Sri Lanka election: Health chief to challenge Rajapaksa 


One of the most senior figures in the Sri Lankan government has announced that he is defecting to stand against President Mahinda Rajapaksa in forthcoming presidential elections.

Correspondents say the move by Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena is a major political setback for the president ahead of the January vote.

Mr Sirisena was one of the most powerful men in the ruling party.

Five other government MPs have also announced their defections.

Rajitha Senaratne, Duminda Dissanayake, Rajiva Wijeysinghe, MKDS Gunawardena and Vasantha Senanayaka have all decided to back Mr Sirisena in the 8 January election.

He also has the backing of the main opposition UNP in the poll as well as the support of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Correspondents say that Friday’s dramatic developments are likely to split President Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

The president – who secured victory over Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009 – is seeking an unprecedented third term in office after coming to power in 2005.

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