COLOMBO (Reuters) - Former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa is trailing his main rival in a prime ministerial elections later this month, the latest national opinion poll showed, as the once-powerful leader struggles to mount a strong campaign.
Ousted by former ally Maithripala Sirisena in a presidential election in January, Rajapaksa is seeking to turn the tables at the Aug. 17 parliamentary polls but is being dogged by allegations of abuse of power and sleaze.
His party said his campaign has also been hobbled by a lack of security for a leader who crushed a 26-year insurgency by ethnic Tamil rebels in 2009, which won him a support among majority Sinhalese but has made him unpopular among Tamils.
Nearly 40 percent of voters surveyed at the end of the last month said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was the best man for the job and only 27.5 percent chose Rajapaksa, the Centre for Policy Analysis, which conducted the poll, said.
The survey across all 25 districts of the island nation showed Tamil and Muslim voters stood solidly behind Wickremesinghe, the leader of the United National Party-led coalition.
Rajapaksa held the edge among mostly Buddhist Sinhalese, winning the support of 36 percent against Wickremesinghe’s 31.9 percent.
Keerthi Tennakoon, the executive director of Campaign for Free and Fair Election, said Rajapaksa and his party colleagues were fighting for survival.
Unlike in the past, they did not have government patronage or state media support, affecting the reach of Rajapaksa’s campaign, party members said.
“The government has not even provided vehicles to transport his security officials,” said his spokesman, Rohan Welivita.
At one rally in Karunagala district, north of the capital Colombo, Rajapaksa was denied the use of a loudspeaker to address supporters because he arrived so late his permit had expired.
Rajapaksa remains a divisive figure in the multi-ethnic island nation of 21 million people that is still healing from extensive rights violations in the final stages of the civil war.
A U.N. human rights report on the war in the north is due for release soon after the election. The United Nations estimated in 2011 that up to 40,000 civilians died in the final army assault on the separatist rebels.
Rajapaksa’s government denied abuses.
President Sirisena has criticised Rajapaksa’s comeback bid and said he allowed him to run in the general election to avert a split in their Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel