NEW DELHI — Voters in Sri Lanka who dumped their two-term president in January proved unwilling Tuesday to clear the way for his return to power, with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s coalition failing to garner enough Parliament seats for a majority.
Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance won far fewer than the 113 seats necessary to take control of the country’s 225-seat Parliament, dashing his hopes for a comeback as the country’s prime minister.
The former president conceded that his dream of becoming prime minister had “faded away,” Agence France-Presse reported.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe issued a statement proclaiming victory — even before the final vote count was announced — with his party likely to win enough votes to assemble a coalition.
Official results, issued by the state-run news Web site, showed Wickremesinghe’s United National Party winning 106 seats, putting it in position to form a coalition government. Rajapaksa’s alliance claimed 95 seats.
“Let us together build a civilized society, build a consensual government and create a new country,” the prime minister said.
The general election in the island nation of 22 million, still struggling to recover from a devastating 26-year civil war, was closely watched as a referendum on the policies of its new president, Maithripala Sirisena. In January, Sirisena upended Rajapaksa’s hopes for a third term.
In the months since, Sirisena’s coalition government has instituted a series of changes, including recasting foreign policy to reduce dependence on Rajapaksa’s close ally China and taking small steps to heal the war-torn north and east.
Sirisena’s government also launched corruption investigations into Rajapaksa and several of his family members.
Rajapaksa had ruled with an iron hand for nearly 10 years, granting favors and jobs to his close relatives and, the current government alleges, socking away more than $18 billion of the country’s money in overseas accounts.
But Rajapaksa was widely adored in the country’s Sinhalese-majority south, where he is credited with putting an end in 2009 to the civil war that left more than 80,000 dead. A United Nations report on possible war crimes in the conflict is due next month.
“He is the only leader who has kept his promises. He said he would end the war, and he did,” said Saman Mendis, 50, a store manager from Panadura. “Maybe he made some mistakes, but who is the politician who has not?”
Sirisena, who served under Rajapaksa as health minister, wrote an impassioned letter to his former boss last week, saying he would not appoint him as prime minister even if Rajapaksa’s party won a majority. Sirisena accused him of displaying “hatred, abhorrence, animosity and an over-brimming egoism” in his quest to regain power.
Voters in the country’s Tamil-populated north and east are frustrated by the slow pace of the government’s efforts at reconciliation. But many have noted a decrease in the military presence and were not in favor of Rajapaksa’s return to the national stage. He will, however, sit in opposition in Parliament.
Utharai Thavarasa, 36, whose husband disappeared during the conflict, said she had been searching for clues for years and had been routinely harassed by police or military intelligence. Since January, she said, that has changed.
“I could not look for my own husband, in my own country. I was treated like a criminal. I was scared for my son when he was growing up because he could have been arrested anytime,” she said. “All that changed since Jan. 7. Now we can even go around the country collecting signatures for a letter.”
She hasn’t found her husband. But, she said, “at least I can look for him in peace now.”
Amantha Perera in Colombo, Sri Lanka, contributed to this report.