Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's party is on the verge of victory in parliamentary elections, the first such contests since the end of the island nation's long and bloody civil war.
Results on Friday showed that Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance has won with decisive margins in most districts declared so far, winning seats held by their main rival, the right-wing United National Front.
Of the 180 seats announced, the president's party has won 117 seats while the United National Front has claimed 46 seats. In the once strife-torn north, the Tamil National Alliance got 12 seats while the Democratic National Alliance won five seats.
Only 16 more seats in the 225-seat Parliament will be decided in the voting. The remaining 29 will be picked from a national list on the basis of votes the parties receive countrywide.
The turnout Thursday was the lowest in Sri Lanka's post-independence history, a stretch marked by a civil war between the government and separatist Tamil rebels that left hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced. Just over half of Sri Lanka's 14 million registered voters cast ballots. The parliamentary elections were held after Rajapaksa won an overwhelming majority in the January 26 presidential elections.
The Democratic National Alliance is led by retired Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the who led the army to victory in last May's military offensive against Tamil Tiger guerrillas that ended the civil war. He became Rajapaksa's political enemy and was defeated at the presidential polls by Rajapaksa.
Fonseka was arrested on charges of conspiracy and alleged fraudulent activity in military procurements and is being held at an annex in navy headquarters in Colombo. He is a parliamentary candidate for the Colombo district, which he is billed to win.
The voting came just a week ahead of the most widely observed holidays in Sri Lanka: the Sinhala and Hindu New Year on April 13 and 14. The festivities that spill over for days bring life to a virtual standstill.
- From Iqbal Athas