Party of the leader of Sri Lanka to support Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the polls

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA: The president of Sri Lanka will remain neutral in the next presidential elections, but his party will support a separatist candidate, leader, officials said on Wednesday.

The secretary general, Dayasiri Jayasekara, said the president has temporarily stepped away from leading the party to ensure its neutrality. He said the decision was made because questions could arise about the impartiality of the police, which Sirisena oversees.

The move is seen as an attempt by the dilapidated party to remain relevant after losing most of its loyalists to the Popular Front of Sri Lanka, which Rajapaksa is using to challenge the elections.

It is the first time that the Sri Lankan Freedom Party, the second largest in the country in more than six decades, does not present a candidate in an important national election.

The vice president of the party, Mahinda Samarasinghe, told reporters that the decision to support Rajapaksa, a former defense chief, was taken as the backdrop to a volatile security situation after Easter Sunday bomb attacks that killed more than 260 people.

He is a proven administrator, Samarasinghe said.

Rajapaksa, who served under his brother, the former president president Mahinda Rajapaksa , it is popular with the Sinhalese majority for its part in the end of a long civil war against the Tamil rebels of ethnic minorities a decade ago. He has been accused of tolerating rights abuses.

The decision of Sirisena's party came after he decided not to seek re-election, apparently having difficulty defeating Rajapaksa.

A record 35 candidates submitted nominations on Monday for the November 16 elections, with Rajapaksa considered the favorite.

The suicide attacks on April 21 by seven Muslim terrorists also boosted Rajapaksa's fortune, and many people praised his war role against secessionist rebels. Sri Lankan leaders and the security establishment have been criticized for not acting on almost specific intelligence reports of possible attacks before the bombings.

Sirisena has said she stayed in the dark about the reports and appointed a presidential commission to investigate the errors.

National police chief Pujith Jayasundara was suspended and the former secretary of defense resigned. Both were arrested after the presidential commission found reasons to accuse them of breach of duty and criminal negligence. They were released on bail, but on Wednesday a higher court canceled the bail and ordered their detention.