Colombo: Just a week before the crucial presidential election in Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa suffered yet another blow with the defection of a deputy minister to the opposition, bringing to 25 the number of ruling party lawmakers who have switched allegiance.
Deputy Minister of Higher Education Nandimithra Ekanayake, who is from the majority Buddhist community, quit the government ahead of the Jaunuary 8 polls to support the opposition presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena.
"I am leaving the government to create a better future for our country," Ekanayake, a veteran of the Rajapaksa's Freedom Party, told the President in his resignation letter.
Ekanayake's defection brought to 25 the number of ruling party lawmakers who have joined the opposition.
Rajapaksa, who called the election two years ahead of schedule seeking a record third term, has suffered mass defections both at national and provincial levels.
Yesterday, Faizer Mustapha, a President's Counsel and deputy minister of investment, switched allegiance to support Sirisena, who has himself defected to take on Rajapaksa.
Mustapha, who was the key defender of Sri Lanka's controversial casino policy, had been a strong proponent of three mega "integrated resorts", a government euphemism for plush casinos, and had been the public face of Rajapaksa's controversial policy both in and outside parliament.
Sirisena has vowed to withdraw generous tax concessions granted to foreign-funded casinos.
Sirisena, who was the Health Minister, has pledged to introduce far reaching democratic reforms with the backing of the main opposition UNP.
Rajapaksa, the hero for the majority community, has faced accusations of nepotism, corruption and authoritarian rule.