Sri Lanka’s ex-leader Rajapakse seeks assembly seat

COLOMBO – Sri Lanka’s former leader Mahinda Rajapakse Thursday applied to be a candidate in upcoming parliamentary elections seven months after his defeat in a presidential poll.

Rajapakse, 69, signed nomination papers to stand in the August 17 election as a member of the main opposition United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), setting the stage for a comeback.

Rajapakse, who was toppled by his former ally and health minister Maithripala Sirisena, is one of 18 applicants from the third largest district — Kurunegala — ditching his smaller home constituency of Hambantota, party officials said.

The former leader signed his nomination papers on Thursday night at his home in a suburb of Colombo in the presence of UPFA General-Secretary Susil Premajayantha. Nominations must be filed with the elections department by Monday.

President Sirisena took over leadership from Rajapakse soon after the January elections and the two men appeared bitter foes, but party seniors had been working on reconciliation between the two sides.

However, Sirisena’s office announced last week that he will not allow Rajapakse to be the UPFA’s prime ministerial candidate nor would he permit him to stand as a district leader.

Rajapakse loyalist Udaya Gammanpila said differences between the two sides had been ironed out clearing the way for Rajapakse to contest the forthcoming election without splitting the UPFA.

"Of course there were some differences, but all those have been sorted out now," Gammanpila told AFP. "We are confident we can emerge the largest single group and win the election."

The governing United National Party (UNP), which backed Sirisena’s victory, is equally confident that they can retain power.

Rajapakse lost the January elections partly due to allegations that he and his immediate family siphoned off millions of dollars during his nine-year rule during which he crushed a Tamil rebellion for a separate state, a charge he has denied.

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Rajapakse, an ethnic Sinhalese, remains popular among big sections of the island’s largest community for overseeing the defeat of the Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009.

He was, however, shunned by many world leaders after refusing to probe claims that tens of thousands of civilians died in the final months of the 37-year conflict.

    

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