Sri Lanka’s beleaguered President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday appealed to the minority Tamils to back him, the “known devil”, in the January 8 presidential polls as he campaigned in the former LTTE bastion.”There is a saying that the known devil is better than the unknown angel”, Rajapaksa said in Sinhala, speaking through a translator at a rally in Jaffna, the erstwhile stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE).69-year-old Rajapaksa has been battling a flurry of defections from his ruling coalition- the United People’s Freedom Alliance- with another parliamentarian switching loyalties to the opposition ranks on Friday. Achala Jagoda became the 26th legislator to join the opposition unity candidate Maithripala Sirisena in the endless stream of defections.Rajapakse’s Jaffna visit came amid the main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), backed Sirisena for the presidential polls and the opposition yesterday alleged that the government had deployed soldiers to keep the Tamil voters away.”This is my 11th visit to Jaffna as president,” Rajapakse, who has been in power for nearly a decade, told the rally. Taking a dig at Sirisena, the incumbent said his rival is a stranger to the Tamil-dominated northern region while he as president had done much to further their interests. He also accused that Sirisena had shown little interest in the area, saying he had been “an infrequent visitor” to the region.Rajapaksa, who came to power in 2005, listed a series of infrastructure projects that had been completed since the end of the civil war in 2009.”We gave you electricity, we gave you new schools and now we want to give you proper water supplies,” he said, in a region that was devastated by the 37-year-long separatist conflict.A low Tamil turn out is expected to help the incumbent in the direct contest between him and Sirisena. Tamils account for around 13% of the 15 million people entitled to cast their votes and their choice of candidate could be crucial to the outcome of what is seen as a neck-to-neck fight.
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