February 13, 2018 / 8:05 PM / a year ago

Sri Lanka coalition seeks ways to keep power after local poll defeat

FILE PHOTO: Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena listens to a speech during a Parliament session marking the 70th anniversary of Sri Lanka's Government, in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/Files

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s two ruling parties are setting up a committee to examine the future of the unity government after an unexpected thrashing in local elections over the weekend, a senior minister said on Tuesday.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s center-left Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s center-right United National Party (UNP) were routed by a political party backed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the local polls - plunging the government into political crisis.

Rajapaksa, who lost the presidential election in 2015, is urging the government to call a snap parliamentary election.

That election is not due until 2020. The president can bring the vote forward if two-thirds of parliament endorses it.

UNP housing minister Sajith Premadasa said both coalition government partners had decided to set up a committee to explore the possibilities to continue the unity government.

However, legislators in the president’s SLFP demanded he appoint a new prime minister.

“We need a new prime minister to carry forward a new parliament. We hope the president will decide on this in the next two days,” Nishantha Muthuhettigama, deputy ports minister, told reporters after a party meeting.

The party backed by Rajapaksa, who as president from 2005 to 2015 crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels, ending a 26-year civil war, won control of 231 local councils out of a total 340 while Wickremasinghe’s UNP took 34 councils and SLFP nine. The rest were split among other parties.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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