Sri Lanka will hold presidential election in January next year, two years ahead of schedule, Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has said.

Rambukwella, however, said a final announcement could only be made by President Mahindra Rajapaksa.

An early election had been widely expected. But the remarks by the minister were the first confirmation that Rajapaksa was seeking a fresh mandate after removing the two-term limit on the presidency soon after winning re-election in 2010.

The leader of the leftist party in the governing coalition and minister of language and social integration, Vasudeva Nanayakarra, told Al Jazeera that he had not been officially notified of the election dates.

There had been speculation that Rajapaksa, who is also the finance minister, would call a snap election after he brought forward the national budget by a month to Friday.

His ruling United People's Freedom Alliance is expected to use the budget to try to boost its popularity after its share of the vote plummeted by over 20 percentage points in local elections held last month.

It was his party's worst performance since he came to power in 2005, and the main opposition United National Party more than doubled its vote.

Rajapaksa gained popularity among Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese community by crushing a Tamil separatist rebellion in the country's north in May 2009, ending a 37-year-long civil war.

Rights groups have accused the Rajapaksa government of serious human rights violations during the final stages of the war which killed close to 40,000 people. The Tamil separatists, known as the Tamil Tigers, also faced accusations of widespread atrocities.

Dinouk Colombage reported from Colombo

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies