Polling begins island-wide for elections for 340 local bodies in 4917 wards.
12 February, 2018, 16:18
Sirisena says he wants to take charge of the economy, which is now handled by the UNP, and has blamed the prime minister's party for failing to tackle corruption.
The election would be a stern test for the unity government of President Maithripala Sirisena and his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
At around 1:30 p.m. local time (19:00 GMT), with most results in, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) had won 44.05 percent of the vote, Al Jazeera reported.
The UNP had bagged only 10 councils out of the 81 and was in level terms with the north-based Tamil party, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) who had also bagged 10 councils.
"Rajapaksa's electoral performance comes as a surprise and will be problematic for President Sirisena", Shailesh Kumar, director with political risk consultants Eurasia Group told Reuters.
Police said those arrested, including eight candidates, conducted minor violations such as pasting election related posters, taking photographs of ballot papers and political party members transporting voters to polling stations.
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Election monitors confirmed that the 2018 Local Government election is the most peaceful election ever held in the country after a lapse of several decades.
The local polls victory for Mr Rajapaksa may even lead to the change of government with the UNP coming under pressure to resign and sit in opposition once again, analysts say.
Sirisena's relationship with Wickremesinghe, his main supporter when he defeated Mr Rajapaksa in the presidency in 2015, has soured in recent months.
Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) was a distant second with 41 councils while Sirisena's Freedom Alliance languished with just 11.
A political party backed by Sri Lanka's former President Mahinda Rajapaksa looks set for a landslide victory in local polls, results showed on Sunday, potentially undermining the island nation's unity government and its reform agenda.
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Also, the memorandum read that "Such a procedure will ensure the credibility of the institution in the eyes of the public. The memorandum said the "recent revelations regarding Judge Brijgopal Harkishen Loya's death require investigation".
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