Sri Lanka presidential rivals hand in nominations

December 17, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and his main rival in elections next month, former army general Sarath Fonseka, handed in their poll nomination papers on Thursday. Rajapakse and Fonseka, both dressed in white national dress, were among 22 candidates whose papers were accepted by the national Election Commission.

Rajapakse has called the January 26 poll two years early to take advantage of his popularity following the defeat earlier this years of Tamil Tiger rebels that ended a decades-old ethnic conflict.

Fonseka, who as army chief led the successful final offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), hopes the victory will also work in his favour at the polls.

Fonseka quit the military in November, accusing the government of sidelining him and of falsely claiming he was trying to stage a coup.

The two men briefly put aside their animosity Thursday to shake hands, exchange pleasantries and smile for the cameras before going their separate ways to talk to party supporters. Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake said independent monitors from Commonwealth and Asian countries had agreed to monitor the January 26 poll.