Sri Lanka president calls for early election

AP News
Posted: Nov 23, 2009 7:11 AM

Sri Lanka's president signed a decree Monday calling for early elections, hoping to take advantage of his popularity after ending the country's 25-year civil war to win a new six-year term.

However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa could face a strong challenge from another war hero, former army chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka.

Fonseka, who accused the government of sidelining him after the war, is expected to lead a coalition of opposition parties in the election.

Rajapaksa met with leaders of his United Peoples Freedom Alliance Monday and told his political allies that he would hold the elections two years before the end of his term, according to a statement posted on the president's Web site.

The election commissioner will announce the dates of the poll in the coming days. Media reports say the election will likely be held the third week of January.

The president can call an election after serving four years in office. Through a quirk of the constitution, Rajapaksa would be able to serve the final two years of his term regardless of the outcome of the vote.

In a series of recent local elections, Rajapaksa's coalition has won control of all eight provincial assemblies.

Rajapaksa and Fonseka led the country's war against the Tamil Tiger rebels _ an insurgent group fighting for a homeland for the Tamil minority. The government won the war in May, making the men heroes among the country's Sinhalese majority.

Analysts say Rajapaksa needs to quickly turn his support into an election victory before voters start focusing on other, less favorable, issues, such as the economy.

"The longer he waits, he will lose his current level of popularity," said political analyst Jehan Perera.