Maithripala Sirisena

Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition faces its first polls test Saturday with over 15 million eligible voters participating in the election to appoint 340 of the island’s 341 local councils, according to officials. There are 24 municipal councils, 41 urban councils and 275 pradeshiya sabhas, the legislative bodies that preside over the third-tier municipalities in the country, Sri Lanka’s Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said, adding that 8375 councillors would be elected.

The police spokesperson said that over 65,000 policemen will be deployed alongside some 900 troops drawn from the three forces assisting the police. The polls opened at 7 am and will close at 4 pm. The election would be a stern test for the unity government of President Maithripala Sirisena and his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Sirisena faces a sterner challenge from his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa. Sirisena’s relationship with Wickremesinghe, his main supporter when he defeated Rajapaksa in the presidency in 2015, has soured in recent months. Sirisena has targeted the Wickremesinghe’s United National Party, dubbing it even more corrupt than the Rajapaksa government of which Sirisena walked out to become the then main opposition challenger.

His faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party has been accused of delaying the election out of fear of losing them by the faction led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa The government had postponed the elections for over 330 local councils in the island nation since 2015 for electoral reforms

In order to postpone the polls by a year, the government proposed an amendment to the Constitution to hold elections for all nine provincial councils on a single day The Supreme Court in September ruled that the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution to hold council elections on a single day requires two-third parliamentary majority and a nationwide referendum. Also there is a 25 per cent guaranteed women’s representation in each council.