Sri Lanka's former army chief will run for president as head of a coalition of opposition parties, one of the parties said on Tuesday, challenging President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an electoral battle between two national war heroes.
Gen. Sarath Fonseka has not yet officially declared his candidacy in polls expected early next year. However, People's Liberation Front spokesman Anura Kumara Dissanayake said Fonseka had met with opposition leaders and agreed to run.
``We held several discussions with Gen. Fonseka and the final was held last night. His response was very positive and he agreed to contest as a common candidate,'' Dissanayake told reporters Tuesday.
The announcement came a day after Rajapaksa called for early elections, in a bid to take advantage of his popularity after ending the country's 25-year civil war with the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Analysts say Rajapaksa could face a strong challenge from Fonseka, who led the army to victory over the rebels in May. Riding on the battlefield success, Rajapaksa's coalition has won control of all eight provincial assemblies in recent elections
But, Dissanayake accused Rajapaksa's government of widespread corruption. He said Rajapaksa is on a path to dictatorship while ``suppressing media freedom and burying democracy.''
Dissanayake said Fonseka agreed to abolish the powerful executive presidency and return power to parliament. He would also fight corruption and restore democracy, he said.
The election commissioner has yet to announce the dates of the poll, which media reports say will be held the third week of January. AP