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Sri Lanka Ruling Coalition Wins Huge Parliamentary Majority

In Sri Lanka, the final counting of votes in recent parliamentary elections has given President Mahinda Rajapaksa's coalition an overwhelming majority. It is the biggest victory won by a party in the past three decades.

The final tally was along expected lines - President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance emerged with 144 seats in the 225 member parliament. That is just six seats short of a two-thirds majority.

The main opposition party trailed with just 60 seats.

The country voted in parliamentary polls on April 8, but the final count followed a re-vote on Tuesday in two districts where the earlier poll was canceled due to fraud.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is riding a wave of popularity after his government ended a decades-long ethnic conflict in the country by defeating Tamil Tiger rebels last year.

The head of Colombo's National Peace Council, Jehan Perera, says the overwhelming parliamentary victory has given President Rajapaksa, who was re-elected in January, vast powers for the next six years.

"The ruling party has got a huge majority, so the president is very much in charge," said Perera. "The main change from the old parliament is that the government now has the capacity to change the constitution, and the government is very firmly under the control of the president and the top leadership of his party."

Analysts say the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance can easily get some opposition members to cross over and reach the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution.

A party led by the country's former army chief, General Sarath Fonseka, has secured seven seats.

Fonseka fell out with the president after the civil war ended, and ran unsuccessfully against him in the January presidential elections. Fonseka was jailed soon after on charges of planning his political career before resigning as army chief and of illicit arms procurement. The former general's supporters say he is being punished for daring to challenge the president, is expected to attend parliament when it opens Thursday.

President Rajapaksa has pledged reconciliation in a nation that was wracked by a civil conflict with Sri Lanka's ethnic-Tamil minority seeking more autonomy. He has also promised economic reform.

His critics and human rights groups charge him with suppressing dissent and the media.