Sri Lanka cuts energy prices ahead of polls

COLOMBO - Sri Lanka slashed cooking gas prices on Sunday just one day after the cost of cand petrol was also cut ahead of next month's presidential election.

The ministry of internal trade said it was reducing the price of a standard cylinder of gas used for cooking by 11.6 per cent to 1,896 rupees (S$40) from Sunday, the second such cut in recent months.

The loss-making state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation announced on Saturday it was cutting diesel and gasoline prices by nearly five per cent, also the second recent reduction.

It denied the move was an election sweetener instructed by President Mahinda Rajapakse's government, insisting the cut was connected to falling global oil prices.

The reduction comes despite the fact that the corporation has accumulated losses of 240 billion rupees ($1.84 billion), according to company officials.

Rajapakse, who is also finance minister, is seeking reelection for an unprecedented third term on January 8.

But he faces a strong challenge from his former health minister, Maithripala Sirisena, who defected to the main opposition party last month.

While Rajapakse remains generally popular with voters from the Sinhalese majority for ending a 37-year war against Tamil separatists in 2009, critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian.