A record 35 candidates filed nominations on Monday for next month’s presidential election in Sri Lanka, but the incumbent has opted not to seek a second term with the entry of popular former defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is considered the favourite.
Rajapaksa, who served as defence chief under his brother and then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is popular for his part in ending Sri Lanka’s long civil war a decade ago.
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President Maithripala Sirisena, who likely would have had difficulty beating Rajapaksa, did not pay a mandatory deposit by a Sunday deadline and became ineligible to file a nomination.
Rajapaksa represents a breakaway party of Sirisena’s and has the loyalty of a majority from Sirisena’s party.
A record 41 aspirants paid deposits before the deadline, but six of them pulled out of the race. The Election Commission opened for two hours to receive nominations on Monday.
Still, the 35 candidates are the most to contest a presidential election in the Indian Ocean island nation. The previous high was 22 candidates in 2010.
Rajapaksa’s main rival will be Sajith Premadasa, from the governing coalition. He is a son of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was assassinated in 1993 by the Tamil Tiger rebels. The rebels were eventually defeated in the civil war.
Among the presidential candidates are two Buddhist monks, four people from the country’s minority Muslim community and two from the Tamil community. There is one female candidate.