Sri Lankan president consolidates power

June 29, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse was Thursday elected the all-powerful leader of his party, replacing a scion of the Bandaranaike ruling dynasty for the first time, a spokesman said. Rajapakse, 60, was unanimously elected head of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), consolidating his hold on the government and further sidelining his predecessor Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Kumaratunga ruled as Sri Lankan president from 1994 to 2005 while her parents — Solomon Bandaranaike and Sirima Bandaranaike — had both served terms as prime ministers.

“President Rajapakse was today unanimously elected as the party leader by all policy-making bodies of the party at central and provincial level,” government spokesman Anura Yapa said.

Despite Rajapakse winning the November presidential election, the SLFP leadership had remained in the hands of Kumaratunga who completed the two maximum terms allowed under the constitution as president.

Yapa said Kumaratunga was nominated to a “management committee” of the party while overall power within the formidable SLFP will be firmly in the hands of Rajapakse, a former lawyer and film star, who enjoys popular support.

Kumaratunga had once said tha