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FINANCIAL CHRONICLE™ » ECONOMIC CHRONICLE™ » Suddenly, Sri Lanka Presidential Elections Become a Real Contest

Suddenly, Sri Lanka Presidential Elections Become a Real Contest

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s health minister quit on Friday to become the opposition candidate in the election set for January, surprising the incumbent with a united and robust challenge to his bid for an unprecedented third term.

At least five other presidential loyalists also abandoned Mr. Rajapaksa to join the defection led by the health minister, Maithripala Sirisena, who also had been the ruling party’s general secretary.

Mr. Sirisena said in his resignation announcement that he had been nominated by a united group of opposition parties to be the main challenger against Mr. Rajapaksa in the Jan. 8 vote.

Others who quit the ruling alliance included the fisheries minister, Rajitha Senaratne; the education services minister, deleted Dissanayake; and M. K .D .S. Gunewardane, a deputy minister. Vasantha Senanayake and Rajiva Wijesinha, members of Parliament from the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party, also defected to the opposition.

Sri Lanka’s President to Seek Unprecedented Third TermNOV. 20, 2014
Mr. Sirisena pledged to return power to the country’s Parliament, which is now overshadowed by a powerful presidency.

“I am the common candidate,” Mr. Sirisena told a packed news briefing after resigning.

While opposition parties had pledged for months that they would field a single candidate, the success of the effort as well as the extent of defections from the ruling party were a surprise.

“This has all the potential of being a real electoral contest now,” said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo. “The Rajapaksas simply cannot afford to lose power, so it promises to be a hard-fought campaign.”

Mr. Sirisena pledged to appoint Ranil Wickremesinghe, the leader of the opposition United National Party, as prime minister if he is elected president.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/22/world/asia/sri-lanka-presidential-elections.html?_r=0

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