Sri Lanka's ruling party widens lead in polls

Last Updated: Fri, Apr 09, 2010 03:10 hrs

Sri Lanka's ruling party is well ahead of the fractured opposition in parliamentary elections which had the country's lowest ever turnout, early results showed Friday.

President Mahinda Rajapakse's United People's Freedom Alliance secured 62.14 percent, pushing the main opposition United National Party to a distant second place with 27.32 percent of the vote when a fifth of the ballots were counted.

The leftist democratic National Alliance of ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka was trailing with just 5.32 percent of the vote, early results from the department of elections showed.

Transport Minister Dullas Alahaperuma said the trend suggested the ruling party would be able to comfortably form a government of their own in the 225-member parliament, where they currently have 126 members with the support of opposition defectors.

"This is a resounding endorsement of the programme of the president. We should end up with at least 138 seats," Alahaperuma told AFP.

However, the turnout of Thursday's ballot was expected to be between 50 to 55 percent of the country's 14 million voters which would make it the parliamentary poll with the lowest voter participation.

The previous low was 63 percent when Sinhalese militants and Tamil rebels attempted to sabotage the 1989 elections by killing dozens of candidates, their supporters and election officials.

Alahaperuma admitted that the turnout Thursday was dismal, but blamed the opposition for the voter apathy.

"The opposition failed to get their supporters to the polling booth," Alahaperuma said. "It was clear from the start that the government was going to win. Even our supporters did not go out in numbers because they knew there was no threat to the government."

Rajapakse, who won re-election in January, called the parliamentary elections two months ahead of schedule. Rajapakse won with a thumping 18 percent after his military success in defeating Tamil separatists in May last year.

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