Sri Lanka profile

Sri Lankan president A giant cardboard cut-out of President Rajapaksa looks down on traffic

President: Mahinda Rajapaksa

Mahinda Rajapaksa won a landslide victory in January 2010 in early elections which he called after he declared victory in a 25-year war with the Tamil Tiger separatists.

Former army chief General Sarath Fonseka, who led the final campaign that crushed the Tamil Tigers, stood against Mr Rajapaksa in the 2010 election and challenged the result.

Soon after, Gen Fonseka was arrested and charged with a variety of offences ranging from harbouring deserters to treason. He was found guilty on several of the charges but was released from prison in May 2012. The terms of his release prevent him from running for public office for seven years.

President Rajapaksa further consolidated his grip on power when his ruling coalition won an overwhelming majority in parliamentary elections in April 2010. Later in the year, MPs passed a constitutional amendment allowing him to stand for unlimited terms in office.

Dictatorial tendencies?

The opposition accuses the president of moving the country towards dictatorship, but Mr Rajapaksa says he is guaranteeing Sri Lanka much-needed stability.

Mr Rajapaksa first won the presidency in 2005 when Sri Lanka was in the middle of a tenuous ceasefire agreement with the Tamil Tigers. Peace talks yielded nothing and in 2006 he determined to defeat the Tigers once and for all.

Defeat of the rebels came in mid-2009. Mr Rajapaksa, seeking to capitalise on his success at ending the war, called early elections to get a fresh mandate to revive the economy and implement a political solution for ethnic minorities.

A lawyer from the Sinhalese ethnic majority, Mr Rajapaksa draws the core of his support from rural Sinhalese voters whose rights he championed as labour minister in the 1990s.

Mr Rajapaksa became prime minister in 2004, and was praised for his handling of the aftermath of the tsunami of the year.

But he has faced criticism for events at the end of the Tamil Tiger war, during which thousands of civilians were killed as troops battled to corner and crush the rebels.

He also promised to protect journalists and freedom of speech, but at least one prominent journalist was murdered and dozens have been beaten, arrested or forced to flee the country during his time in office.

In 2011, Mr Rajapaksa's government scrapped emergency laws in place for much of the past four decades. However, it sparked international outcry by introducing new laws restoring many of the controversial powers granted the authorities under the state of emergency.

Growing tension between the government and the judiciary culminated in the impeachment and dismissal of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake in January 2013, in what critics described as a politically motivated move intended to curtail the independence of the judiciary.

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