Lankan presidential poll on Nov 17

Colombo, August 19:

Sri Lanka’s presidential election will be held on November 17, election officials said today. Nominations will be accepted on October 7, said Rasika Peiris, assistant election commissioner. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the presidential election must be held this year — ending months of controversy over when President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s second term ends.

She is limited by the constitution to two terms, and had argued that she should be able to serve until next year because the previous elections were called early. Ruling party candidate Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe are locked in a tightly contested race for the presidency. The election is largely seen as a referendum on how to handle a fragile peace process with the Tamil Tiger rebels, who have demanded greater autonomy in their northeastern stronghold as a condition for resuming talks on ending the island’s two-decade-long civil war.

Rajapakse has already secured support from a hardline Marxist party and another led by Sri Lanka’s influential Buddhist monks after he pledged not to share power with the guerrillas and to review tle Norwegian-brokered peace process. The move has angered Kumaratunga, who has long pushed for a power-sharing deal and agreed to the Tigers’ demand for joint distribution of aid for victims of the December 26 tsunami, hoping to achieve peace with the rebels. Wickremesinghe, who signed a cease-fire with the rebels in February 2002 when he was prime minister, has promised to resume the peace talks and create a federal system of government that would give the separatists more autonomy.

The Tigers began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka’s minority ethnic Tamils, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. The conflict has already killed nearly 65,000 people.