Southeast Asia's fastest growing economy goes to the polls next month and Sri Lanka's vote looks set to set to be a close race for the first time in nearly a decade.
In November, President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced the country would go to the polls on January 8 - nearly two years ahead of schedule - in an attempt to seek a fresh mandate amid waning popularity. In a dramatic turn of events following the news, Rajapaksa's health minister Maithripala Sirisena quit to become the president's rival candidate, backed by the leading opposition party United National Party (UNP).
Sirisena, who was also general secretary of the ruling party, is now running an opposition coalition calling for constitutional reforms to limit executive power and restore independent bodies to monitor civil service, judiciary and human rights.
"Amid Sri Lanka's authoritarian drift and institutionalized impunity, that a real political competition is in the offing provides unexpected hope for the future," said the International Crisis Group (ICG), a non-governmental organization (NGO) aimed at resolving deadly conflicts, in a December report.
A survey by The Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a Colombo-based think tank, found that 76 percent of respondents believed Sirisena would win if elections were held immediately.