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Sri Lanka - 2010 General Election

The presidential elections were soon followed by a large victory for Rajapaksas UPFA coalition in April 2010 parliamentary elections, where it captured 144 out of 225 seats possible, just shy of a two-thirds majority. The remaining parliamentary seats were secured by the United National Front (60), the Tamil National Alliance (14), and the Democratic National Alliance (7).

The April 2010 elections were the first to be held after the end of the 26 year armed conflict in May 2009 when the army defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels and killed their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. The rebels, known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), had been fighting for a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka's north and east. More than 70,000 people were killed and thousands more displaced during the civil war. Tamils make up 12 per cent of the country's 21 million inhabitants, while the majority Sinhalese account for 75 per cent.

In the previous elections held in April 2004, the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), led by the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga the daughter of two former prime ministers won 105 of the 225 seats at stake. The United National Party (UNP), led by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, took 82 seats. A row between Ms. Kumaratunga and Wickramasinghe over how to handle peace talks with the LTTE had triggered the early elections in 2004. The Lanka Tamil State Party (ITAK), comprising candidates loyal to the LTTE, came in third with 22 seats. The remainder went to small parties. Following the elections, Mahinda Rajapakse (UPFA) was sworn in as new Prime Minister.

In November 2005, Rajapaske defeated Wickramasinghe in the presidential polls. The newly elected President expanded the size of the cabinet - comprising nearly 110 ministerial and deputy ministerial posts - in an apparent bid to secure a majority in Parliament.

A ceasefire agreement had been in place since 2002, although there were regular violations. These reached a climax in July 2006 when the LTTE closed the sluice gate of Mavil Aru Anicut, which irrigates paddy fields in the Eastern Province, depriving thousands of farmers of a source of income and livelihood. The Government launched a military campaign against the LTTE and in January 2008, announced its intention to withdraw formally from the truce, accusing the LTTE of repeatedly breaking the agreement. Intense military operations continued until the end of the war in May 2009.

In November, General Sarath Fonseka, who had led the military operation against the LTTE, retired from the military to run for presidential elections. The relationship between the President and the former general worsened as Fonseka was accused of trying to stage a coup against President Rajapakse.

In the early presidential elections held on 25 January 2010, President Rajapakse (UPFA) defeated Fonseka. The latter, representing the New Democratic Front (NDF) of Ms. Shamila Perera, was also backed by the UNP and the People's Liberation Front (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, JVP). After the presidential elections, the JVP tried to form an electoral alliance for the parliamentary polls with the NDF and the UNP. After these attempts failed, the JVP subsequently formed the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) on its own under the leadership of Fonseka.

On 8 February, Fonseka was arrested by the military police to answer two court martial charges of corruption and illegal engagement in politics before he had retired from the military - allegations which he denied. The following day, President Rajapakse dissolved parliament and called early elections for 8 April. The term of the outgoing legislature had been due to end on 21 April. On 9 March, Parliament was reconvened for a special session and extended the state of emergency by another month, until election day. The UNP and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA, considered to be close to the LTTE) voted against the extension of emergency rule, on the basis of the Prevention of Terrorism Act enacted in 1979.

A total of 7,620 candidates from 36 parties and 301 independent candidates were vying for seats in the 2010 polls. They included two brothers and a son of the President. The main contenders included the UPFA, the UNP and the DNA. Two parties that represent descendants of Indian Tamils brought to Sri Lanka by the colonial authorities - the Ceylon Workers Congress and the Upcountry People's Front - ran under the UPFA banner. The UNP formed an electoral coalition, the United National Front (UNF), with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), which had won five seats in the 2004 polls. This coalition was led by former Prime Minister Wickramasinghe.

Shortly before the elections, President Rajapakse (UPFA) announced that he would drastically trim the list of ministries and hinted that he might amend the Constitution without specifying which articles would be modified. In one rally, he mentioned that he wished to re establish the first past the post system to replace the proportional representation system, which had been established in 1978. The UPFA promised to provide more jobs and work for rural and agricultural development.

The UNP led UNF opposed any constitutional changes, which in their view could threaten democracy and promote authoritarianism. It argued that President Rajapakse was trying to remain in power beyond 2017, when his second term ends. It accused the President of trying to establish dynasty politics. The UNF advocated electoral reform, pledging to reduce the legislative term from six to five years. It also promised to raise civil servants' salaries.

The DNA ran on an anti-corruption platform and pledged to work towards national reconciliation. Although Fonseka was running for a parliamentary seat in the capital Colombo, the Supreme Court had not announced whether the candidate in custody would actually be allowed to take up a parliamentary seat. Both the UNF and the DNA pledged to free Fonseka if they won a parliamentary majority. The TNA, which also supported Fonseka's liberation, was reportedly losing ground to other Tamil parties.

The government deployed nearly 80,000 police and soldiers to provide security during the voting. The turnout at the elections amounted to 61.26% of the total of 14 million registered voters. The Department of Elections invalidated the results of two polling stations in Kandy and Trincomalee districts, where elections were repeated on 20 April.

The government invited the Commonwealth of Nations and other international organizations to send election observers, but few international observers agreed to be present for the January presidential election. Several local elections observer organizations monitored the campaign and election day. This was the first island-wide election since the end of the war, and although participation in some northern areas was low compared with the rest of the island, it was significantly higher than during the 2005 presidential election, when the LTTE enforced a boycott of the polls in areas under its control.

A number of violent incidents occurred during the campaign period, with five deaths connected to election-related violence, but there were few reported incidents of election-related violence or election law violations on election day. However, independent observers reported countless violations of election law by the president's ruling coalition and, to a lesser extent, by the main opposition parties during the weeks leading up to election day. The president's ruling coalition was accused of massive use of state resources in support of the president's campaign, including the repeated use of official vehicles, offices, and personnel to hold campaign events and to conduct voter education efforts that favored the president.

The final results gave 144 seats to the UPFA, six short of a two thirds majority. The UNP led UNF came in a distant second with 60 seats. The TNA and the JVP led DNA took 14 and seven seats respectively.




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