President Mahinda Rajapaksa (64), won a second term as Sri Lanka’s president on Wednesday, while his nearest rival, retired army chief Sarath Fonseka (59) was at the receiving end of grim attention of hundreds of armed Sri Lankan soldiers.
Rajapaksa won by a margin of more than 1.8 million votes, but Fonseka rejected the result, vowing to challenge it in court.
It was learnt an opposition leader got in touch with the Indian High Commission aski-ng New Delhi to intervene and ensure Fonseka’s safety. “We’re in touch with embassies and envoys,” Fonseka confirmed to Hindustan Times.
The Sri Lankan government deployed gun-toting personnel including a team wearing gas-masks around the hotel in which Fonseka, his family and few opposition leaders took shelter on Tuesday night following rumours that he may be arrested or killed.
Roads around the hotel were soon barricaded and riot vehicles strategically parked, ready to be deployed. By morning, the deployment was increased.
Military sources said the soldiers did not have orders to arrest Fonseka or prevent him from leaving the hotel. Osten-sibly they were looking for army deserters rumoured to be working for their former boss.
Inside the hotel, Fonseka said though he’d want to stay in Sri Lanka for the sake of the 4 million people who voted for him, he might have to temporarily leave if his security was taken away. “I have to survive if they take away my security,” he said.
Late on Wednesday night, Fonseka and his security entourage left the hotel for an unknown destination. Eyewit-nesses said soldiers around the hotel had begun to gradually vacate the area as well.
From late Tuesday night ,soldiers had begun surrounding the hotel in which Fonseka, his family and some other opposition members were staying, barricading the roads leading up to it, with riot vehicles strategically parked, amid rumours that Fonseka might be arrested or killed.
The soldiers, however, claimed they were not targeting Fonseka, but were looking for army deserters said to be working for him.
Inside the hotel, Fonseka said he might be forced to leave the country for his own security. He feared the men deployed to protect him would be taken away.
“I have to survive if they take away my security,” he said.
The city remained tense all day even though people hit the streets in celebration, setting off fireworks, waving Sri Lankan flags and holding up posters of Rajapaksa.
The one-sided result surprised many, since the contest was expected to be close. Voting patterns showed that Fonseka did pull votes from the Tamil-dominated North and East (with a sizeable Muslim vote) and the Colombo and Kandy areas, but this was just not enough.
While the Lankan President is elected for a six-year-term, Rajapaksa had called for an early election in November 2009 to cash in on the military victory over the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009. The gamble clearly paid off for him.
(With agency inputs)