COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) – Sri Lanka’s health minister quit President Ma-hinda Rajapaksa’s government Friday to challenge him in the upcoming elections, accusing the leader of taking the country toward an autocracy.
The defection of Maithripala Sirisena, who is also No 2 in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the largest in the ruling coalition, is a serious setback for Rajapaksa’s quest for a third term. He is still popular after leading a military campaign to end a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels, but the erosion of support from within his own party is unprecedented.
Sirisena left the government with three other ministers and a lawmaker, saying Friday he has been chosen as the combined opposition’s presidential candidate.
“After the war victory, the present government started veering in a direction that none of us expected,” Sirisena told reporters, flanked by his colleagues and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
“Looking at the path that the country’s leadership and the adminis-tration travel, the country is heading toward a beatific autocracy. Elections are held; concessions are given; development takes place, (but) behind a smiling face are many things that the people and we can’t approve of,” he said. “One family has captured the country’s economy, wealth, administration and the management of the political party.”
Rajapaksa announced on Thursday he’s seeking a third term, two years before his second term ends. The Elections Department set January 8 as polling day.