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Sri Lanka to Hold Presidential Election by Year's End

Sri Lanka's Supreme Court has ruled that presidential elections must be held this year, putting an end to President Chandrika Kumaratunga's hopes of remaining in power for another year. The decision is a victory for the political opposition.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga, now in her second term, had argued that she was entitled to stay in office for one more year because she had called a snap election a year before her first term ended.

But the opposition National Heritage Party filed a challenge to this claim, saying she must relinquish power this year at the end of a usual six-year presidential term.

In a unanimous ruling Friday, Sri Lanka's Supreme Court said the president's term ends in December. The constitution does not permit Mrs. Kumaratunga to run for a third time and a presidential election will now be held in October or November.

The head of Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu hopes the election will result in stability in a country now ruled by a minority government.

"There will be a new president, so there is the possibility of some kind of a fresh start," he said. "The presidency is the office where all the executive powers are concentrated, so in a very real sense a new president is someone who for six years at least will shape the destiny of the country."

A jubilant opposition greeted the ruling by setting off firecrackers.

The decision came as no surprise. In fact, political parties have been preparing for such an eventuality. In Colombo, streets and billboards are already pasted with party slogans and pictures of the two candidates for president.

Current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse is the candidate of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom party, while former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will run for the opposition.

The election comes as Sri Lanka grapples with a crisis in the peace process to end the two-decades-long conflict with Tamil Tiger separatists. Following the assassination of the foreign minister earlier this month, which authorities blamed on the rebels, relations are at a low ebb, and there are fears that a three-year-old cease-fire could collapse.

Regional political analysts say any prospects of reviving the peace process will be put on the back burner until the presidential elections are over.