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Former Sri Lanka president warns of election ‘skullduggery’

Sri Lanka’s former president warned Tuesday that her successor may resort to "skullduggery" to secure an unprecedented third term, calling for outside observers to monitor the forthcoming election.

Chandrika Kumaratunga, who re-entered politics last month to support the main opposition presidential candidate, said she believed the government would seek to intimidate rivals at the January 8 elections.

"On polling day, they (the government) will resort to skullduggery," Kumaratunga told reporters at her home in Colombo. "It happened in previous elections too."

President Mahinda Rajapakse, 69, called the January 8 election two years ahead of schedule after his party’s popularity showed a 21 percentage point decline at local elections in September.

Kumaratunga, who is also 69, is the patron of Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), but the two are embroiled in a personality feud and have become bitter foes.

The former president returned to active politics last month to openly challenge Rajapakse’s unprecedented bid for a third term after rewriting the constitution to remove the term limits on the presidency.

Kumaratunga said she hoped foreign governments would send election monitors to encourage a free and fair election.

"The only thing the foreign governments can do is to send more and more monitors to observe the election," Kumaratunga said.

"Perhaps, they can also talk to the government about free and fair elections. But it will be falling on deaf ears."

Rajapakse is facing a surprise challenge from his former health minister Maithripala Sirisena, who has mustered support from all the main opposition political parties as well as Kumaratunga’s endorsement.

Private local election monitors say there have already been scores of violent clashes between rival groups since elections were called last month. Half a dozen people have been injured in shooting incidents.

Sri Lanka’s election authorities warned state-run television networks last week not to flout election laws by broadcasting programmes openly supporting the president’s candidacy.

Local election monitors have also warned of massive abuse of state vehicles and personnel for Rajapakse’s campaign.

The opposition has said it is collecting evidence of public officials engaging in election propaganda for the ruling party and plans to take court action. (AFP)