COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s ruling party on Thursday nominated its deputy leader, Sajith Premadasa, to run in a presidential election on Nov. 16, a move that appeared intended to win over Buddhist-majority voters.
Premadasa, 52, is also housing minister and son of former president Ranasinghe Premadasa who was assassinated by a Tamil Tiger rebel suicide bomber in 1993. He is popular among the rural poor, strengthening his position against opposition candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
“The Prime Minister has nominated Sajith Premadasa as the presidential candidate and the party’s working committee unanimously agreed to that,” economic reforms minister Harsha De Silva, a member of the working committee, told Reuters.
The election is likely to be dominated by national security issues, after a wave of suicide bombings claimed by Islamic State killed more than 250 people in April, denting the island’s critical tourism industry.
Premadasa’s nomination, strongly supported by back-bench members of parliament, followed months of internal division in the center-right United National Party, as the party also considered parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Premadasa has said he will eradicate poverty and improve housing in the country under a slogan of “shelter for all at 2025”.
Premadasa, who did a degree in economics, politics and international relations in London, will challenge Rajapaksa who is also vying for the votes of the influential Buddhist majority.
Some ethnic minority parties have already pledged support to Premadasa.
“I don’t think he is a man who can solve the problems of the common man but he is a powerful candidate because Sajith can appeal to the oppressed people,” said Victor Ivan, an independent political columnist.
Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal, Editing by Alasdair Pal and Timothy Heritage