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Rajapakse to seek fresh mandate

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda RajapaksaCOLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared on Thursday he would seek an unprecedented third term at elections which will be held against a backdrop of growing international pressure over his government’s rights record.

The 69-year-old, South Asia’s longest serving leader, announced he would seek a fresh mandate two years before the expiry of his current six-year term by contesting a snap poll expected only days before the Pope visits the island in mid-January.

Despite recent electoral setbacks for his left-wing nationalist party, Mr Rajapaksa remains generally popular with majority Sinhalese voters after overseeing the end of a 37-year war against Tamil separatists in 2009.

But he is struggling to avoid international censure over allegations his troops killed 40,000 Tamil civilians in the bloody finale of the fighting and accusations that his administration has silenced dissenting voices, including the media and judiciary.

A lawyer by profession, Rajapaksa has rewritten the Constitution to allow him to stand for election again. Were he to win, he could stay in power until 2021.

Confirmation that Rajapaksa would stand for re-election came in a brief statement from his office that said he had signed a “proclamation declaring his intention to hold a Presidential Election seeking another term”.

The proclamation has been sent to the chief elections commissioner, who will set the exact date. However ministers have already indicated the election would be in January.

An official in the President’s office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP Thursday that the deadline for nominations was likely to be December 8 and the vote was expected on either January 7 or 8.

Pro-government astrologers have previously said the first week of January represents the most auspicious window of opportunity, and Rajapaksa’s office released photos of him checking his watch Thursday to determine the best time to sign the proclamation.

The government is keen to hold the ballot before a scheduled visit by Pope Francis from January 13 to 15, with the Church warning that parties should not use the trip for political advantage.

Rajapaksa came to power after narrowly winning the 2005 election, and increased his majority in 2010 after government troops routed the Tamil Tigers. – From The Asian Age

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