Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party claimed a landslide victory as vote counting in the country's election came to a close on Thursday evening, prompting fears among minority groups.
“Our biggest victory has been that people have trusted us and we are ready to uphold that trust,” the Prime Minister told The Telegraph as the results came in.
However, critics worry that it further strengthens the hand of the Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist Rajapaksa family, with fears they could rewrite the constitution and further target minorities.
In November 2019, Mahinda’s younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa was voted in as president. Mahinda himself has previously served as president, and Gotabaya as defence secretary. The brothers remain under scrutiny for alleged war crimes committed during the fight against the Tamil Tigers and the family has been accused of corruption and nepotism. At least four members ran in Wednesday’s parliamentary elections.
Still, the brothers' party - a new party called the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna - was expected to win by a large margin with about 80 percent of the votes counted, clinching the majority of the 225 seats in Parliament for Mahinda to return as prime minister.
The Rajapaksas were hoping for a two-thirds majority that will allow them to make a much debated constitutional amendment, giving them the power to revert to an all powerful executive presidency system.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic and political apathy created by a divided opposition, voter turnout was the lowest in decades. Nonetheless, more than 70 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.
The snap election was called after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved Parliament in March, six months ahead of schedule, but was later delayed twice because of the pandemic.
Since his election in November, Gotabaya has spearheaded a “campaign of fear”, according to Human Rights Watch, targeting opposition lawyers, activists, and journalists, including earmarked arrests, intimidation, and threats. However, he has gained popularity with some for implementing a rapid lockdown and extended curfew to curb the coronavirus.
With a population of 22 million, Sri Lanka has officially recorded only 11 COVID-19-related deaths, although critics dispute the figures.
People in quarantine centres were not able to cast their votes on Wednesday. Although the election authorities set an advanced polling day for those under quarantine for July 31, it was later cancelled as there was no legal provision for advanced voting.