Colombo: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajpaksa's ruling coalition on Monday suffered yet another blow with the defection of the sixth senior Cabinet colleague to the opposition ahead of the crucial presidential poll next month.
Rishath Bathiyutheen, the Minister of Commerce and Industries, left the government to support the candidature of the opposition unity candidate Maithripala Srisena.
He became the sixth member of the Rajapaksa cabinet to leave the government in the last few weeks ahead of the the January 8 polls.
Bathiyutheen said his party was concerned by the lack of action from Rajapaksa to safeguard communal peace in the island, a reference to anti-Muslim violence of last June.
Bathiyutheen's All Ceylon People's Congress, a breakaway faction of the main Muslim party Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), has two MPs in the ruling coalition.
The SLMC, the main political party for the 8 per cent minority Muslims, has been worried over the perceived government support for the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), an anti-Muslim extremist Buddhist group.
Sirisena received a further boost with the announcement of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) to support him.
"President Rajapaksa is trying to win the election by raising fears over the non existing LTTE", TULF leader V Anandasangaree said.
Along with Bathiutheen, MP Amir Ali who was sworn in just last week to fill in the position that became vacant following the resignation of AHM Azwer also pledged his support to Sirisena, the Colombo Telegraph reported.
Currently the number of crossovers to the common Opposition from the UPFA has risen to a total of 14 and today alone, over 50 pradeshiya sabha members pledged their support to the common Opposition as well, it said.
Incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa is seeking a record third-term in the presidential poll.