Central & South Asia
Sri Lanka poll set for January
Ex-army general expected to be serious challenger to President Rajapaksa.
Last Modified: 28 Nov 2009 04:01 GMT
Fonseka is expected to announce his
candidacy this weekend [AFP]

Sri Lanka is to hold a presidential election on January 26, after Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent, called the poll two years ahead of time.

The poll, officially announced by election officials on Friday, is expected to be a close battle between Rajapaksa and a marginalised army hero.

It is believed that General Sarath Fonseka will enter the election race, which Rajapaksa called to capitalise on popularity gained after the military's victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), ending a 25 year civil war, in May.

The popular Fonseka led the army to victory against the LTTE but later quit, accusing the president of sidelining him due to unfounded coup fears.

Opposition backing

Fonseka is yet to formally announce his candidacy, but the United National Party (UNP) and 14 other opposition parties have said that they would back him as its candidate. Nominations have to be received by December 17.

Focus: Sri Lanka
Q&A: Sri Lanka's civil war
The history of the Tamil Tigers
Timeline: Conflict in Sri Lanka
'High cost' of victory over Tigers
Caught in the middle
 101 East: Sri Lanka: After the war
Fonseka is expected to announce that he will run for president this weekend.

Some analysts have said that Fonseka could split Rajapaksa's support base and unify opposition groups.

"General Fonseka has caused a lot of apprehension in the government and has become a serious challenger," Jehan Perera, an analyst with the non-partisan National Peace Council, said.

Rajapaksa has completed only four years of his six-year term, which ends on November 2011.

The government has attempted to dampen down Fonseka's perceived role in the victory over the LTTE.

The LTTE had been fighting for a separate ethnic-minority Tamil homeland in the northeast. The conflict left more than 80,000 people dead.

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