Sri Lanka coalition faces reform calls after vote defeat


—File Photo

COLOMBO: A key partner in Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition demanded “urgent” reforms Friday after an election defeat that sparked calls for the prime minister to step down.

The National Heritage Party (JHU) said the local council vote, in which the ruling parties were hammered, showed people were unhappy with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“There must be urgent reforms,” said JHU leader Champika Ranawaka, who is minister for urban development.
“There must be giant changes that will directly address the aspirations of the people.”

Wickremesinghe has accepted responsibility for the defeat and said he will change the government as well as his United National Party (UNP).

“We will carry out restructuring. As far as the government is concerned, it is continuing,” Wickremesinghe told reporters in Colombo on Friday. He said he expected younger politicians from his party to play a bigger role.

“Transition has to take place, transition without disruption,” he said.

Wickremesinghe dismissed calls for his resignation, highlighting that his party had a comfortable majority in the 225-member parliament.

But he admitted that they were slow to deliver on a 2015 election promise to prosecute corrupt members of the former regime of Mahinda Rajapakse, who served as president for 10 years.

Rajapakse, whose family wields enormous influence in Sri Lanka, has staged a dramatic comeback after launching his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna or People’s Front party.

The ruling coalition has also been plagued by internal divisions that burst into the open in the run-up to Saturday’s election.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s party contested the elections independently and suffered a worse defeat than the prime minister’s party.

Rajapakse’s party comfortably won in all regions bar the battle-scarred north and east where, as president, he brutally crushed a separatist Tamil movement to end the island’s ethnic war in 2009.

He has demanded a snap general election and challenged his successor’s right to govern after his drubbing in the crucial mid-term polls.—AFP