At first, there was doubt whether the election would be held at all. President Chandrika Kumaratunga had called the 1999 election one year ahead of schedule; she argued that the extra year should be appended to her second term, and filed suit do to this. The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka rejected her claims and the election went ahead.
After that, Wickremasinghe's only real hope of victory was through the support of the island's ethnic minorities, given his generally more conciliatory stance on the ethnic issue. He secured the endorsement of the main Muslim party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, and the Ceylon Workers' Congress representing the estate Tamils. He could not, however, obtain the backing of the main Sri Lankan Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance. Wickremasinghe's hopes for victory were effectively dashed when the LTTE ordered Tamil voters, most of whom would likely have voted for him, to boycott the polls.
Economic issues also worked to Rajapaksa's favour. Sri Lanka had enjoyed strong growth under Wickremasinghe's free-market policies when he was prime minister from 2001-04, but he had also pursued controversial privatizations which Rajapaksa promised to halt. Rajapaksa also promised a policy of economic nationalism.