Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

General Puts Up a Fight in Sri Lanka's Election

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Having vanquished the fearsome Tamil Tiger insurgency in May with a no-holds-barred assault on its last stronghold, Mr. Rajapaksa enjoyed widespread adulation.

The opposition parties were fractured and in disarray. No one, it seemed, could match the president’s popularity, despite deep unease about what seemed to be the increasing concentration of power in the hands of his family and rising corruption.

But to near-universal surprise, an alphabet soup of political parties has rallied around the retired general who led Sri Lanka’s army to victory against the Tamil Tigers, Sarath Fonseka.

On Tuesday, voters here will go to the polls in what has been one of the most bitterly contested elections in Sri Lankan history. The winner will preside over the reconstruction and reconciliation of a country torn apart by more than a quarter-century of ethnic conflict.

Mr. Rajapaksa has argued that he delivered on his election promise, made in 2005, to end the war, and that he can be relied upon to mend the country. But his popularity has waned in the months since the end of the war as Sri Lankans have grown impatient for prosperity. Mr. Rajapaksa has also given powerful positions in the government to relatives, rankling many Sri Lankans.

“Sri Lanka has always been a democracy,” said Waskadwa Dhammarana, a Buddhist monk who supported the president in 2005 but is now planning to vote for General Fonseka. “I am against corruption, nepotism and the antidemocratic attitude prevalent in the Rajapaksa regime.”