Sri Lanka’s war heroes battle for a clean image

December 20, 2009 (AFP) – A presidential election in Sri Lanka next month will see two former allies from the country’s bitter civil war slugging it out, but their record on corruption, not the battlefield, might swing the final vote. President Mahinda Rajapakse and his former army chief Sarath Fonseka are set to face each other at the ballot box on January 26 in the first national elections since the end of Sri Lanka’s 37-year-long ethnic conflict in May.

Official campaigning opened on Friday in what promises to be a bitter and highly personal battle between the two architects of the victory over Tamil Tiger rebels that ended a war the United Nations estimates cost up to 100,000 lives.

Rajapakse, 64, told his first campaign rally on Friday evening that he will “wage war” against corruption and triumph in the same way as he finished off the Tigers, who were fighting for a Tamil homeland in the north of the island.

In a similar vein, Fonseka has promised to stamp out the pervasive graft that both candidates agree is stalling post-war economic recovery.

For Fonseka, the root of corruption is the president’s family. The former general and his backers have made much of a pledge to oust what they call the “family o