COLOMBO: The United National Party (UNP), led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, is pushing to form a new government with some defectors from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) of President Sirisena after the latter suffered a humiliating defeat in the Feb 10 all-island local bodies elections, sources said.

The UNP and the SLFP have been coalition partners since 2015, but had fought the local bodies elections separately.

The local government elections were won convincingly and comprehensively by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a breakaway group of the SLFP led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The SLPP emerged as the single largest party in an overwhelming majority of the 341 local councils in Sri Lanka.

Of the 8,350 seats up for grabs in 341 councils, Rajapaksa’s SLPP has so far won 3,386, the UNP 2,393 and the Sirisena’s SLFP-UPFA won 1,036 seats.

The UNP can form a government with a simple majority if it gets seven MPs to cross the floor to its side. It now has 106, but needs 113 for a simple majority.

It has been reported that the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe met President Sirisena and discussed the possibility of forming a government led by UNP with support from SLFP. No decision had been taken in this regard and meetings are to continue on Tuesday where all the alliance partners of the UNP are to meet President Sirisena.

Meanwhile, Rajapaksa told the media on Monday that the local bodies ‘elections have clearly shown that the people were highly dissatisfied with the SLFP-UNP government and that the latter has lost the mandate it got in 2015.

It is time the government dissolved parliament and held fresh elections immediately, he said.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2018