Rajapaksa trails in survey

Mahinda Rajapaksa 2Former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa is trailing his main rival in a prime ministerial elections later this month, the latest national opinion poll showed, as the once-powerful leader struggles to mount a strong campaign.

Ousted by former ally Maithripala Sirisena in a presidential election in January, Rajapaksa is seeking to turn the tables at the Aug.17 parliamentary polls but is being dogged by allegations of abuse of power and sleaze.

His party said his campaign has also been hobbled by a lack of security for a leader who crushed a 26-year insurgency by ethnic Tamil rebels in 2009, which won him a support among majority Sinhalese but has made him unpopular among Tamils.

Nearly 40 per cent of voters surveyed at the end of the last month said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was the best man for the job and only 27.5 per cent chose Rajapaksa, the Centre for Policy Analysis, which conducted the poll, said.

The survey across all 25 districts of the island nation showed Tamil and Muslim voters stood solidly behind Wickremesinghe, the leader of the United National Party-led coalition.

Rajapaksa held the edge among mostly Buddhist Sinhalese, winning the support of 36 per cent against Wickremesinghe’s 31.9 per cent.

Keerthi Tennakoon, the executive director of Campaign for Free and Fair Election, said Rajapaksa and his party colleagues were fighting for survival.

Unlike in the past, they did not have government patronage or state media support, affecting the reach of Rajapaksa’s campaign, party members said.

“The government has not even provided vehicles to transport his security officials,” said his spokesman, Rohan Welivita.

At one rally in Karunagala district, north of the capital Colombo, Rajapaksa was denied the use of a loudspeaker to address supporters because he arrived so late his permit had expired.

Rajapaksa remains a divisive figure in the multi-ethnic island nation of 21 million people that is still healing from extensive rights violations in the final stages of the civil war.

A UN human rights report on the war in the north is due for release soon after the election. The United Nations estimated in 2011 that up to 40,000 civilians died in the final army assault on the separatist rebels. Rajapaksa’s government denied abuses. President Sirisena has criticised Rajapaksa’s comeback bid and said he allowed him to run in the general election to avert a split in their Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

Sri Lanka Tuesday pledged to act on a UN war crimes report to be published next month, marking a de facto acceptance of an investigation rejected by the previous regime.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Colombo would address the issues likely to be raised in the report during next month’s United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

“We (have) got to address the issues that arise from the UN Human Rights report in Geneva,” Wickremesinghe told a local private sector economic forum in the capital.

“It is useless blaming the (Tamil) diaspora,” he said, referring to the previous regime’s allegation that Tamils abroad had orchestrated the UN war crimes investigation against Sri Lanka.

The country’s 37-year guerrilla war ended in 2009, with Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils defeated by the government in a military campaign that left thousands of combatants and civilians killed and wounded.(Gulf  Today)

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