Sri Lanka will hold a presidential election on November 16, the head of the island nation’s election body told Reuters on Wednesday, as its $87 billion economy struggles to recover from a political crisis and the aftermath of deadly Islamist bombings.
The official notification was published later on Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said. Nominations for the contest will close by October 7.
Election Commission officials have said there could be a record 18 candidates in this year’s election, while analysts say it is possible that a run-off count will be needed to decide the winner of a tight contest is which no-one is likely to poll more than 50% of first-preference votes.
The main opposition Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has already nominated his younger brother and wartime defence chief Gotabaya.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s centre-right United National Party (UNP) is yet to nominate its candidate, but party sources told Reuters it was likely to be decided between deputy leader Sajith Premadasa and Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.
Gotabaya, 70, is widely seen as the frontrunner due to his popularity among Sri Lanka’s Sinhala Buddhist majority, many of whom credit him with ending the 26-year civil war in 2009 and believe that Colombo needs a seasoned leader after Easter bombings.
However, Gotabaya faces a legal battle over allegations of misappropriation of state funds when he was defence chief, along with questions over the renunciation of his US citizenship.