Vote for ‘known devil’, President Rajapakse tells Lankan Tamils

03 Jan 2015


Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse has urged the Tamil minority to back him in next week's election, calling himself the "known devil".

He made the call at a rally in Jaffna, in a final push for votes in the country's former war zone.

While he remains popular among ethnic majority Sinhalese voters, Rajapakse is widely detested by members of the country's biggest minority after he oversaw the brutal crushing of a 37-year-long Tamil rebellion.

The main Tamil party has already endorsed the president's chief rival, Maithripala Sirisena, in the 8 January election.

However, the incumbent told voters in the northern Jaffna region that he was committed to improving their livelihoods, and pointed to improvements in infrastructure.

"This is my 11th visit to Jaffna as President," said Rajapakse, who has been in power for nearly a decade, making him the longest-serving leader in South Asia.

"The devil you know is better than the unknown angel," he said in Sinhala, speaking through a translator.

"I am the known devil, so please vote for me."

He then listed a series of infrastructure projects that had been completed since the end of the Tamil separatist conflict in 2009.

''We gave you electricity, we gave you new schools, and now we want to give you proper water supplies," he said in a region which was devastated by the separatist conflict.

The president had been due to inaugurate the latest stretch of a reopened rail link from the capital Colombo to Jaffna, but he cancelled his plans at the last minute, leaving his transport minister to do the honours.

Tamils account for around 13 per cent of the 15 million people entitled to cast their votes next Thursday and their choice of candidate could be crucial to the outcome of what is shaping up to be a tight contest.

Rajapakse had been the clear favourite but a series of defections by allies, including his one-time health minister Sirisena, have thrown the contest wide open and the president now needs every vote he can muster.

Although the economy has been growing at rates of around seven per cent in the post-war era, many voters say that ruling party cronies have been the only ones to really benefit.

Earlier, the opposition's Ranil Wickremesinghe claimed the government had sent troops to the north and east to keep Tamil voters away from the polls.

He said the opposition would publish the names of military officers assigned to disrupt the vote and warned them to back off.

Rajapakse called the snap election two years ahead of schedule after his party's popularity dropped 21 points at a local election in September.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report last month that Rajapakse may resort to the use of the military to remain in power.

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