B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan government on Wednesday strongly condemned the shooting at a group of supporters of the opposition presidential candidate General (retired) Sarath Fonseka, in which one woman was killed and several others were injured. The United States said it was deeply concerned at what it described as escalating violence.

Keerthi Tenakoon, with the Centre for Free and Fair Elections (CFFE) said even more disturbing was the fact that repeated directives from the Election Commissioner’s office were being ignored as election laws continued to be violated at all levels in most parts of the country.

Observers have already recorded an estimated 273 complaints that include 70 cases of assault, many of a serious nature.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who advanced the elections by two years while making a bid for second endorsement, and the former Army Chief who has emerged as the consensus for all the political foes of Mr. Rajapaksa, are the chief contenders in the elections which are being keenly watched for a number of reasons.

The stakes are indeed very high as it would be the first such mass exercise in post-LTTE Sri Lanka.

As both Mr. Rajapaksa and General (retired) Fonseka represent the majority Sinhalese community and are credited for the military victory against the Tigers, the focus is bound to be especially on the choice of the Tamils that account for 12.5 per cent of the island nation’s 20 million people.

A few months ago, the re-election of Mr. Rajapaksa was considered a certainty. However, the surfacing of the retired General as the rallying point for the opposition has changed the ground scene substantially. On the face of it, Gen. (retd) Fonseka enhanced his chances of securing more Tamil votes than the President after the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) announced its decision to back him.

A report posted on the Presidential Secretariat website quoted Mr. Rajapaksa as saying at an election rally at Ambalangoda in the south (the hometown of the retired General), that on January 26, the people of this country will tell the world that they are against separatism.

“I will not allow anyone to betray the hard-earned freedom,” he said.

The war against the LTTE has been won amidst many difficulties he was quoted as saying. “But I cannot say that the victory was my own. Many have supported the victory.”