Sajith Premadasa a major contender in Sri Lankan presidential race

Published : September 27, 2019 16:21 IST

Sajith Premadasa at the United National Party office in Colombo on September 26 after he was nominated its presidential candidate. Photo: ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP

With the United National Party (UNP) finally announcing, on September 26, Minister Sajith Premadasa as its candidate for the presidential election scheduled for November 16, the race for the top job is now between him and the main opposition Sri Lanka Podujana Party’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Gotabaya had a good two-month-plus advantage over his contender as the UNP delayed its announcement, mainly because of internal issues, including Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s desire to contest, and UNP supremo and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reluctance to endorse the candidature of Sajith, who is the son of former President R. Premadasa. Sajith is currently Deputy Leader of the party and Minister for Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs.

Sajith’s statements since his nomination have been welcomed across ethnic lines. He tweeted: “I will create an undivided, secure Sri Lanka. Unity is the way forward”; and “Every Sri Lankan should reap the benefits of development. Let’s get ready to build a New Sri Lanka.” His speeches too are on the same lines. Sajith needs the minority vote to win, while Gotabaya is working on majoritarian sentiments to see himself over the finish line of 50 per cent plus one vote. If no candidate manages this, there will be a run-off contest.

Adding a twist to the race, Colombo’s Chief Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne has ordered the Assistant Election Commissioner, Hambantota, and Controller of Immigration to handover the documents relating to the dual citizenship of Gotabaya. Gotabaya was a dual citizen—of Sri Lanka and the United States—and is said to have given up his U.S. citizenship to contest the presidential election. Only a Sri Lankan citizen can contest the election.

The Election Commission has made it clear that a determination of whether the papers of contesting candidates were in order would only be made when scrutiny was undertaken on October 7. All the papers given to the commission would be safely kept under its custody until this date.

President Maithiripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party is yet to announce its candidate for the election. Although there are at least 14 candidates who will contest the November 16 election, the ones who evoke interest, apart from Gotabaya and Sajith, are Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Frontline Socialist Party’s Duminda Nagamuwa and National Development Front’s Rohan Pallewatta. The election will be a crucial test for these three because the votes they gather will indicate if these combinations are any longer relevant in Sri Lanka.

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