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Friday, 7 December, 2001, 17:19 GMT
Analysis: Sri Lanka's hopes for unity
A funeral for a Muslim shot dead during clashes on election day
The nation is still recovering from the violent election
By the BBC's Frances Harrison in Colombo

The election results in Sri Lanka have been called a mandate for change.

The United National Party (UNP) swept most districts but were just four seats short of an outright majority - something that is difficult to achieve under the Sri Lankan electoral system which is roughly based on proportional representation.

Another hung parliament means the UNP will have to depend on the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, which has won five seats, to cobble together a majority in the house.

The Muslims proved difficult allies in the last parliament where they supported President Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance until she removed their leader from the cabinet on the grounds that he had become too demanding.

Co-operation

The UNP is also likely to have the outside support of the Tamil National Alliance, which has won 15 seats.

Ranil Wickramasinghe
Mr Wickramasinghe's life could still be made difficult by the president
Opposition supporters will be disappointed that they stopped just short of a clear cut majority, but at the same time there will be relief that they are not utterly dependent on the Tamil parties, who could strike a hard bargain when it comes to trying to resolve the civil war.

Some have interpreted this vote as an indication that the public wants its warring politicians to work together.

By voting in a UNP government to work with a People's Alliance president who still has four years to run in office, it is as if the electorate has installed the government of national unity that was being talked about some months ago as a way out of the political crisis then.

Analysts say both President Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickramasinghe, the leader of the UNP, are on the liberal side of their respective parties when it comes to the ethnic issue.

There is therefore some hope that if they worked together they might be able to reach a consensus on the devolution package that has so far failed to make progress because of bi-partisan rivalry.

And a new set of faces negotiating with the Tamil Tiger rebel group has some chance of making progress simply because they are not dogged by the mood of mutual distrust that has built up over the past seven years.

President's prerogative

But there is another school of thought that says the president has more power than the prime minister under the constitution and is also commander-in-chief of the army.

Head of the EU election observer mission, John Cushnahan
An EU monitoring team was highly critical of the elections
Therefore if she wants to, she could make like difficult for Mr Wickramasinghe's government.

It is also the president who appoints the next cabinet and it is likely she will be reluctant to appoint senior party men who recently defected from her government hastening its downfall.

For their part the opposition had been talking of trying to impeach the president during the crisis that led to these polls and it is not clear if they will pursue that path of confrontation.

Bloody election

While the voters sit at home - under an island-wide curfew - they will be pondering whether the election results will boost the country's ailing economy.

Voters
Some interpret the results as a voters' call for unity
The nation is still recovering from its most violent election in recent history in which 17 people died on polling day alone, according to police.

The Election Commissioner has decided not to go for re-polling after consulting the political parties.

But monitoring groups have criticised this decision, saying the commissioner's responsibility is to the people whose mandate was distorted.

A European Union monitoring team has called the polls flawed but said they did reflect the public mood for change.

Sri Lankans are now hoping that will be a change for the better.


Key stories:

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BBC WORLD SERVICE
See also:

07 Dec 01 | South Asia
Opposition asked to lead Sri Lanka
05 Dec 01 | South Asia
Violence mars Sri Lanka poll
01 Dec 01 | South Asia
Bombs injure 15 in Sri Lanka
23 Nov 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka's Marxist leader ends exile
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka poll violence 'doubles'
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