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Mahinda Rajapakse

Mahinda Rajapakse

Mahinda Rajapakse (born November 18, 1945), Sri Lankan politician, became Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on April 6 2004, following the victory of the United People's Freedom Alliance in the April 2, 2004 Sri Lankan legislative elections.

Rajapakse, a Sinhalese Buddhist from the southern district of Hambantota, is a lawyer who has represented the area in the Sri Lanka Parliament since 1970. His father represented the same area between 1947 and 1960. He is a long-time ally of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, whose Sri Lanka Freedom Party is the largest party in the Alliance. The Alliance won the largest number of seats at the elections but does not have an overall majority.

Kumaratunga was widely expected to appoint her close advisor and former Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, as Prime Minister. But Kadirgamar, who is not a member of Parliament, lacks popular credentials. The fact that he is a Tamil and a Christian may also have counted against him.

Rajapakse was Minister for Labour and for Fisheries in Kumaratunga's cabinet from 1994 to 2001. He created controversy when he moved to introduce a labour charter and set up villages for fishermen. His labour reforms were resisted by employers who asked Kumaratunga to remove him from the labour ministry. His labour charter was never implemented.

Unlike some members of the new government coalition, Rajapakse is believed to support peace talks with the Tamil Tigers as a means of ending the civil war with the Tamil secessionist movement.

Rajapaksa may not be Prime Minister for long. Speaking to an Indian newspaper after his appointment, he said that his first job would be to change the constitution of the country from the presidential system to the parliamentary system "so that President Kumaratunga could become Prime Minister." The Alliance would introduce a motion in the new parliament to turn it into a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution, he said.

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