South Asia

Chandrika returns to politics

Less than two months before Sri Lanka’s presidential elections, former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga announced her re-entry to active politics, but not as a candidate.

Instead, she has chosen to back the common opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena, who on Friday quit the ruling party to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential polls. Sri Lanka’s Election Commission on Friday said elections will be held on January 8.

Addressing the first common opposition press conference in Colombo, Ms. Kumaratunga said: “I am ending my silence after nine years. I have decided to re-enter politics to save the party that has been destroyed by the Rajapaksas,” she said, referring to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) founded by her father, former Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandaranaike. Observing that her family was against her decision, Ms. Kumaratunga said: “My son told me ‘don’t go now, Mahinda will kill you.’” However, if she did not support the common opposition, it would be a “betrayal,” she said.

Mr. Sirisena, a senior SLFP member, served as Health Minister in President Rajapaksa’s cabinet. “But I have not been allowed to run the Ministry,” he said, adding: “The country is heading towards a dictatorship.”

He vowed to abolish the controversial 18th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution — which gives sweeping powers to the President in addition to removing the two-term limit on presidency — within 100 days of assuming charge. “And then Ranil Wickramasinghe will be appointed Prime Minister,” he said, thanking the leader of the main Opposition, the United National Party (UNP), for allowing him to contest. Mr. Wickramasinghe’s decision to join the common platform is perceived to be a significant move in the opposition parties’ attempt to mobilise anti-incumbency votes.

Among other SLFP members who crossed over with Mr. Sirisena was Rajitha Senaratne, who served as Fisheries Minister, and is known for his consistent pro-devolution stance even when part of the ruling coalition.

The crossover was not unexpected, according to political analysts. “For long discontent has been simmering among the SLFP old guard because of the undemocratic ways of the Rajapaksas,” said a parliamentarian, requesting anonymity.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday declared the presidential elections in which he will be seeking an unprecedented third term. Known to have a considerably strong support base in Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority-south, Mr. Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition won in the Uva Provincial elections this September by a narrow margin.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 8:58:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/south-asia/chandrika-returns-to-politics/article6622566.ece

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