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Sri Lankan President's Party Must Seek New Parliamentary Coalition - 2004-04-04


Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga's party beat that of her political rival, the prime minister, in a tight race in Friday's parliamentary election. But the president's party failed to win a parliamentary majority, raising concerns Sri Lanka may be stuck with a hung parliament and jeopardizing the country's peace plan with Tamil rebels.

Sri Lanka's Election Commissioner says President Chandrika Kumaratunga's Freedom Alliance won 105 seats in the 225-member parliament - eight short of a parliamentary majority.

Its rival, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP), won 82 seats. Political analysts say that means President Kumaratunga must seek a coalition with one or more of the other two parties that won seats in order to control parliament.

Despite their loss at the polls, Senarath Kapukottuwa from the UNP says the party is also looking for alliances with the smaller parties. "All political parties, their aim is to form a government, and we also pursue that," he said.

President Kumaratunga called the snap parliamentary election in February to resolve months of political wrangling with her rival, the prime minister.

Much of their disagreement revolves around peace negotiations with the Tamil Tigers. The guerrilla group has waged a 20-year separatist war against what it calls the repression of ethnic Tamils.

Analysts say Prime Minister Wickremesinghe favors a more conciliatory approach to the rebels, while President Kumaratunga is known for her hard line.

Susil Premajayanth, from the president's Freedom Alliance party, said that stance should not be mistaken for a desire to resume fighting. "There is no possibility for going back to war," said Mr. Premajayanth. "There will be peace prevailing in this country, even under an alliance government. That I can make sure."

So far, a two-year cease-fire with the rebel group continues to hold. But no progress has been made in the past year in power-sharing discussions between the rebels and the government.

Analysts say a hung parliament could complicate peace talks, with neither side able to push through measures to re-start the process.

Friday's parliamentary election was the third poll in Sri Lanka in four years, and observers call it one of the most peaceful in decades. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's election commissioner has decided against holding fresh elections in two districts where vote rigging is alleged to have taken place.