As street violence broke out in Colombo to protest the jailing of defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka on Wednesday announced the dates for snap parliamentary polls which will be held on April 8.
The schedule for the elections was announced after President Mahinda Rajapaksa dissolved the parliament on Tuesday night and a notification said that process of nomination of candidates would start from February 19.
The new prliament is scheduled to meet on April 22. The opposition while welcoming early polls demanded that the process should be 'free and fair' as their supporters held a rally outside the country's supreme court demanding release of Fonseka, who is being held on sedition charges.
They clashed with the ruling party supporters who took out a counter-rally and police had to burst tear gas shells to separate the warring groups.
The clash was the first salvo in what appears to be a violent campaign leading up to the parliamentary polls. The new elections follow an acrimonious tussle in the presidential elections, which saw President Mahinda Rajapaksa secure a landslide victory over Fonseka.
Asserting that the opposition was ready for the polls, United National Party general secretary Tissa Attanayake told a crowded press conference on Wednesday that the elections should 'be free and fair and not like the Presidential polls and the recent provincial council polls.'
"Though in the dissolved parliament the opposition had a majority of seats but it was reduced due to crossovers to the ruling alliance," Attanayake said.
He said the opposition would file a petition before the supreme court for looking into alleged presidential poll malpractices and to seek re-counting in the elections which was won by Rajapaksa by over 1.8 million votes last month.
The Sri Lankan parliament follows the system of proportional representation, which besides direct elections is also based on the percentage of votes polled by individual parties in the husting.
Meanwhile, the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance is now conducting interviews to select candidates to contest for the upcoming general election.
The interviewing process by three-provincially based nomination boards of the UPFA commenced yesterday. An appeal board headed by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake has been appointed to consider appeals of applicants, an official statement said.
The new parliament will comprise of 196 elected members and 29 members of parliament from the national lists of political parties and/or independent groups.
The present parliament elected in 2004 completes its tenure of six years in April this year. The UPFA came to power after defeating the UNP with 105 seats and the UNP winning 82 seats.