Sri Lankan elections officials said Friday that the nation would hold early presidential elections on Jan. 26 in what is expected to be a battle between two men revered for their efforts to crush the Tamil Tiger rebels.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who still has two years left in his six-year term, called early elections to take advantage of his popularity after the military defeated the Tigers and ended the country's 25-year civil war.
But he could face a strong challenge from Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who led the army during the final victory.
Government troops routed the rebels in May, ending their fight for an independent homeland for the country's minority Tamils. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed in the violence.
P.M. Siriwardena, additional commissioner of elections, said nominations for the presidential election will be accepted on Dec. 17 and the vote held Jan. 26.
Fifteen opposition parties have said they would support Fonseka's presidential bid. The retired general is expected to announce his candidacy at a press conference this weekend.