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Q+A – Key factors in Sri Lanka’s presidential poll

[Reuters, Friday, 1 January 2010 11:04 No Comment]

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is seeking re-election this month, with the main challenger his former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who led the military to victory in a 25-year war against separatists.

WHO IS LEADING THE POLL CAMPAIGN?

With a record 22 candidates in the field, the incumbent president leads Fonseka.

But analysts say there has been a shift towards Fonseka since last week despite his party’s complaints that state authorities are engaged in acts of sabotage.

On Thursday, the local body of Transparency International said the government had been misusing state property for Rajapaksa’s campaign. Analysts have blamed lack of independent commissions overseeing the election, police, judiciary, and public service for the situation.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN ELECTION ISSUES?

Heading the agenda is a political solution after the defeat of Tamil Tigers separatists in May, a reconciliation process and a sustainable peace to prevent any new uprising. That means developing policies for post-war economic development as well as a foreign policy with improved international relationships.

The high cost of living is a key issue. But both candidates are still vying to secure credit for winning the war. Both speak of war crimes, ensuring full democratic rights, good governance, and media freedom, eliminating corruption and nepotism.

HOW ABOUT MINORITY TAMILS AND POST-WAR RECONCILIATION?

The main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), once backed by the rebels, will announce its stance on Monday. Analysts expect Tamils, almost 12 percent of the population and an important bloc of votes, to lean towards Fonseka as he is backed by the main opposition group, the United National Party (UNP).

Analysts say any attempt by Rajapaksa to promote reconciliation could be undermined by extremists in his own coalition. Fonseka is more comfortable in this respect as most of his allies have achieved broad agreement on a political solution.

HOW ABOUT THE ECONOMY?

Both leading candidates promise a great deal on the economy, but have so far failed to say explicitly how they will take advantage of post-war economic optimism to boost growth.

Fonseka has promised financial benefits worth over 200 billion rupees ($1.75 billion) for the public on salary hikes and transfer payments and an end to corruption and waste. Rajapaksa talks about infrastructure development and eliminating poverty, especially in rural areas, and is expected to promise subsidies to win over those regions.

But conditions for a $2.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund include reducing government expenditure to curb the budget deficit to 6 percent of gross domestic product by 2010.

Fonseka may face a problem with his economic policies as his two main backers, the pro-business UNP and the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, have markedly different ideological outlooks.

[Full Coverage]

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