Nov 26 (DW) The announcement by Maithripala Sirisena on November 21 came as a blow to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had declared the previous day that he would seek an unprecedented third term as president and called a snap election. The vote is scheduled to take place in early January.
Talking to reporters at a press conference, Sirisena said "one family has taken control of the economy, power and the party.
The country is moving towards a dictatorship." The former minister, who previously also held the position of general secretary of Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), has been backed by the main opposition party the United National Party (UNP), as well as many of Rajapaksa's rivals.
Although the president still has wide public support, internal tensions within the ruling party have seen backing for his leadership decline.
There have also been allegations President Rajapaksa has used his position to give friends and family members jobs in high-ranking government and bureaucratic institutions.
Nira Wickramasinghe, South Asia expert at Leiden University in the Netherlands, says in a DW interview that Rajapaksa's decision to call a snap election comes at a time when his support base is getting dangerously low. She says Sirisena has a good chance of becoming the country's next leader.
DW: What are the reasons behind Maithripala Sirisena's decision to challenge President Rajapaksa?
Nira Wickramasinghe: Sirisena's main intention is to abolish the executive presidency in 100 days. In addition, he wants to restore the 17th amendment [making the police, elections, public service and the judicial service commissions fully independent] and repeal the 18th amendment [changes in term limits for re-elections of the president].
Sirisena has also said he will hand over the post of prime minister to the current leader of the opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe, if he were to win the election.
His decision to challenge President Rajapaksa is very important. Sirisena is a person who can rally votes not only from the opposition but also from segments within the ruling coalition. He has a broad partnership with governmental leaders.