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(From BBC Monitoring International Reports)
Sri Lanka goes to the polls for parliamentary elections on 2 April in what will be the third such elections in four years. Exercising her powers to dissolve parliament at any time, President Chandrika Kumaratunga in February 2004 called snap elections. The president had in November 2003 dismissed the defence, interior and media ministers, in response to a profound political disagreement with the United National Front government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.
Two main political groupings are contesting the elections: Wickremasinghe's United National Party (UNP) and the recently formed United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by President Kumaratunga.
Opinion polls show that neither Wickremasinghe's UNP or Kumaratunga's UPFA is likely to win a majority in the election. However, recent forecasts have indicated that a narrow victory for Wickremasinghe is the most likely outcome. But if the UNP win and the president extends her term to 2006 under the terms of a secret oath of office, the stage is set for a damaging political feud to be prolonged for another two years.
The dispute between the two politicians revolves around how to handle a peace process that seeks to end a civil war which has claimed over 60,000 lives since severe fighting broke out with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist group in 1983.
In 1978, Sri Lanka adopted a French-style constitution which provides for a strong separately elected executive presidency. Elected for a six year term, the president has sweeping powers to appoint the prime minister and cabinet and call elections to the 225-member legislature at any time. President Kumaratunga was elected for second and final term in 1999.
However, the president revealed in early 2004 that she had secretly sworn another oath of office that would allow her to remain as president until 2006. The disclosure that the president had extended her term in office without reference to any democratic process provoked strong disquiet and controversy in political circles.
Parliamentary elections are held every five years, subject to the decisions of the president. Many observers believe that President Kumaratunga, with her term due to run out in 2005 (or 2006), and constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, is preparing a run at the premiership if she can gain control of the legislature at the April polls.
In the outgoing parliament, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe's UNP dominated a coalition of parties and groups holding a total of 114 seats. Its allies in the United National Front (UNF) coalition included …