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Sri Lanka - 2019 General Election

The year 2019 is an election year, but by January no one knew whether it was the provincial, presidential or general election that will be held first. Provincial elections were overdue, with the terms of six out of nine Provincial Councils in the island having expired in 2018, but the possibility of a presidential election had elicited more interest in the country.

Constitutionally the PC election comes first. Its the Presidents prerogative to hold the Presidential election before the due date. President has said there is no hurry, he has said the PC elections must be held first and the Presidential election will be held on the due date, which means on 08 January 2020 a new President will be in office. The Election Commissioner must call for elections at least by the end of October 2019.

A 2015 law known popularly as the 19th Amendment disallows two-time former President Mahinda Rajapaksa from contesting a third term. Many said President Maithripala is said to be exploring a second term. Sirisenas performance as President in his first year in office had fallen short of expectations, as key promises abolishing the Executive Presidency, changing the electoral system, prosecuting those responsible for bribery and corruption and fostering a culture of good governance - had only been partly fulfilled. However, he remained a benign figure in the public perception.

President Sirisena would be the common candidate fielded jointly by the new party formed by Mr. Rajapaksas supporters, along with the United Peoples Freedom Alliance to which both Sirisena and Rajapaksa belong. That left their camp with at least three contenders for candidacy. There were at least three contenders on the other side as well, in the Ranil Wickremesinghe-led United National Party. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, the partys Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya have their respective support bases based on perceptions of their chances to win an election.

In a charge that might seriously impair New Delhi-Colombo relations, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday 23 October 2018 accused Indias Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of plotting his assassination. At the weekly Cabinet meeting, Sirisena told Ministers that the Indian intelligence agency was trying to kill him, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi may not be aware of the plan, The Hindu learned from sources present at the discussion. The meeting also saw a heated argument between President Sirisena and prime minister Wickremesinghe, when a Cabinet paper on developing the Colombo Port came up for discussion. Sirisena vehemently objected to any Indian involvement in upgrading its east container terminal a project that New Delhi had been keen to take up.

Early on 26 October 2018, President Maithripala Sirisensa's United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) said it would quit the ruling coalition. This brought an end to a coalition government that was formed more than three years ago on promises of economic reform and accountability for alleged atrocities committed during Mahinda Rajapaksa's 10-year rule at the close of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war.

In a move that was slammed by opponents, who dubbed it an "anti-democratic coup", former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as prime minister after the country's president sacked incumbent Ranil Wickremesinghe, in a surprise move that threatened political turmoil in the Indian Ocean nation. The appointment was confirmed in a statement from President Maithripala Sirisena's office on Friday 26 October 2018. Mahinda Amaraweera, a presidential aide, told The Associated Press news agency that Rajapaksa has the majority needed in the 225-member parliament to run a stable government.

Sirisena's move came at a time when massive Chinese investments projects in Sri Lanka have come under heavy criticism to the extent that they are being perceived as a huge threat to the country's national interests. Relations between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe had soured since their parties suffered humiliating losses to Rajapaksa's party in February's local council elections. The two have disagreed over economic policy and day-to-day administration of the government. Sirisena was also thought to be behind a failed attempt to impeach Wickremesinghe in April when 122 legislators in the 225-member parliament voted to back the now-sacked prime minister. The country's Sinhalese-Buddhist majority was fearful of the growing strength of radical Tamil parties. Wickramasinghe enjoyed the support of the country's minority voters, and this was also perceived by many Sinhalese as a threat.

The ruling coalition had been further strained in recent days by strong criticism from Sirisena and his allies that ministers from Wickremesinghe's party did not act properly in investigating an alleged assassination plot against the president and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the new prime minister's younger brother.

Wickremesinghe later insisted he remained the prime minister. "I retain the confidence of the house. I am the prime minister and I have the majority," Wickremesinghe told local media. "According to the constitution, I'm the prime minister. That [removal] is not legal." Mangala Samaraweera, the finance minister of the outgoing government, argued that Rajapaksa's appointment was a violation of the constitution, which was amended in 2015 to curtail the president's powers.

Wickramasinghe's removal and Rajapaksa's appointment showed that elements that favor a closer cooperation with China and a critical stance towards India and the West had gained strength. Rajapaksa, who was president from 2005 to 2015, increasingly took an anti-West posture and had drifted closer to China during his last years in power. The Sri Lankan "coup" happened after Chinese economic interests were seriously challenged by Wickramasinghe's administration. Under Wickramasinghe, Sri Lanka made remarkable efforts to address the country's unresolved issues with India. The ousted premier tried to improve ties not only with New Delhi but also with the West.

Sri Lanka's new prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and 44 former lawmakers defected from the party led by President Maithripala Sirisena, splitting with the president barely two weeks after he installed Rajapaksa in office. The feud put the country on the path towards a government shutdown with parliament unable to pass spending for 2019 as legislators clashed on the chamber floor - throwing chairs, books, and chilli paste - over who should remain the country's prime minister.

Sirisena dissolved parliament on 09 November 2018 and called a general election for Jan. 5 in a move that has drawn international criticism as it is likely to deepen the country's political crisis. Wickremesinghe insisted his sacking was illegal, and his United National Party (UNP), which has a majority in the 225-member House, passed two no-confidence motions against Rajapaksa.

Parliament voted to cut the budget for Rajapaksa and his ministers after Sirisena refused to accept no-confidence votes against Rajapaksa, saying that due process was not followed. Parliament had already passed a confidence vote in Wickremesinghe while it sought his reinstatement as prime minister to defuse a constitutional crisis.

Sirisena ruled out ever reappointing Wickremesinghe and tried to dissolve parliament in a bid to hold new elections. That attempt was thwarted by the Supreme Court, which on 13 December 2018 said the president's moves to sack the House was unconstitutional. Sri Lanka's Supreme Court rejected Rajapaksa's bid for an injunction against a lower court's order that barred him and his Cabinet from performing their roles.

On 15 December 2018 Sri Lanka's disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stepped down from his post, signalling an end to a weeks-long political crisis that has kept the Indian Ocean nation without a functional government. Rajapaksa said his coalition will now act as the opposition to Wickremesinghe's UNP, and lobby the government to hold provincial elections, some of which have been postponed for more than three years.

Ousted in October, Ranil Wickremesinghe returned as the island country's PM a day after disputed premier Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned, ending a 51-day political crisis in the country. Wickremesinghe was sworn in on 16 December 2018 by President Maithripala Sirisena, who sacked him on October 26 and triggered a power struggle that brought the country's government to a standstill.

Former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, accused by rights groups of war crimes during the final months of Sri Lanka's long-running civil war a decade ago, confirmed he plans to run for the presidency in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks that have shattered the country's uneasy peace. Rajapaksa, the brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, told Al Jazeera 17 May 2019 that he would stand as a candidate in elections due by late 2019. during the decade that he was defence secretary, the military was accused of a wide range of abuses - from torture to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings - creating a climate of fear among journalists, activists and government critics.

"Definitely I'm contesting," Rajapaksa said with a chuckle during an interview in the book-lined study of his home in the capital, Colombo, photos from his military career hanging from the walls. "I have decided long time. Otherwise, there's no need for me to renounce my US citizenship." There has long been speculation that Rajapaksa, a Sri Lanka-US dual citizen, will campaign for the presidency. Rajapaksa has to renounce his US citizenship in order to run for president. His name does not appear on the most recent quarterly filing to the US registry on those who have lost their citizenship, which covers the three months until the end of March.

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