COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's top general, who engineered the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after a 25-year war, has resigned, sources said on Thursday, amid speculation he will run for president as an opposition candidate.
General Sarath Fonseka is expected to challenge his Commander-in-Chief, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in an election due to be held by April.
If Fonseka enters the race, analysts expect it to weaken Rajapaksa's core voter base and erode the incumbent's present monopoly on claiming political capital from the war victory.
STRONG MAN: Sri Lanka's Chief of Defence Staff Sarath Fonseka takes part in a ceremony in Colombo. (file photo)
"General Fonseka had submitted his resignation to the president," said a military source.
Another defence official speaking on condition of anonymity said the resignation had been sent. Two other sources confirmed the same.
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is the president's brother and served as army officer in combat alongside Fonseka, told Reuters he did not know about the resignation. "The president didn't tell me," he said.
In July, Rajapaksa promoted the then-army commander to a newly created post, chief of defence staff, which many analysts saw as neutralising the wide powers Fonseka had been given in wartime.
The government has repeatedly denied any split between Fonseka and Rajapaksa, but evidence of a long-brewing rift has been clear. Numerous ruling alliance politicians have publicly rubbished Fonseka's ability to lead the nation as president.
Opposition parties have been happy to fan speculation of Fonseka's potential candidacy to unsettle the ruling alliance and help find any issue that can help them erode the incumbent's enormous post-war popularity.
Rajapaksa has called for early presidential and parliamentary polls to be held by April in what analysts have said is a manoeuvre to lock in a second term before his post-war popularity fades over issues like the cost of living and public wage hikes.
Trade unions allied with the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and pro-business United National Party have joined hands in an ongoing five-day labour action, demanding pay raises the president pledged to give after the war ended.
The government's agreement to reduce its budget deficit under a $2.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan could complicate Rajapaksa's ability to deliver on that pledge, a fact the Opposition parties know.
Although both parties are ideologically incompatible, they have both indicated they will back Fonseka for the purpose of defeating Rajapaksa.