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Sri Lanka - 2005 Presidential Election

On 02 August 2005, the President requested an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court as to when the election should take place, given the controversy over whether the presidential election will be held in 2005 or 2006. On 26 August 2005 a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled that presidential elections must take place between October 28 and November 22, 2005.

Presidential elections were held in November 2005, with Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming President, and Ratnasiri Wickramanayake becoming Prime Minister. The UNP once again sorely misjudged the popular rural pulse, offering a new welfare program that farmers feared would threaten their existing "Samurdhi" payments.

Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa won 60 percent of the Sinhalese vote despite the fact that much of his party's machinery -- including incumbent president Chandrika Kumaratunga -- was turned against him. On the campaign trail, Rajapaksa spoke like a villager, dressed like a villager and talked about the concerns of villagers. Rajapaksa's own potential vulnerabilities - that he is just as affluent as his opponent, had several siblings living in the U.S., as well as a Catholic wife - were never played up in the campaign.

The defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe in the November 17 presidential election marks the United National Party's (UNP) thirteenth loss in fourteen electoral contests (at the local, provincial and national levels) under Wickremesinghe's leadership. With so many losses in such a comparatively short time, some UNP stalwarts are once again reassessing Wickremesinghe's suitability as leader of Sri Lanka's oldest democratic party.

For the anti-Wickremesinghe faction, the LTTE boycott of the election is not an adequate excuse for their candidate's defeat; the UNP must improve its standing among Sinhalese voters if it hopes to regain the leadership of the nation. These reformists complain that Wickremesinghe, who is perceived as an aloof, westernized intellectual, was "difficult to market" to the rural Sinhalese Buddhist south. Wickremesinghe is undoubtedly smart and can speak well in diplomatic, parliamentary and/or academic circles, but lacked the common, glad-handing, "man-of-the-people" touch that worked so well for Rajapaksa during the election. The UNP leader appeared too affluent, wore too many suits, spoke too much English and had too many Christian relatives to prevail at the polls.

Sri Lanka has a multi-party democracy that enjoyed considerable stability despite relatively high levels of political violence during its 26-year civil conflict. In May 2009, the government declared victory over the LTTE and the LTTEs longtime leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed. The LTTEs terrorist activities had generally been aimed at destabilizing Sri Lanka politically, economically, and socially.

Rajapaksas popularity soared after he ended a long-running civil war with Tamil rebels and he was easily reelected in 2010. He won praise for rebuilding the economy, but critics accused him of autocratic rule. He handed key positions to his brothers: One headed the economy ministry, one was speaker of parliament and one was defense chief.

The overall number of extrajudicial killings dropped significantly in 2010 from the previous year. Nevertheless, during the year unknown actors suspected of association with progovernment paramilitary groups committed killings and assaults of civilians. These included the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), led by breakaway LTTE eastern commanders Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan, alias "Karuna," and Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, alias "Pillaiyan," in the east, as well as the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), led by Minister of Social Services and Social Welfare Douglas Devananda, in Jaffna. These and other progovernment paramilitaries also were active in Mannar and Vavuniya. All of these groups endeavored to operate political organizations, some with more success than others, and there were persistent reports of close, ground-level ties between paramilitaries and government security forces.

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