Veteran politicians along with a large number of new entrants to politics will vie for a place in the 225 member Parliament, as formal campaigning for the April 8 general election gets underway this week.
Seven thousand six hundred and twenty (7620) candidates will campaign to win a seat in the highest elected body in the land with the main contenders contesting from the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), the United National Party (UNP) and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) led by Gen. (retd.) Sarath Fonseka.
The main contender in the North and the East is the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) and the two breakaway factions of the Tamil National Alliance which will also contest in the two provinces.
The competition is likely to be tough in several districts including Colombo, Gampaha, Kurunegala and Kandy. In Colombo among those contesting for the 19 seats will be the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ministers Susil Premajayanth, Gamini Lokuge, Bandula Gunawardena, Champika Ranawaka and Dinesh Gunawardana and DNA’s Sarath Fonseka and Wimal Weerawansa of the National Freedom Front.
In the Gampaha district the front runners include Basil Rajapaksa, the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Minister Felix Perera, Pandu Bandaranayake and Ven. Aturaliye Ratana Thera. The UNP heavyweights include John Amaratunga, Joseph Michael Perera, and Jayalath Jayawardena. The JVP has Propaganda Secretary Vijith Herath. This district will return 18 members.
In the Kurunegala district Ministers Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, S.B.Nawinna, T.B. Ekanayake and Johnston Fernando will vie for a place among the 15 members to be elected along with UNPers Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Akila Kariyawasam and the JVP’s Bimal Ratnayaka.
In the Kandy district too several Government heavyweights are contesting the polls for a place among the 12 members to be elected including Keheliya Rambukwella, S.B.Dissanayaka, Sarath Amunugama, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Faizer Mustafa, along with UNPers Lakshman Kirella, Abdul Cader, SLMC’s Rauff Hakeem and Mano Ganeshan of the Democratic People’s Front.
In the Hambantota district three members of the President are contesting the poll - his older brother Chamal Rajapaksa, son Namal Rajapaksa and Nirupama Rajapaksa.
Another interesting feature among the candidates for the general election is the candidature of wives of five former MPs including three assassinated MPs namely Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, D.M. Dassanayake, and T.Maheswaran, and wife of former MP Sripathy Sooriarachchi who was killed in an accident as well as the widow of former Minister P.Chandrasekeran who died of a heart attack.
There are also several movie stars and sports personalities who are contesting the poll including actress Geetha Kumarasinghe (Galle/UPFA), Ranjan Ramanayaka (UNP/ Ratnapura) cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya (UPFA/Matara) and athlete Susanthika Jayasinghe (UPFA/Kegalle).
Most of the candidates have declared themselves as businessmen in their nomination papers while some have called themselves full time politicians.
The largest number of candidates are from the Colombo district (836) followed by Gampaha (567) and Kalutara (497) while a record number of 48 independent groups have handed in their nominations to contest the polls in the Digamadulla (Ampara) district.
A total of 36 parties will be contesting along with 301 independent groups. The UPFA national list includes Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wicramanayake former Speaker W.J.M.Lokubandara, Vinyagamoorthy Muralitharan, Ministers D. M. Jayaratne, Dulles Alahapperuma, G. L. Peiris, D.E.W. Gunasekara,
Vishva Warnapala and Tissa Vitharana, former MPs Geethanjana Gunawardena, Ven. Ellawala Medhanahda Thera and film actress Malini Fonseka.
The UNF national list includes the UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayaka, K. N. Choksy, Rukman Senanayake, Tilak Marapana and R.Yogarajan.