Sri Lanka president seen strengthened by election

April 5, 2010 (AFP) – Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, accused by critics of stifling dissent and persecuting the opposition, looks set to consolidate his hold on power in parliamentary elections this week. Rajapakse called Thursday’s vote two months ahead of schedule after his thumping re-election in January and his Freedom Alliance party is in line for an easy majority in the 225-member national legislature, according to analysts.

Nearly 20,000 troops have been put on alert to reinforce police as polls have often been soured by violence in Sri Lanka. In the first death of the campaign, unknown gunmen shot a ruling party activist at the weekend.

The opposition united behind a common candidate, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, for the presidential poll. It has now split — giving Rajapakse’s party a clearer run in the election.

“The government has no issue winning the election, but their challenge is to increase the majority,” said political commentator Victor Ivan, referring to the 126 seats currently held by the ruling party.

Fonseka is now under detention and faces another hearing in an ongoing court martial process on Tuesday that could see him jailed for years for allegedly en