A Muslim ally left President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition on Monday, marking another setback for him in the run-up to his campaign to seek a third term in office.
Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) said he was crossing over to support Maithripala Sirisena, the joint opposition candidate who will challenge the incumbent in the January 8 presidential election.
Addressing a press conference in Colombo, Mr. Bathiudeen accused Mr. Rajapaksa of failing to restrain a radical Buddhist group that is said to have been involved in anti-Muslim attacks. “I asked the President to stop these religious hate attacks, but he failed to take action against offenders,” Mr. Bathiudeen said, charging that the Sri Lankan government was behind an attack on Muslims in the coastal town of Aluthgama in June where religious clashes claimed at least four lives.
Mr. Bathiudeen said 69 elected representatives from the ACMC would join the opposition. The development assumes significance at a time when minority votes — Muslims constitute about 10 per cent of the island’s population — may prove vital for the candidates, in the event of the two main contestants splitting the majority Sinhala-Buddhist vote.
The other main parties representing the minorities are yet to make their election stance known. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the key Muslim party in Mr. Rajapaksa’s coalition, is expected make an announcement in the next two days.
It is also expected that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) will also spell out its position for the presidential polls, which promises to be one of the most closely fought elections in Sri Lanka.