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Saturday, Dec 14, 2019

Sri Lanka’s choice for President: Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Rajapaksa defeated Premadasa, 52, by more than 1.3 million votes, according to the official results. The 70-year-old, who will succeed president Maithripala Sirisena for a five-year term, will be sworn in as the seventh executive president of Sri Lanka on Monday at the ancient north central town of Anuradhapura.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2019 00:20 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
Colombo
Sri Lanka People's Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa leaves after casting his vote during the presidential election in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka People's Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa leaves after casting his vote during the presidential election in Colombo, Sri Lanka.(REUTERS)
         

Sri Lanka’s controversial wartime defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa will lead the country after ruling party candidate Sajith Premadasa conceded the hotly contested presidential poll on Sunday, marking the return of the powerful Rajapaksa dynasty known for its pro-China tilt, amidst security challenges following the Easter Sunday terror attacks that killed 269 people.

Rajapaksa defeated Premadasa, 52, by more than 1.3 million votes, according to the official results. The 70-year-old, who will succeed president Maithripala Sirisena for a five-year term, will be sworn in as the seventh executive president of Sri Lanka on Monday at the ancient north central town of Anuradhapura.

He will be the second member from the Rajapaksa family to become president. His older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was president from 2005 to 2015.

Rajapaksa secured 52.25% votes (6,924,255), while Premadasa bagged 41.99% (5,564,239) of the total votes polled, the election commission said. Other candidates got 5.76% votes.

The overall voter turnout at the election was around 83.73%, Elections Commission chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said.

Following his win, Rajapaksa urged his supporters to “rejoice peacefully”. “As we usher in a new journey for Sri Lanka, we must remember that all Sri Lankans are part of this journey. Let us rejoice peacefully, with dignity and discipline in the same manner in which we campaigned,” the retired lieutenant colonel said in a tweet. Rajapaksa had vowed to “restore relations” with Sri Lanka’s top lender, China, if he wins the election, despite international concerns over the island nation’s financial debt to the Asian superpower.

Premadasa, meanwhile, was considered leaning more towards India and the US.

He conceded the presidential election to his rival even before the results were announced and also stepped down as the deputy leader of the ruling United National Party (UNP).

“It is my privilege to honour the people’s decision and congratulate Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa on his election. I am grateful our citizens who voted for me. I am humbled that you placed your faith in me. Your support has been a fountain of strength throughout my political career,” Premadasa tweeted.

Rajapaksa, who was the defence secretary for 10 years, swept the poll in the Sinhala majority districts, while Premadasa garnered most of the votes from the Tamil dominated north and east and Muslim community, including the tea plantation workers of Indian origin.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Rajapaksa and said he looks forward to further deepen relations between the two nations. “Conveying the good wishes on behalf of the people of India and on his own behalf, Prime Minister Modi expressed confidence that under the able leadership of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the people of Sri Lanka will progress further on the path of peace and prosperity,” Modi said in a tweet.

Rajapaksa thanked the people of India and Modi, saying he looks forward to strengthening the friendship and meeting him in the near future.

PM Modi later telephoned Rajapaksa to congratulate him and invited him to visit India at the earliest. “The invitation was accepted,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. It is believed that Rajapaksa, after taking over as the President, would appoint his elder brother and former strongman Mahinda as the PM.

Mahinda’s legacy of ending the Tamil separatist war has made Rajapaksa the darling of the Sinhala Buddhist majority. Gotabhaya was his top defence ministry official who supervised the military operations against the LTTE. While doing so, he acquired the reputation of a ruthlessly efficient administrator. Rajapaksa’s victory marks the return of the family to the pinnacle of power in the island after they were surprisingly ousted in the previous presidential poll.

According to observers, with pro-China Rajapaksa winning, the result will have a bearing on India’s presence in the Indian Ocean region where Beijing is increasingly making inroads.