Sri Lanka candidates begin last campaign swing
COLOMBO: Final campaigning kicked off on Monday in Sri Lanka as the two main parties battled to avoid a possible hung parliament that could imperil efforts to end a 20-year civil war.
Extra security was put in place after last week’s shooting of a former cabinet minister running for the ruling party in Colombo and of a returning officer on the east coast. Informal polls show President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s party slightly ahead, but unlikely to win a majority in the 225-seat parliament.
Kumaratunga, who is not up for re-election, is a rival of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and dissolved parliament last month after accusing Wickremesinghe of giving away too much to try to end the island’s civil war with the Tamil Tigers.
Both say they will restart stalled peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) if they win, but analysts said that could be difficult unless either Kumaratunga’s United People’s Freedom Alliance or Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) wins a majority.
Instability: Sri Lanka is seeking stability as it faces its third elections in four years Friday, but opinion polls and analysts say the country may just be heading for more trouble.
At the root is the feud between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who are at loggerheads over Oslo-backed attempts to end war with Tamil Tiger ethnic rebels. The two once played together as children and share privileged backgrounds — Kumaratunga is a daughter of two prime ministers and Wickremesinghe is a nephew of the country’s first executive president.
Election chief: Sri Lanka’s independent election chief Monday took over state-owned radio and television stations amid allegations that their programmes were highly biased towards the president’s party.
Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake said he appointed a “competent authority” to run stations until the conclusion of the election which begins with voting Friday and ends with the declaration of results a few days later.
It is the first time since independence from Britain in 1948 that Sri Lanka’s state-controlled media has been brought under independent authority during an election. President Chandrika Kumaratunga called elections four years ahead of schedule after a feud with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is elected separately and is from a rival party.
Independent poll monitors as well as political parties had charged that the state Rupavahini (SLRC) television channel and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) were being used as organs of the president’s Freedom Alliance. —Agencies