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LEAD: Sri Lanka Supreme Court rules presidential poll due this year.

COLOMBO, Aug. 26 Kyodo


Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga suffered a major defeat Friday when a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled her second term of office must end in December this year, dashing her hope of continuing in office until the end of next year.

The bench, chaired by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, held that in terms of the Constitution, the president's term must end six years from the date on which the result of the last presidential election was declared.

Since her reelection for her second and final term was Dec. 22, 1999, soon after a failed attempt by the Tamil Tiger rebels to assassinate her using a suicide bomber during her last campaign rally, the court ruled her term ends Dec. 22 this year.

Kumaratunga narrowly survived the assassination attempt and lost an eye in the explosion targeting her.

Under Sri Lankan law, the election must be held between Oct. 22 and Nov. 22 and the process of calling nominations for the election will begin shortly, an elections official said.

Kumaratunga's party has nominated Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse to be its candidate for the forthcoming election while the opposition United National Party has nominated its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who unsuccessfully challenged Kumaratunga for the presidency in 1999.

The president, depending on provisions of the third amendment to the country's 1978 Constitution, had insisted her term ended only next year and provided weighty legal opinion favoring this viewpoint.

In effect, it was claimed this gave her the right to complete her first term shortened by the election she called one year before it was due, before she began her second term.

But the judges did not uphold this argument, saying the president's authority for the exercise of executive power flowed from the election by the people, which was granted for a six-year period.

Wickremesinghe, who mobilized mass support for an election this year through a ''People's Power'' campaign, said soon after the judgment both the Supreme Court and the Elections Commissioner had upheld his party's position.

''Your right to elect a president of your choice in 2005 is confirmed. We have to ensure that there are free and fair elections,'' he said in a statement. ''Feudalism is now on the wane. People's power is now being strengthened.''

Kumaratunga is the third member of Bandaranaike dynasty to hold the top position in Sri Lanka's politics, with both her father and her mother having held office as prime minister.

Her brother, Anura Bandaranaike, has been nominated to be her party's candidate for prime minister when the incumbent premier, Mahinda Rajapakse, is given the ticket to run for the presidency.

A senior minister, Nimal Siripala de Silva, told parliament after the judgment they would accept the verdict of the court.

A member of Rajapakse's staff said the candidate preferred an election this year rather than in 2006, although he had not gone public with this viewpoint in the context of Kumaratunga's stand that her term continues until the end of next year.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Aug 29, 2005
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