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Sri Lanka to test post-war popularity before major polls

[Reuters, Tuesday, 4 August 2009 17:21 No Comment]

Sri Lanka called an election in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s native province, officials said on Tuesday, taking one of the last steps needed before he can call nationwide polls to capitalise on his victory over Tamil Tiger rebels.
The poll in the Southern Province will be the last provincial vote in the island nation excluding the Northern Province, totally captured by the military when it defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels and ended a 25-year war on May 18.
W.P Sumanasiri, additional commissioner at the Department of Elections, said the election date has not been fixed yet and notice to call nominations will be issued within a week.
Presidential allies and analysts have said they expect Rajapaksa to call an early national poll to ensure his popularity does not wane, particularly now that a $2.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan has come through.
Under the loan, the government has agreed to cut its budget deficit to 5 percent in 2011 from 7.7 percent in 2008, and many economists say that could make it difficult for his government to maintain some of its populist measures and a top-heavy cabinet.
Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition has won six provincial elections since May 2008, and his dissolving of the Southern provincial council late on Monday fuelled further speculation he will call a national vote early to secure another six-year term.
The earliest he can call a presidential poll, under the constitution, is when he completes his fourth year at the helm in November. The next parliamentary election should be held in April, while the next presidential poll is due in November 2011.
On Saturday, Sri Lanka will hold elections in the southern province of Uva and the northern towns of Jaffna and Vavuniya, two cities that were at the periphery of the territory controlled by the rebels for most of the 25-year separatist war.
The upcoming elections in the north are the first in the towns since 1998, and are aimed at entrenching civilian administrations there.

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