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Sri Lanka president seeks unprecedented third term

November 20, 2014

The president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has called snap elections. The long-time politician's party recently suffered setbacks in local elections, and this week he lost a key political ally.

Mahinda Rajapaksa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/E. Jayawardena

For the first time since Sri Lanka gained independence in 1978, the president of the island nation has announced he will be seeking an unprecedented third term.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa - who was elected in 2005 and in 2010 - called for snap elections on Thursday, a full two years before his tenure ends.

"I have signed the proclamation calling for the election for re-election a third time," Rajapaksa said on state television, adding: "That is democracy."

Under the country's constitution, the president may call elections four years into a term. The Supreme Court upheld this law earlier this month, paving the way for his announcement on Thursday.

The Election Commission is to announce a date, anticipated to be set for January.

A shift in popularity

Rajapaksa's decision came amid signs that he and his party were politically vulnerable. In local elections in September, his United People's Freedom Alliance suffered its worst losses, losing roughly 20 percent support among voters.

This week, the president also learned that a significant ally, the National Heritage Party (JHU), was exiting the government. As the main party of Buddhist monks, its departure could damage his support in a country where Buddhists comprise nearly 70 percent of its population of 21.8 million.

The JHU cited Rajapaksa's grip on power as a contributor to its decision to leave the government, echoing an oft-voiced criticism by the opposition.

The 69-year-old politician narrowly won elections in 2005. Six years later, he and his party clinched an overwhelming victory, thanks in large part to his government's success in defeating Tamil rebels in 2009, thus ending more than a quarter century of civil war.

However, his presidency has faced increasing scrutiny since 2010 when he changed the constitution, giving himself more executive powers and reversing a campaign promise to scrap a two-term limit.

kms/tj (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)