Sri Lanka sets November date for presidential polls

A general view of the Lotus Tower is seen next to commercial buildings in Colombo on Wednesday. — AFP

COLOMBO — Sri Lanka's Election Commission on Wednesday announced it will hold presidential polls on November 16, nearly two months before the incumbent's term ends.

Commission chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said nominations would be called on Oct. 7 allowing a short campaign of less than six weeks.

"We are calling nominations on Oct. 7 and voting will be on Nov. 16th," Deshapriya said. "We have 15.99 million people eligible to vote at this election."

President Maithripala Sirisena is yet to announce if he will seek a second term, but a breakaway faction of his party has already announced it will field Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70, a younger brother of former strongman President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is in an uneasy cohabitation government with Sirisena has said he wants to contest the presidency.

However, Wickremesinghe, 70, faces a challenge from two others from his own party — deputy leader Sajith Premadasa, 52, and parliamentary Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, 78 to secure the nomination.

Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) is likely to hold an internal party vote to decide on its candidate.

The election is seen as a head to head between a UNP candidate and Rajapaksa who was secretary to the ministry of defense during his brother's decade in power that ended in January 2015. — AFP