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Sri Lanka - 2015 Presidential Election

Only four years into his second six-year term, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was so confident of the strength of his popularity that he changed the constitution to allow himself a shot at a third term, and then decided to go to the polls early, setting 08 January 2015 as the election date. President Mahinda Rajapaksa conceded defeat 09 January 2015 and his challenger Maithripala Sirisena was declared the winner.

On November 11, 2014 Sri Lanka's highest court cleared President Mahinda Rajapakse to run for re-election, rejecting opposition claims he was barred under the constitution to hold office for a third term. Sri Lanka's constitution was changed in 2010 to eliminate the two-term limit. And some legal experts argued the amended constitution only applied to new presidents and cannot be used retroactively.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that there was no legal impediment for Rajapakse to run for an unprecedented third six-year term. The president also had the authority to call for an election after he completed four years of his current term. Rajapakse was expected to call for an early election to be held on 08 January 2015.

Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, who left the government with at least three other ministers, said 21 November 2014 he had been selected to become the main opposition candidate. The joint Opposition alliance of the New Democratic Front (NDF) backed common candidate and incumbent President, Sirisena. His defection from the government was a major setback for President Rajapakse who enjoys considerable support after leading a military campaign to end a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels. Sirisena accused the president's administration of nepotism and of taking the country toward authoritarianism.

Sirisena represented the same Sinhala constituency as Rajapaksa, and he also hoped to get the votes of Tamil and Muslim minorities. They account for about 30 percent of the population. Muslims were angry about a series of attacks mounted by extremist Buddhist monks. Tamils said they continue to be marginalized, while little has been done to punish those responsible for war crimes.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa conceded defeat 09 January 2015 and his challenger Maithripala Sirisena was declared the winner with 51.3 percent of the vote in the presidential election. Political analysts said minority groups played a key role in ending the decade-long rule of the once-powerful leader, whose popularity had plummeted in recent years.

Maithripala Sirisena was elected to a six-year term. He campaigned on a platform of good governance and anti-corruption as well as ethnic reconciliation. The Commonwealth Observer Group reported that voters in the January 2015 presidential election were able to exercise their franchise freely and that vote counting was transparent, with the results swiftly revealed to the public. Observers reported widespread abuse of state resources used for campaigning, consistent bias in state media toward the former government, and denial of access to venues for the opposition candidate.

The 63-year-old Sirisena, is a complete contrast to his predecessor. Unlike Rajapaksas larger-than-life image, he is a low profile, down-to-earth politician who comes from the countrys farming heartland. The new presidents said he would end a culture of nepotism and corruption which prevailed under Rajapaksa, who had packed the government with his family members. He has also promised to ensure religious harmony. Sirisena promised to reduce the immense powers that President Rajapaksa had concentrated in his hands.

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