COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Leading members of the main Muslim party within Sri Lanka resigned positions in government Sunday and announced their support for a candidate challenging the island nation's current president in upcoming elections.
The move illustrates a rift between the ruling Buddhist coalition of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, whose members have protested Rajapaksa's use of widened powers and accused him of religious intolerance.
Muslim party members took issue with a 2010 law eradicating two-term presidential limits and allowing expansive presidential control over the justice system and civil service. Rauf Hakeem, leader of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, admitted his party voted for the measure at the time but now wanted to "redress the situation," Al Jazeera reports.
"Good governance is the main issue for us," he said.
Ameer Faaiz, another Muslim party leader, noted Rajapaksa's "intolerance toward religious minorities," joining others who accuse the president of tolerating violent Buddhist extremism and ignoring anti-Muslim attacks.
Hakeem resigned as justice minister Sunday, and along with 20 other Muslim party lawmakers and ministers, pledged backing for opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena in elections scheduled for Jan. 8, when Rajapaksa will seek a third term.
Sirisena resigned as minister of health last month before moving to run against Rajapaksa.
Sri Lanka is composed of a majority Sinhala Buddhist population, while Muslims account for about 10 percent of the electorate. They represent the second largest minority group behind the Hindu Tamils, who comprised the ranks of the Tamil Tiger rebels that fought the Sri Lankan government for decades in a civil war until 2009.