The former president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has announced he will stand in upcoming parliamentary elections. The strongman lost the presidency in January to former health minster, Maithripala Sirisena.
Speaking at a rally in his southern Sri Lankan hometown of Medamulana on Wednesday, the ex-leader said he was re-entering politics and would contest a seat in parliament in August. Mahinda Rajapaksa told supporters he had been listening to their calls for him to return.
"I am not prepared to reject your request, I have no right to do so and I will contest the next elections for the sake of the motherland," he said. "We are ready to march forward."
Rajapaksa's announcement comes as the new president, Maithripala Sirisena, struggles to push through reforms with his barely six-month-old coalition government. The former health minister, along with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, faces tough opposition from lawmakers loyal to Rajapaksa. They have resisted implementing changes including reducing presidential powers, something Rajapaksa is accused of abusing.
Last week Sirisena dissolved parliament, bringing elections forward by 10 months, in a bid to help him consolidate power. He is also hoping to gain the support of a new parliament ahead of a domestic investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the previous government.
Rajapaksa is a controversial figure in the south Asian nation, considered a hero by many for helping lead the country in the defeat of the rebel Tamil Tigers group, and ending an almost three-decade long civil war. But reports by the United Nations have accused him of utilizing brutal techniques and violating human rights, claims that led Rajapaksa to further isolate the country from the West.
The ethnic Sinhalese strongman is also popular with the country's majority Buddhist Sinhala citizens, who account for around 70 percent of the population. Since his defeat the island nation has eased restrictions on media and civil society, and improved relations with the UN and Western nations.
Parliamentary elections will be held on August 17.
an/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)