The local election results in Sri Lanka created an unexpected political storm in the country. The landslide victory marked by Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s newly established political party ‘People’s Front’ (Podu Jana Peramuna) has disorientated the two main political parties of the island.
However, local elections were delayed for a longer period due to various reasons. According to the election commissioner of Sri Lanka Mahinda Deshapriya, 8326 local councillors have been elected from this election for 24 municipal councils, 41 urban councils and 275 Pradeshiya Sabhas (Local councils) which represent the third tier of the legislative body of Sri Lanka. Moreover, this year local elections were marked by guaranteeing 25% representation of women in each council, and also significantly, it is the first time Sri Lanka followed a mixed electoral model whereby 60 % of the members are elected by the first-past-the-post system and the rest through Closed List Proportional Representation.
Throughout the election campaign the two main political parties in Sri Lanka (The United National Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party) were driven by the usual political slogans and the tactic of criticising one another. This was worsened when Maithripala Sirisenathe, the Sri Lankan president began to criticise his own Prime Minister Ranil Wickremaisnghe and his government for the Central Bank bond scam and for not investigating the alleged corruption charges of various figures in former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime.
Somewhat ironically, none of the charges have been proven by law thus far which has given a sense of resentment to the masses in the rural heartland of Sri Lanka where the former president is regarded as an icon. More importantly the government’s lethargic or rather stagnant concern over the economic development in Sri Lanka has palpably caused a detrimental impact via the unexpected comeback of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s newly formed party against all odds.
The famous “Nugegoda Rally” which was organised by Dinesh Gunawardena just weeks after former president Rajapaksa’s defeat as the presidential candidate brought a mass of people in support of the former president. This was the beginning of a comeback which garnered popular support. At the same time, the joint opposition in parliament led by Dinesh Gunawardena, galvanised the organisational factors to set the ground for the victory of the “People’s Front” in a heavy margin.
In examining the election results it is a salient factor that still, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa upholds his tremendous popularity in the Southern part of the island mainly among the Sinhalese masses in the rural areas. Rajapaksa’s newly established party People’s Front emerged victorious with an overall average of 44.65% and secured the power of 249 local governing bodies out of 340. Current Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe’s United National Party obtained an average of 32.63% after upholding the power of 42 local governing bodies. Interestingly the party led by the current Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena, experienced a crushing defeat.
Above all, the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa is not the leader or even a member of this newly established political party, Sri Lanka People’s Front. However, his open support of it in contesting the local elections of 2018 and his charismatic public facade appear to be the most obvious reasons behind the groundbreaking success of the party .