6,151 candidates to contest for 196 seats in 17 August poll
Ex-President contesting Parliament seat unprecedented; will be highlight of election
President Sirisena refuses to break his silence on nomination for Rajapaksa
Champika appointed UNFGG General Secretary; pledges to continue 8 January struggle
Anura Yapa says Mahinda is district leader for Kurunegala
Interesting line up in National Lists; JVP produces the best
By Dharisha Bastians
The 17 August Parliamentary election officially kicked off after nominations closed at noon yesterday, with all major political parties throwing their hat in the ring to win seats in Sri Lanka’s 15th Parliament.
According to the nomination lists handed over at the district secretariats by noon yesterday, 6,151 candidates will compete for 196 seats in the country’s 225-member Legislature next month.
Battle lines have been drawn in what promises to be a tightly-fought election, with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa ready to make a major political comeback and a newly-energised United National Party and the broad alliance it leads promising to defeat him for the second time this year. In an unprecedented development, the retired President will seek a seat in Parliament, leading the UPFA’s Kurunegala District list. Rajapaksa loyalists in the UPFA have already pledged to campaign for his election as prime minister, even though President Maithripala Sirisena on 30 June ruled out nominating him as the party’s prime ministerial hopeful.
“I promise to work to root out corruption and deceit, create a peaceful society and prioritise national security,” the former President told supporters in Kurunegala yesterday.
Rajapaksa told Reuters by telephone yesterday that he and President Sirisena would be “leading” the UPFA polls campaign.
“Today, people want change. I am leading the campaign with President Sirisena as the Chairman of the party to form a Sri Lanka Freedom Party-led Government,” the former President told Reuters after he handed in nomination papers.
The decision to allow Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest the election has irked millions of voters who elected President Sirisena to office and disillusioned key ministers and political activists who fought hard for his victory in January.
The President, who has remained silent on the issue for over a week now, is being accused of ‘betrayal’ by his staunchest allies. Yesterday the Presidential Media Unit denied speculation that President Sirisena was scheduled to issue a statement after the deadline for nominations had lapsed.
Former Sirisena aides told the Daily FT last weekend that the President was set to issue a “shocking” statement at the close of the nominations period, widely speculated to be an announcement that he was quitting as leader of the UPFA.
The President is also coming under heavy criticism from former allies for permitting his party to grant nominations to several former MPs remanded over corruption charges, including Johnston Fernando and Hambantota’s infamous ‘toy pistol’ mayor Eraj Fernando on the UPFA list.
Three members of the Rajapaksa family – Namal Rajapaksa, Chamal Rajapaksa and Nirupama Rajapaksa – will also contest from the Hambantota District.
However, the UPFA declined to give nominations to notorious former MPs Duminda Silva, Sajin Vaas Gunewardane, Sarana Gunewardane and Mervyn Silva. Pressure has been mounted over the weekend by Kolonnawa supporters and Buddhist monks on the UPFA to grant Duminda Silva a nomination.
Former President Rajapaksa will contest in the Kurunegala District, the island’s third largest district, to raise his chances to claim the title of prime minister if the UPFA wins the polls.
SLFP General Secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa handed over nominations for the UPFA at the Kurunegala District Secretariat yesterday.
“Actually it is President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is district leader. I am the deputy,” Yapa told reporters at the Secretariat.
Energy Minister and JHU strongman Champika Ranawaka, who has been named General Secretary of the United National Front for Good Governance, which will be registered as a political alliance only post-poll, said there was work left to do to make the 8 January struggle meaningful.
“The political decisions we made in the past allowed us to bring real change to this country. We were able to restore democracy and root out nepotism, autocracy and corruption,” Ranawaka said when he arrived at the Colombo District Secretariat to hand over nominations yesterday.
The UPFA will hold its maiden rally in Anuradhapura on 17 July. The UNP kicks off its election campaign with a rally in Kandy today.
In the National Lists of the leading parties there were old and new faces, both which drew criticism from political analysts. The JVP’s list was widely commended for containing a host of professionals.