Voting underway in Sri Lanka’s mid-term test

October 8, 2011 (AFP) – Voters in Sri Lanka’s capital went to the polls Saturday to elect a local municipal council, in a contest widely seen as a mid-term test for President Mahinda Rajapakse. Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition, the United People’s Freedom Alliance, is fielding candidates for the prestigious Colombo municipality as well as 22 others, marking the final phase of local elections which began in March.

Since government troops claimed victory in their near 30-year war against Tamil Tiger rebels, Rajapakse has tightened his grip on power by securing a second presidential term and winning parliamentary polls last year.

His party has expressed confidence of securing victory in all the councils while the fractured opposition has promised a comeback after a string of humiliating defeats. Voters are set to elect 420 members from among 6,488 candidates, with results are due by Sunday. The councils are responsible for maintaining utilities, but have no legislative powers.

However, political parties consider it important to secure the local bodies as a stepping stone for bigger national elections which are due by 2016.

Local elections began in March with smaller village council