Key Sri Lanka’s ruling party figure defects

January 24, 2010 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s president suffered a major defection on Sunday when the matriarch of his party pledged support for the main opposition candidate ahead of Tuesday’s fiercely contested election. Kumaratunga’s family has strong support among SLFP activists and her endorsement is seen as a boost to Fonseka, who is backed by the right-wing United National Party as well as the Marxist JVP, or People’s Liberation Front.

“Our party has deteriorated in recent years and I see an opportunity to revive it through a change of the present culture of violence, intimidation, corruption and nepotism,” she said.

Police and troops impeded journalists attending Kumaratunga’s meeting with Fonseka at her ancestral home outside the capital. The media bus was searched by heavily armed troops before it was stopped a second time by police. Former president Chandrika Kumaratunga met the common opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka, a former army general, and endorsed his bid to oust incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse.

“I took the decision to end four years of silence, as I am deeply concerned about the violence, intimidation and corruption,” Kumaratunga told reporters and urged her supporters to vote for Fonseka.