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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lankans were set to begin voting in Parliamentary elections Monday that will decide the political future of a former strongman leader seeking a comeback eight months after being unseated in a shocking election defeat.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was Sri Lanka's leader for nine years until his Jan. 8 presidential election defeat to a former ally, is running for prime minister, a position that is second to that of president.
Since that election loss, there has been a reversal of fortunes for Rajapaksa, his family and friends who were once all powerful controllers of the island nation. Some of them now face investigations or lawsuits for corruption, misuse of power, and even murder.
Rajapaksa was hailed a warrior king for defeating the Tamil Tiger separatists to end a nearly 26-year civil war. However, he is accused of using his popularity to take control of parliament, the courts, armed forces and all government institutions.
He was also accused of widespread human rights abuses and suppressing freedoms.
He was set for an extended period rule after abolishing a two-term limit for presidents when he lost in his attempt to win a third term.
His main rival is the sitting prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a two-time prime minister.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who was Rajapaksa's health minister, is backing Wickremesinghe with whom he formed an alliance in the January election after breaking away from Rajapaksa's government.
Earlier this week Sirisena sent a letter to Rajapaksa, which he also released to the media, saying he would not appoint him prime minister even if he secures a majority in Parliament.
The Parliament has 225 members, so any party or coalition must win at least 113 seats to form a government.