ECONOMYNEXT – Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa is due to contest the August parliamentary elections from the country’s third largest district, Kurunegala where there is a strong concentration of military families, his party sources said.
The former leader is hoping to become a candidate from the United people’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), but fears a legal challenge that could upset his plan, the source said asking not to be named.
"For the moment, everything is ready for him to file nomination papers on Friday (10 July)," the source said. "But there is also a back up plan to use a smaller party in case there is a legal challenge to his candidature through the UPFA."
Rajapaksa was originally hoping to contest from the district of Gampaha, the most populous electorate with 1.63 million registered voters. Gampaha is also a district where he lost the January election by a slender 4,660 votes.
"He wanted to prove that since January he has improved his lead," the source said. "But (former president) Chandrika (Kumaratunga) saying she will also contest, most probably from Gampaha, made ‘lokka’ (Rajapaksa) change his mind."
Kurunegala with a voter base of 1.26 million is the third largest electoral district in the island. However, it has a high concentration of families of military personnel.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had harboured political ambitions of entering parliament though Kurunegala before former army chief Sarath Fonseka’s presidential bid in January 2010.
There was uncertainty among Rajapaksa loyalists if they will be able to keep the UPFA which they hijacked last week with party general secretary Susil Premajayantha signing a statement granting nominations to the former leader.
President Sirisena has made no reference to Premajayantha’s statement, but at the same time vowed he will not allow anyone to reverse the January 8 "silent revolution."
Party sources said that Sirisena was under pressure over Rajapaksa nomination and at thesame time he could not trust the general secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Anura Yapa who is also said to be loyal to Rajapaksa.
This means the SLFP too will not be able to contest the general election under its own symbol and instead will be forced to take the cover of another party, most probably the New Democratic Front (NDF).
President Sirisena too used the NDF to contest the January elections. The party’s symbol is the swan.
A small but an important constituent of the UPFA, the JHU, or the Jathika Hela Urumaya, annoubced Sunday that they were quitting the alliance and contesting the August 17 elections on their own.
The JHU is likely to be joined by Sirisena loyalists in the SLFP. The splintering of the opposition means an easier time for the ruling United National Party.