COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankans vote in parliamentary elections Wednesday that are expected to strengthen President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's grip on power. His party has campaigned for a strong government that will enable Rajapaksa to fulfill his presidential election pledges. Parts of the party are also calling for a two-thirds majority in Parliament so it can amend the constitution to restore presidential powers curbed by a 2015 constitutional change. The opposition party has focused on providing relief to those undergoing economic hardships because of the pandemic.
Some information on Sri Lanka and the election:
Sri Lanka, a teardrop-shaped island separated from India by the Palk Strait, has 22 million people. About 75% are from the Sinhala ethnic group, who are mostly Buddhists. Tamils, who are mainly Hindus, comprise about 15% of the population, while 9% are Muslims. Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are the main religions. Sri Lanka's main earnings of foreign exchange come from remittances from overseas workers, the tourism industry and tea exports.
Sri Lanka has faced two Marxist insurrections and a 26-year civil war with minority ethnic Tamil rebels in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed or disappeared. The Marxist rebels fought to create a socialist state, saying rural youth were deprived of their rightful place in society and faced discrimination in economic, educational and employment opportunities.
The Tamil rebels fought to create an independent state in the country's north and east, accusing the Sinhala-controlled state of systemic marginalization. The country has enjoyed relative peace since government forces defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.
Sri Lanka's decade of peace since the end of the civil war was shattered by attacks on Easter Sunday in 2019. Some 269 people were killed when attackers from local Islamic extremist groups blew themselves up in three churches and three tourist hotels. Rajapaksa cast himself as the only leader able to keep Sri Lanka secure after the attacks serious intelligence lapses and discord in the then-government.