In Sri Lanka’s Presidential Elections, Gotabaya Rajapaksa who spearheaded the brutal crushing of the Tamil Tigers 10 years ago, stormed to victory on Sunday.
Sri Lanka’s ruling party candidate Sajith Premadas conceded his defeat in the presidential poll on Sunday and congratulated his main rival, former wartime defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
“It is my privilege to honour the decision of the people and congratulate Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa on his election as the seventh President of Sri Lanka,” Premadasa said.
His statement came as a spokesman for Rajapaksa claimed that the 70-year-old retired lieutenant colonel had won Saturday’s vote, before the final results were formally announced.
Nicknamed the “Terminator” by his own family, the retired lieutenant colonel, won 53-54 percent of the vote, his spokesman told news agency AFP.
“It is a clear win. We envisaged it. We are very happy that Gota will be the next president. He will be sworn in tomorrow or the day after,” spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.
Rajapaksa is the younger brother of Mahinda Rajjapaksa, the former president who presided in 2005 to 2015.
The 70-year-old Rajapaksa, had a 49.6 percent share of the vote with close to six million ballots counted.
Results from Sinhalese majority regions which is the Rajapaksas’ core support base were expected to push this above 50 percent.
Premadasa, 52, of the ruling party was trailing at 44.4 percent. He had strong support in minority Tamil areas and a poor showing in larger Sinhalese constituencies.
Election Commission chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said at least 80 percent of the 15.99 million eligible voters participated in Saturday’s poll, which was marred by isolated violence that left several people injured.
Rajapaksa conducted a nationalist campaign with a promise of security and a vow to crush religious extremism in the Buddhist-majority country following the April 21 suicide bomb attacks blamed on a homegrown terror group.
Three luxury hotels and three churches were targeted in the coordinated bombings. ISIS also claimed responsibility for the attack, which left 45 foreigners dead.
Saturday’s poll was the first popularity test of the United National Party (UNP) government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who stepped aside and allowed his deputy Premadasa to stand in the election.
Unlike in 2015 when there were bomb attacks and shootings, this election was relatively peaceful by the standards of Sri Lanka’s fiery politics.
The only major incident was on Saturday when gunmen fired at two vehicles in a convoy of at least 100 buses taking voters from the Muslim minority to vote. Two people were injured.
After a campaign that according to the Election Commission was the worst ever for hate speech and misinformation, final results could come by later Sunday.
A record 35 candidates were in fray for the eighth presidential race in Sri Lanka which was held on 16 November. The main contest was between Gotabaya Rajapaksa, of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, a breakaway group of the SLFP, and Sajit Premadasa, son of the second President, the late Ranasinghe Premadasa and deputy leader of the United National Party.
The leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna fielded Anura Kumara Dissanayaka. A former MP of the Tamil National Alliance, MK Sivajilingam had also entered the fray as an independent candidate.
Ever since Sri Lanka switched to the presidential form of government from the parliamentary system, the tie had been between the UNP and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, except for the 2015 election when these two major parties jointly sponsored Maithripala Sirisena of the SLFP against Mahinda Rajapaksa who was seeking re-election for a third term which the Constitution did not permit.
Mahinda has the distinction of having been the President, the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition. With Gotabaya’s win, he hopes to become Prime Minister again.
An inclusive Constitution is a must for a multi-ethnic country like Sri Lanka. The international community helped the government of Sri Lanka to defeat LTTE, the Tamil rebel group. But even 10 years after the war ended nothing has moved so far. With a new president hopefully things will change for the better.