JAFFNA (Economynext) – President Mahinda Rajapakse today launched an unscheduled campaign rally in Jaffna and described himself as the "known devil" that Tamils should vote for.
The Indian Railway company IRCON has announced Rajapakse will inaugurate the new track from Jaffna to Kankesanthurai, but he ditched the highly publicised event and instead addressed a rally in Jaffna.
He told Tamil supporters, some of them sporting blue T-shirts with the president’s picture, that he was making his 11th visit to the region as president and Tamils should choose him because his rival Maithripala Sirisena was a stranger to Tamils.
"The known devil is better than the unknown angel," Rajapakse said. "I am the known devil, so please vote for me."
"I don’t think Sirisena has visited even Nagadeepa," Rajapakse. "Not even during his school days. How many of you know who Sirisena is?."
Some 720,000 Tamils in the northern province voting as a block could tip the scales if the majority Sinhalese community is split down the middle between Rajapakse and Sirisena.
Both men are from the Sinhalese-Buddhist community and draw support from the rural grassroots making the minority vote crucial to win Thursday’s election.
Rajapakse called the election two years ahead of schedule as his popularity appeared to be on the decline. His UPFA suffered a 21 point loss at September Uva provincial elections.
While Rajapakse may be considered popular among the Sinhalese, he is generally despised by many Tamils after overseeing the crushing end to a 37-year separatist war that had claimed at least 100,000 lives.
Both local and international rights groups have accused government forces of killing up to 40,000 Tamil civilians while defeating Tiger guerrillas who fought for an independent state for the island’s main minority.
Rajapakse has insisted that no civilians were killed and at the same time has refused to cooperate with a UN-sanctioned international investigation into allegations of war crimes under his leadership.
The president arrived in Jaffna, 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital Colombo a day after the main opposition accused him of using the military to prevent Tamils turning out to vote on January 8.
The largest Tamil party which controls the highest level of local government in Jaffna, the Tamil National Alliance, earlier this week endorsed Sirisena after accusing Rajapakse of failing to ensure ethnic reconciliation after crushing Tamil separatists.