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Ruling party wins majority of votes in parliamentary elections

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October 13, 2000 


COLOMBO (AP) - President Chandrika Kumaratunga's party won most of the vote in parliamentary elections, officials said Thursday, but it was still too early for her to claim victory.

The seven-party People's Alliance did not win the necessary 113 seats to form a government. In fact, no single party won enough seats to form a government on its own.

The People's Alliance won 107 seats in the 225-member Parliament. The opposition United National Party won 89 seats in Tuesday's election, one of the most violent and contentious ever.

Kumaratunga, known as a tough negotiator, now must begin talks with ally parties in an effort to bring in minor parties and win support for a coalition government to avoid a hung Parliament.

She must do so while grieving for her mother, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, three-time prime minister and the world's first woman leader, who died Tuesday shortly after casting her vote.

The first session of the country's 11th Parliament was scheduled to convene Wednesday.

"I think President Kumaratunga will be able to form a coalition government with the help of the Tamil party and the Muslim party," said Rohan Edirisinghe, director of the independent think tank Center for Policy Alternatives. "It's unlikely that the opposition could try and stop the government."

Kumaratunga campaigned on a pledge to stabilize the government and end the 17-year civil war with Tamil Tigers, rebels seeking an independent homeland for minority Tamils. The war has left 63,000 people dead and displaced 1 million people.

Kumaratunga - who lost vision in one eye in a Tamil Tiger rebel suicide bombing on Dec. 18 - has sought to push through a new constitution granting more autonomy to the provinces in an effort to placate Tamils and sideline rebels.

The Sinhalese majority make up about 76 percent of the population, and most are Buddhists. Tamils, who make up about 14 percent, are mainly Hindus. The remaining 10 percent are Muslims and other minorities.

About 75 percent of the 12 million registered voters cast ballots in the elections. A record 5,477 candidates were running for 225 parliamentary seats.

Kumaratunga, whose party had a one-seat majority in the last Parliament, was prevented from passing the constitution. She saw Tuesday's ballot as a referendum on the measure.

Any hope of securing that constitution now depends on the president's ability to win over the smaller Tamil and Muslim parties to gain the necessary six seats for a simple majority to form a government.

The Marxist People's Liberation front followed the two leading parties with an unprecedented 10 seats. The mainstream ethnic Tamil party, the Tamil United Liberation Front, won five seats. A former Tamil rebel group, Eelam People's Democratic Party, won four seats.

Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake had announced Wednesday that the final results would be delayed due to alleged voting irregularities around the country.

He spent the morning huddled with party leaders, listening to their allegations over vote rigging and demands that he annul votes in at least 47 polling stations.

Dissanayake told reporters Thursday, after announcing the final vote, that he had only annulled votes at 22 polling stations in the south and the entire Kilinochchi area about 275 kilometers (170 miles) north of the capital, Colombo.

"I cannot interpret this as a free and fair election," he told reporters. "But in places like India, we have seen worse."

Shortly after the polls closed Tuesday, both the ruling People's Alliance and the opposition parties launched allegations of violence and vote-rigging against one another.

A bomb exploded minutes after voting ended Tuesday, wounding 32 supporters of Kumaratunga's party, and two of her supporters were dragged from their vehicles on election eve and beaten to death.

At least 71 people were killed during the five-week campaign and on polling day, according to the independent Center for Monitoring Election Violence. The center had asked election officials to annul votes in at least 365 of the country's 9,500 polling centers.

The streets of the capital were quiet Thursday as this island nation observed a Buddhist holiday. Armed soldiers and police stationed at checkpoints stopped and searched cars.

Several roads were closed to traffic as the body of Bandaranaike was to be taken to Parliament. Politicians gathered and briefly put aside their differences for the ceremony.

Kumaratunga, who rarely leaves her residential compound to guard against further assassination attempts, arrived by helicopter and shook hands with rivals and supporters.

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka shook hands and joked with each other.

"We're good friends and the election is over, the fighting stage is over," Wickremanayaka said, as both men laughed.

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