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Sri Lanka: Opposition Set to Form New Government After Election Victory - 2001-12-07

An opposition alliance is preparing to form a government in Sri Lanka, two days after the country's most violent election ever. Over 60 deaths were reported during the campaign and a curfew has been reimposed until Saturday morning as a precaution. The island's new leaders have big promises to keep.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake resigned Friday after an alliance of opposition parties swept to power in Sri Lanka. Promising peace talks with Tamil rebels and an economic revival, the United National Front claimed a surprisingly strong 129 seats out of the 225-seat parliament.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance won only 77 seats while the Marxist party that had propped up the government before the polls, increased its seats from 10 to 16.

Final results from the violence marred election were delayed by one day as election officials debated whether to re-poll the worst hit areas. Election Commissioner Daynanda Dissanayake said he was in favor of fresh voting in the central hill district of Kandy, worst hit by malpractice. But after a meeting with party leaders he decided to annul some polling stations and accepted the overall result. He also rejected calls for repolling in the north and east where army roadblocks prevented thousands from reaching the polls.

A European Union election monitoring team said that while the election was flawed and unacceptably violent, the result does reflect the will of the people. They are calling on President Kumaratunga to respect voters' decision and on the next government to aggressively prosecute those guilty of election violence and irregularities, particularly politicians.

The winning coalition is headed by the United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who was Prime Minister until President Kumaratunga came to power in 1994. Mrs. Kumaratunga, who was re-elected in 1999 and will continue in office for five years, scheduled talks on forming a government with Mr. Wickremesinghe for Saturday. She will continue to have wide ranging powers to appoint cabinet ministers and suspend or dissolve parliament. Both leaders appealed to their supporters to remain calm as at least two people were killed while celebrating the result on Friday.

As predicted by analysts, no single party won a majority, with Mr. Wickremesinghe falling short by four seats. Five seats from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and 15 from an alliance of Tamil parties will give Mr. Wickremesinghe a comfortable majority, but this will not make it easy to live up to his election promises.

The war with Tamil rebels fighting for a homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east has dragged on for 18 years and claimed over 64,000 lives. Most Sri Lankan's favor peace talks to end the fighting, but a lasting resolution is a long way off. At the same time Mr. Wickremesinghe is hoping to revive an economy that saw near zero growth in the last quarter. Business, however, displayed confidence in him Friday afternoon as Colmbo's All Share Index surged over 20 percent.