Sri Lanka ruling party wins provincial election with lower margin

COLOMBO, March 30, 2014 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s ruling party won local elections, but with smaller than expected margins in a crucial mid-term test for President Mahinda Rajapakse, official results showed Sunday. The president campaigned for polls held Saturday for southern and western provincial councils, both in the ethnic majority Sinhalese heartland, which account for more than a third of the country’s electorate.

Rajapakse’s Freedom Alliance party secured 33 of the 55 seats in the southern province, down from 38 at the 2009 poll, with three opposition parties winning the rest, final results from the election office showed.

The president’s party suffered a bigger erosion of support in the western province where it won 56 of the 104 seats up for grabs, down from 68, with the smaller opposition parties making inroads.

Elections for the councils, the highest level of local government, are seen as a gauge of popularity for Rajapakse — who has maintained an iron grip on power since 2009 — and his party ahead of parliamentary and presidential polls due in 2016.

Rajapakse’s party won comfortably in his home constituency of Hambantota, with 57.42 percent of the vote, but down from 66.95 won in 20