Way open for comeback by Mahinda Rajapaksa

Rajapakse 2Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, who was defeated in January, now has a chance to make a major political comeback after his successor cleared the way for him to run for a seat in parliament in elections scheduled for August 17.

President Maithripala Sirisena said this week that he did not have the power to block Mr Rajapaksa’s run for parliament, because the alliance of parties he leads is still dominated by people loyal to the former president. But Mr Sirisena has come under fire from some of his former supporters, who said he had betrayed the movement that brought him to power.

“We never thought he would consent to bring the corrupt Rajapaksa regime back to power after we defeated him,” said Saman Ratnapriya, a trade union activist whose collective was part of 49 civil society organisations that backed Mr Sirisena’s presidential bid. “He has betrayed us.”

Before the January election, Mr Sirisena, a longtime lieutenant of Mr Rajapaksa’s, abruptly defected and became the face of the political opposition. He won the backing of a host of civil society organisations, professional associations and trade unions, which accused the Rajapaksa government of corruption, nepotism and financial mismanagement.

On Tuesday, Mr Sirisena sought to reassure those groups, vowing that he would not allow the former president to be named prime minister, even if Mr Rajapaksa’s alliance gained a majority in the August elections.

Mr Sirisena said that he “strongly disagreed” with the decision to nominate Mr Rajapaksa as a parliamentary candidate. “My opposition to him stands,” Mr Sirisena told reporters.

But analysts say that Mr Sirisena may not have much choice, if the coalition to which he and his rival belong, the United People’s Freedom Alliance, wins a majority. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a research and policy institute based in Colombo, the capital, said Mr Sirisena would “find it difficult to deny Rajapaksa the prime ministerial position” in that case.

Mr Rajapaksa, who formally declared his candidacy on Monday, will run for a seat in the northwestern Kurunegala District, Sri Lanka’s third most populous, which would strengthen his claim to be named prime minister if the alliance gains a majority.

New York Times

For months, Mr Rajapaksa has been planning his return to power, meeting with loyal politicians and members of the media at a prominent Buddhist temple in Colombo.

On July 1, he summoned thousands of supporters and reporters to his ancestral home in southern Sri Lanka to officially announce his return to active politics.

“I am not ready to reject the appeal you are all making,” he boomed, reading from a teleprompter in the sweltering midday heat, as about 6,000 supporters cheered. “For the sake of this country, for the sake of the motherland, we must contest in the upcoming parliamentary elections.”

Several ministers, lawmakers and provincial councillors left the United People’s Freedom Alliance on Sunday to protest the decision to allow Mr Rajapaksa to run. “Sri Lanka will not go back to the dark ages again,” said Champika Ranawaka, Sirisena’s energy minister. “We must band together to defeat” Rajapaksa’s efforts to restore his “family rule”.(New York Times)

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