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Sri Lankan opposition to put up presidential candidate

Colombo : Heating up Sri Lanka’s presidential race, several opposition parties Monday pledged to support common candidate Maithreepala Sirisena in the poll battle against incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, an official said.

Wheels have been set in motion to make history in Sri Lanka after incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa called for snap presidential election last month, seeking an unprecedented third term in power.

The decision split the ruling coalition, with partner nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) walking out and joining the coalition platform with the main opposition United National Party (UNP) and former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga.

Less than 48 hours later, the opposition revealed their candidate to be none other than the secretary general of Rajapaksa’s own Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), and Health Minister Maithreepala Sirisena.

The coalition has received the backing of most opposition parties as it aims to end Sri Lanka’s decade-old executive presidency that gives sweeping powers to one individual.

Civil society organisations, the UNP and Kumarathunga were the key signatories of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with Sirisena Monday morning, Xinhua reported.

Former army commander Sarath Fonseka, who ran against Rajapaksa in 2011 and lost, has also thrown his support officially behind Sirisena.

Nationalist party JHU, which split away from Rajapaksa, will also sign an agreement with the common candidate later Monday, media reported.

“We expect around 36 parties to eventually express their support for the common candidate,” former fisheries minister Rajitha Senaratne, who also crossed over with Sirisena, told media.

A total of 11 members of parliament from the ruling party have crossed over to the opposition since Sirisena’s candidature was announced, the latest being former public reforms minister Navin Dissanayake.

“I have resigned from all my positions in the government. Hope to join the movement for democracy. The country must be free from family corruption and nepotism,” the former minister of public management reforms tweeted Sunday, announcing his resignation.

The presidential election will be held Jan 8 and early indications are it will be a tightly run race with government supporters suspected of instigating sporadic violence.

Rajapaksa signed the proclamation to hold a presidential election in January, seeking another term despite having two more years to go before he completes his second term in power.