Sri Lanka president to test popularity with local polls

COLOMBO, January 12, 2014 (AFP) – Sri Lanka on Sunday called snap local elections seen as a gauge of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s popularity ahead of national polls expected to be held later this year, officials said. The southern and western provincial councils, the highest level of local government, have been dissolved, clearing the way for local elections almost a year before they were due, officials said.

“The election dates will be announced by the elections commissioner, but they are likely to be towards the end of March,” an official of Rajapakse’s office said, asking not to be named.

“This will be a crucial test for the president,” the official added.
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Rajapakse is expected to win the polls that will take place in the ethnic Sinhalese-majority heartland where he enjoys strong support for crushing Tamil rebels and ending Sri Lanka’s decades-long war in 2009.

But Rajapakse, who has maintained an iron grip on power since 2009, is hoping for a landslide victory, giving him enough momentum to call national elections, according to experts and local media.

Domestic media have speculated that Rajapakse, who is in the fourth year of a six-year term, may call a snap presidential poll later in 201

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