Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has called for a snap presidential polls seeking a record third term although left with two more years to complete his second term in power. Rajapaksa has effected this through pushing changes into the Constitution with strong hopes of being re-elected.
However, this decision led to the split of his party with coalition partner, the nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) breaking away from the president’s party to form a coalition with the main Opposition United National Party (UNP) and ex-president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
Health Minister Maithreepala Sirisena is the candidate representing the main opposition; he was as well the secretary-general of Rajapaksa’s own party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
President Rajapaksa-led SLFP faces UNP, a cluster of opposition parties including rivals who defected from his own Cabinet.
In a recent development which could set back Rajapaksa’s hopes of reelection, Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen-led Muslim party, All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) quit the coalition government on Dec.22.
Rishad a cabinet minister in the Rajapaksa regime said he was switching loyalty to Maithripala Sirisena, the main opposition candidate seeking to overthrow Rajapaksa in the forthcoming presidential poll. He has accused Rajapaksa of being the force behind the attack on his fellow Muslims in the coastal town of Aluthgama in June that left at least four people dead apart from looting and burning of shops.
Rauff Hakeem, leader of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and Minister of Justice in Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition, heading the main political party for the minority Muslims has said that the party would take time to decide on their support for any of the candidates.
Bodu Bala Sena, (BBS) Sri Lanka’s most powerful Buddhist organization as dubbed by the Time magazine has announced its support for Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Though Rajapaksa and Sirisena are members of the majority Sinhala Buddhist community., Sirisena has an added advantage with him securing the support of ethnic and religious minorities who feel distressed and alienated during Rajapaksa’s past nine-year old rule.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main Tamil party, has not formally announced support to either of the two main Sinhalese candidates, but has strongly indicated that it will support Sirisena, which would further make the road rough for Rajapaksa. The TNA has stated that the issues of Tamils still remain unaddressed in the island nation.
The support rendered by the Tamil party would be critical for both the main and opposition candidates, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, say analysts.
Early indications are it will be a close contest between Rajapaksa and Sirisena amidst signs of a dip in the popularity graph of Rajapaksa. Sri Lanka’s election monitors have issued a warning that the presidential polls in Sri Lanka could be marred by violence and have called on the Elections Commissioner for necessary precautionary action.
Meantime,the Sri Lankan Opposition has blamed the country’s Army for using its men in uniform for election related propaganda in support of Rajapaksa, in total violation of electoral code of conduct.