Sri Lanka’s president to start second term Friday


Colombo : Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is due to be sworn in for his second term Friday, a day after his 65th birthday.

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More than 1,000 local and foreign dignitaries are due to attend the ceremony in Colombo.

The government is to declare open some 54,000 development projects throughout the island during a 10-day period to mark the event. Among them is the commissioning of a new international harbour built with Chinese assistance in the southeast.

Rajapaksa was elected in 2005 but opted for early presidential elections in January this year, nearly two years ahead of the end of his term. After winning the election, he delayed the swearing-in ceremony by nearly nine months to gain the maximum period in office and continue as leader until 2016.

The president’s popularity shot up after ending the war against the Tamil rebels in May 2009. He reaped the benefits of early elections and secured 57.81 percent of the vote. His main rival, the former army commander Sarath Fonseka, got 40.21 percent.

The ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance government led by Rajapaksa is also in a strong position after securing 143 seats in the 225-seat parliament in the April elections. It later won the support of 17 more opposition members to gain a two-thirds majority.

Rajapaksa is to offer additional portfolios to some of the opposition members in a cabinet reshuffle scheduled for November 22. The move would mean the further expansion of the 41-member cabinet.

As Rajapaksa starts his second term, the opposition has vowed to step up its campaign to secure the release of Fonseka. He is serving a 30-month jail term after being convicted of favouring his son-in-law in awarding military contracts while he served as the army chief.

Fonseka was arrested two weeks after the presidential elections Jan 26 and tried by two different courts martial. One of them stripped him of his rank of general after finding him guilty of involvement in politics while serving as the army chief. The other jailed him for awarding military contracts to his son-in-law.

Three more cases are pending against Fonseka in the civilian courts.

Rajapaksa also faces the challenge of finding a political solution to the ethnic tensions with the minority Tamils in the north and eastern parts of the country, after the end of the 26-year civil war.