35 in race for Lanka presidency

35 in race for Lanka presidency

S Murari

A record 35 candidates filed nominations in Colombo on Monday for Sri Lanka's presidential elections next month, in which incumbent Maithripala Sirisena will support former Defence Minister and main opposition challenger Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Sirisena, who held crucial talks with opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa on Saturday, has decided to support the candidature of Gotabaya, who will now be the main opposition challenger to ruling United National Party (UNP) candidate Sajith Premadasa.

Sirisena, who heads the Freedom Party (SLFP) has opted out of the race and is backing Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka People's Party . Likewise ,Prime Minister in the national government and United National Party leader Ranil wickremasinghe has decided to support Sajith Premadasa.

They can campaign until November 12. The election will take place on November 16. Among the other prominent candidates are former army chief Mahesh Senanayake and MK Sivajilingam, a hardline Tamil politician from the Tamil dominated northern province.

This will be the first election in which neither the President nor the Prime Minister will be contesting since in 1982 when the country switched over to French model presidential system of government under President J R Jayawardene.
However since then, the once all power presidency has been made de facto Parliamentary system with the President Sirisena made accountable to Parliament.

Besides, a series of reforms have taken place that include media freedom and autonomy to institutions like the judiciary, the election commission and the police .
Gothabaya, who as Defence secretary under Mahindra Presidency brought the 30-year ethinic war in the country with the decimation of the LTTE in the final war in May 2009 has renounced his US citizenship to run for the presidency.

He is known to be ruthless as Mahinda was autocratic. Whether he will fit into the new set up remains to be seen. He maybe a hero among the Sinhalese. But it's been ten years since the war ended and the Tamil question remains  unsolved.

It is doubtful whether war will be an issue as people are more concerned about livelihood issues.