Colombo: Sri Lanka`s President cleared a final hurdle to seeking re-election on Wednesday when he completed the mandatory four years of his second term, opening the way for snap polls expected in January.
Mahinda Rajapakse is widely expected to seek re-election after Sri Lanka`s Supreme Court last week rejected an opposition challenge to the removal of a two-term limit on the presidency.
"After completing four years in his current (second) term, the president now has the constitutional authority to seek a fresh mandate from the people," his spokesman Mohan Samaranayake told a news agency.
Samaranayake did not say when Rajapakse would issue a proclamation seeking re-election -- the next step towards polls -- but official sources said it could happen within 24 hours.
Although no elections have yet been called, large posters featuring a smiling Rajapakse already appear on lamp posts around the country, as was the case in previous election campaigns.
Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella recently said elections could be held around January 7 or 8, and on Wednesday the state-run Daily News brought out a special 92-page supplement on the president`s administration.
However, celebrations for Rajapakse`s 69th birthday were marred on Tuesday when a key coalition partner, the JHU or the National Heritage Party of Buddhist monks, quit his government in protest at his failure to loosen his grip on power.
Official sources said Rajapakse was keen to secure another mandate before his party`s popularity falls further.
Rajapakse`s United People`s Freedom Alliance vote share plummeted at local elections in September, suffering its worst performance since he first came to power nine years ago.
Rajapakse won the presidency in 2005 promising to return the country to a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy.
But he secured a second term in 2010 and rewrote the constitution, removing the two-term limit on the top job and giving himself more powers over the entire administration.
The JHU supported Rajapakse`s election in 2005 and backed his moves to end a decades-long separatist war by crushing Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.
With just three seats in the 225-member parliament the JHU lacks the power to destabilise the government, but the monks are considered influential among the country`s majority Buddhist community.