Sri Lanka People’s Front candidate and the country’s former defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was Sunday declared winner in its presidential poll, garnering 52.25 per cent votes.
Gotabaya’s win marks the return to the helm of the powerful Rajapaksa family — known for its pro-China tilt — amid turmoil in the country following the Easter Sunday terror attacks that killed 269 people.
Rajapaksa, 70, who will succeed President Maithripala Sirisena, urged his supporters to “rejoice peacefully” after his closest rival, Sajith Premadasa, conceded the polls even before the official results were announced by the Elections Commission.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to be the President, not only of those who voted for me, but as the President of all Sri Lankans. The trust you have invested in me is deeply moving and being your president will be the greatest honor of my life — Let’s put our vision into action!” the retired lieutenant colonel said in a tweet.
Rajapaksa swept the polls in the Sinhala majority districts, while Premadasa won most of the votes from the Tamil-dominated north and east of the country.
Who is Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Gotabaya Rajapaksa is best known as the man who crushed the Tamil Tigers. As a former Army officer who served as Sri Lanka’s defence secretary when his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was President, Gotabaya led the military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam between 2007 and 2009, which ended with the final defeat of the Tigers, and the killing of its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
He has a robust reputation for hard-edged ruthlessness and has faced allegations of human rights violations and crimes against humanity during the brutal LTTE war.
Rajapaksa, who was the top defence ministry bureaucrat for 10 years, is seen as the force behind the Bodu Bala Sena, a Buddhist extremist outfit that has repeatedly agitated against Muslims in Sri Lanka, and played a role in the 2014 anti-Muslim riots in the country.
He has been also accused of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, Europe and the United States
A record 35 candidates were in the fray for the top post in these elections, with Rajapaksa and the ruling party candidate Sajith Premadasa as the main contestants. Anura Kumara Dissanayake from the National People’s Power (NPP) coalition was also being considered a strong candidate.
The current president, Maithripala Sirisena, who defeated Rajapaksa in the 2015 election, did not contest this time.
Rajapaksa secured 52.25 per cent votes (6,924,255) while Premadasa received 41.99 per cent (5,564,239), according to the official results. Other candidates got 5.76 per cent votes.
What were the poll issues
The election in Sri Lanka took place nearly seven months after homegrown radicals, pledging loyalty to the Islamic State terror group, detonated suicide bombs at three churches and in three posh hotels in the country, killing 269 people and seriously hitting the tourism industry, one of Sri Lanka’s main forex earning sectors.
In the election, Premadasa, the ruling United National Party (UNP) candidate, was banking on his ‘man of the commoner’ image — a legacy of his father Ranasinghe Premadasa, the country’s president between 1989 and 1993 until the LTTE assassinated him in 1993.
Meanwhile, Rajapaksa was seen as the man most trusted to safeguard national security after the Easter Sunday bombings.
The 2019 presidential campaign was termed the “wost-ever” in terms of hate speech and misinformation, by the country’s top election body.
How other nations reacted
Congratulating the people of Sri Lanka for the successful conduct of polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Rajapaksa and said he looks forward to deepening relations between India and Sri Lanka.
“I look forward to working closely with you for deepening the close and fraternal ties between our two countries and citizens, and for peace, prosperity as well as security in our region,” Modi said in a tweet.
Congratulations @GotabayaR on your victory in the Presidential elections.
I look forward to working closely with you for deepening the close and fraternal ties between our two countries and citizens, and for peace, prosperity as well as security in our region.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 17, 2019
Arif Alvi, President of Pakistan, also extended his greetings to Rajapaksa. In a tweet, he said, “We hope to continue working with you for the betterment of our people and to advance our shared interests of regional peace, stability, and prosperity”.
It gives me immense pleasure to extend my warmest congratulations on your electoral victory Mr @GotabayaR as President of Sri Lanka.We hope to continue working with you for the betterment of our people and to advance our shared interests of regional peace, stability, & prosperity
— Dr. Arif Alvi (@ArifAlvi) November 17, 2019
Maldives President Ibrahim Solhi also congratulated Rajapaksa for his victory, saying Maldives looked forward to working with Sri Lanka’s new administration.
“Warm congratulations to President-elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa for a resounding election victory in Sri Lanka. I look forward to working with your new administration to further the already close and fraternal ties between the Maldives and Sri Lanka,” Solih said.
(Inputs from PTI)