Two prominent parliamentarians from Sri Lanka’s main opposition party have defected to the ruling side on the eve of filing of nominations for the January 26 presidential election.

United National Party (UNP) parliamentarians Johnston Fernando and Indika Bandaranayake were unhappy over party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s decision to field General (retired) Sarath Fonseka instead of a party candidate in the presidential poll. They were awarded ministerial berths by President Mahinda Rajapaksa within hours of them pledging to work for his success in his bid for a second term.

Candidates from 17 political parties and five independents have paid the required deposit money to the Election Commission for next month’s poll. Nominations will be accepted from 9 to 11 a.m. on Thursday and candidates eligible to contest would be announced by the Commissioner of Elections after 1 p.m. As per the Election Commission records, there are 1.40 crore eligible voters.

Most parties are aligned either with the ruling combine or the opposition nominee. But the Tamil National Alliance is still sitting on the fence more due to divisions within than any other reason. The alliance appears split three ways as one of its members has decided to contest the election as an independent candidate.

Pro-LTTE TamilNet in a report quoted “senior politician and civil movement member” Manickasothy Abhimannasingham as saying: “All Tamil political leaders should ensure in unison that Dr. Vikramabahu Karunaratne receive the first preferential vote in the presidential election, so that the two main candidates equal in their chauvinistic agenda against Tamils will not get the necessary 50 per cent to win”.

Meanwhile, a U.S. grand jury on Tuesday indicted the Sri Lanka-born Galleon hedgefund founder Raja Rajaratnam and co-defendant Danielle Chiesi on charges of securities fraud.

The 52-year-old, with assets worth $3.7 billion, was arrested on October 16 by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on charges of vast insider trading. He was among six persons arrested on charges of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud.

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