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Sri Lankan government tries to disqualify opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka

[Times Online UK, Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:08 No Comment]

The Sri Lankan government has launched an 11th-hour legal challenge against the opposition candidate in the presidential election after a tense day of voting.

The government claimed Sarath Fonseka, the former general standing against President Mahinda Rajapaksa, should be disqualified because his name was not on the official electoral list.

“We are seeking a court order on the suitability of this candidate because he is not eligible to be declared as a candidate,” Rohitha Bogollagama, the Foreign Minister, said.

The dispute arises because Mr Fonseka holds a US “green card” which gives him the right to live in America, and he had not officially registered to vote himself in the elections – even though his name appears on ballot papers as a candidate.

A similar challenge to his legitimacy from another opposition candidate was ruled invalid last December.

Because both of the candidates are Sinhalese war heroes, Sri Lankans faced the unusual prospect of the minority Tamils, who suffered most from the Army’s offensive to end the country’s long-standing civil war, having a deciding say in which man was elected President.

Tamil parties have declared their support for Mr Fonseka, but an anticipated low turnout in the areas where war has left tens of thousands homeless and living in camps could scupper the effort to unseat Mr Rajapaksa.

Fear of violence remained throughout the day after a series of early morning explosions in the northern city of Jaffna. The attacks did not cause any casualties, however, and there were no reports of major violence by the time polls closed in the afternoon.

“Life is difficult, the cost of living is high. We need a change of government to stop corruption,” said Pathirannnehelage Priyalal, a 40-year-old businessman in the town of Gampaha, north of Colombo, who said he voted for Mr Fonseka. “There has been no relief even after the war and if this government remains, even finding food will be difficult.”

Mr Rajapaksa, however, still retains strong support for defeating the Tamil Tigers in the country’s long-running civil war, and human rights groups accuse him of misusing state resources – including the state media – to bolster his campaign, including intimidating opponents.

[Full Coverage]

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