Controversial 'war hero' Gotabaya is new Sri Lanka president

Updated: Nov 18, 2019, 13:07 IST | Agencies |

Defeats ruling party candidate Sajith Premadasa by more than 13 lakh votes

Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Pic/AFP
Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Pic/AFP

Colombo: 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. Rajapaksa defeated Premadasa by more than 13 lakh votes, according to the official results. He will succeed President Maithripala Sirisena for a five-year term. Rajapaksa secured 52.25 per cent votes (6,924,255) while Premadasa received 41.99 per cent of the total votes polled (5,564,239), the election commission said. Other candidates got 5.76 per cent votes.

He 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.

He could take the oath of office on Monday, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) said. Premadasa, 52, conceded the presidential election to his rival even before the official results were announced. Rajapaksa, who was the top defence ministry bureaucrat 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.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who can't be removed unless he steps down, is expected to resign. The current parliament can't be dissolved before February. It is believed that Rajapaksa, after taking over as the President, would appoint his elder brother and former strongman Mahinda as the prime minister.

Rajapaksa, who ruthlessly ended Sri Lanka's 30-year civil war with the LTTE, is both a controversial and a respected figure in the island nation where he is considered a "war hero" by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, but mostly distrusted by the minority Tamils.

The 70-year-old politician, who as a former military man attended the counter-insurgency and jungle warfare school in Assam in 1980, served as the defence secretary during his elder brother Mahinda's tenure as president from 2005 to 2014. In 1983, he also gained a masters in Defence Studies from the University of Madras. 

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