Monday, February 15, 2010

Sri Lanka's grand opposition coalition cracking

By Krishan Francis - The main partner in Sri Lanka's grand opposition coalition will contest the next election independently, coalition officials said Monday, the first split since its defeated presidential candidate was arrested on sedition charges.

United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told reporters Sunday that his party had decided to go it alone but also empowered him to summon its executive committee to consider alternatives.

Another opposition official, Mano Ganeshan, told The Associated Press on Monday that the party's consideration of alternatives is the "only silver lining," because otherwise the opposition would have no chance to counter the president's control of parliament.

"I believe that the grand alliance that took shape during the presidential election is falling apart due to the very rigid position taken by the UNP," Ganeshan said. "I am afraid it may not continue."

In the presidential vote last month, a motley crew of liberals, ultra-nationalist Marxists and former Tamil separatists fielded former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who had been a close ally of the president until a falling-out after the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels ended last year.

After President Mahinda Rajapaksa secured his landslide victory, the military arrested Fonseka on unspecified sedition charges. No formal charges have been filed, and the opposition has described Fonseka's arrest as revenge for daring to challenge Rajapaksa.

Opposition officials and rights groups say that since Rajapaksa's re-election the government has started retribution against political opponents, harassing, attacking and arresting some.

Shortly after the poll, Rajapaksa dissolved the parliament, setting the stage for April 8 general elections, where the ruling coalition hopes to deepen its grip on power.

The Tamil National Alliance, the largest party for ethnic Tamils, also is splitting from the coalition to contest the election independently.

But another partner, the Marxist People's Liberation Front, said it wants to keep the coalition intact and keep Fonseka as its figurehead in their contest for parliament seats.

© Associated Press

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