The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) announced it will support former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in next month’s presidential election, in a landmark move this morning.
SLFP parliamentarian Nimal Siripala de Silva told reporters in Colombo this morning that the party will be signing two Memorandums of Understanding with Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), to form a new alliance called Sri Lanka Freedom People's Alliance.
Sri Lankan president and current SLFP chair Maithripala Sirisena will reportedly “stay neutral” and has temporarily stepped aside from leading the party, he added. Several SLFP polticians joined the SLPP when the latter was first formed as a breakway by the Rajapaksa, with the AP saying Sirisena’s move “is seen as an attempt by the ramshackle party to stay relevant after losing a majority of loyalists”.
Rajapaksa is accused of leading mass atrocities committed by Sri Lankan troops whilst he was defence secretary in 2009. Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed in a massive military offensive that he oversaw.
However, Rajapaksa remains popular across the south, particularly amongst Sinhala Buddhist nationalists, and has received backing from many prominent Sinhala Buddhist monks in recent weeks.