negotiations with the rebel Tamil Tigers.
The United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won nearly 85 percent of the councils by winning 225 of the 266 local councils on offer in the final results announced here Friday night by the Department of Elections.
The main opposition United National Party (UNP) which was defending almost 95 of the councils could win only 33 of them, while the main Tamil minority political party, the Tamil National Alliance, won control of five councils.
The main left party, the JVP or the People's Liberation Front, which broke away from the ruling alliance to contest the local election independently, retained their solitary council which they won in the previous election held in 2002.
Two other groups won one council each while the all Buddhist Monk party of the JHU failed to win a single council.
Analysts said the results strengthens Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse's hand in peace negotiations with the Tamil Tigers because the JVP and the nationalist Buddhist monk party, both taking a hard line stance, did not enjoy favor among the electorate.
Since winning the presidential election last November, Rajapakse has softened his stance on the ethnic issue to sustain peace talks which is vital to avert a return to a war that killed more than 64,000 people before a cease-fire agreement was signed in 2002.
The progressing of the peace process will to a large extent determine how much foreign investors will stake on a 20 billion U. S. dollar economy struggling to recover from the tsunami in 2004.
Nimal Siripala De Silva, the minister of health and the chief government negotiator at the peace talks with the Tamil Tiger rebels, said the local election result was an endorsement of President Rajapakse's peace policy.
Tissa Attanayake, the UNP spokesman, said that his party had fared well as the voter enthusiasm was at a low since the election was not of any significance at the national level politics.
He said the low voter turnout reflected this view and a majority of voters who had stayed away from the polling station were those who would have voted for his party in a crucial election.
The Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake told reporters earlier in the day that voter turnout was between 60 to 63 percent, compared with usually high polling in the Indian Ocean island country of over 75 percent.
The polling were made in about 8,829 centers to elect 3,624 members to 266 local government authorities comprising 12 municipal councils for large towns, 34 urban councils for smaller towns and 220 pradesiya sabahs for rural areas.
A total of 11,037,763 voters were eligible to elect their members from about 25,523 candidates fielded by political parties and independent groups.
More local elections are to follow as Dissanayake postponed the elections for the councils in the war battered north and east by six months until Sept. 30.
For another 22 councils affected by court rulings on technical deficiencies in accepting nominations, Dissanayake said those elections would take place as soon as practically possible.