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S Lanka opposition forms alliance

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

Ranil Wickremesinghe (file photo)
Mr Wickremesinghe is a former prime minister

Opposition parties in Sri Lanka have formed an alliance to fight presidential and parliamentary elections due by next April.

They hope to dislodge a governing coalition still riding high on a tide of popularity among majority Sinhalas after the Tamil Tigers' defeat in May.

The new alliance is led by former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and includes Muslim and Tamil parties.

Its main rallying cry is to abolish the presidential system of government.

Bloated government

The opposition in Sri Lanka is often portrayed as weak and downhearted.

The governing coalition headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa enjoys great popularity among the island's Sinhalese majority.

It has co-opted several opposition politicians into one of the most bloated governments in the world, with more than 100 ministers.

It has also embraced Tamil former paramilitary fighters, some of whom broke away from the Tamil Tigers.

Mr Wickremesinghe's party has teamed up with a mixed group including Sri Lanka's main Muslim grouping; a mainly Tamil party based in the capital; and a breakaway faction from the president's party.

The new grouping wants to abolish the presidential system of government and return to the parliamentary system which was scrapped 30 years ago.

The current and previous presidents both pledged to abolish it - but went back on the promise once in office.

Outside both coalitions are the more pro-Tiger Tamil parties; and a Sinhalese nationalist Marxist party, the JVP, which once waged its own bloody insurrection.

There has been much speculation that the man who led the army to victory, now the armed forces chief of staff, Gen Sarath Fonseka, might stand for president against Mr Rajapaksa.

Analysts here say it is almost inconceivable he would join the new opposition coalition, with its minority parties; but that the JVP might seek to adopt him as a candidate.



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