Civil war-era defense chief Rajapaksa to become Sri Lankan President
Gotabaya Rajapaksa is set to become the next Sri Lankan President as the ruling United National Party's presidential candidate, Sajith Premadasa, conceded. The Sri Lanka presidential elections were the nation's first since a terror attack in April reportedly killed 269 people. Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party's Rajapaksa (70), a former wartime defense secretary, won 53-54% votes. Here are more details.
"It's a clear win. We envisaged it," Rajapaksa's spokesperson, Keheliya Rambukwella, told Agence France-Presse, "[Rajapaksa] will be sworn-in tomorrow or the day after." "It's a people's victory. The sound policies he put across have been well received by the people," Rambukwella said. Reportedly, Rajapaksa had a 49.6% vote share with almost six million ballots counted while Premadasa trailed at 44.4%.
Rajapaksa—nicknamed "Terminator" by his own family—is revered by the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community for crushing the Tamil Tigers' separatist rebellion in 2009. For decades, the minority Tamil have demanded a separate state Tamil Eelam, including northern and eastern provinces. Rajapaksa directed security forces to defeat Tamil separatists in May 2009, ending the 37-year separatist war, which claimed the lives of 40,000 Tamil civilians.
Rajapaksa allegedly oversaw the infamous "white van squads" which abducted journalists, activists and Tamil civilians suspected of links to the Tamil Tigers. Some were released after torture, however, others disappeared. He and his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa—President from 2005-15—also allegedly condoned rape and extrajudicial killings.
Rajapaksa joined the presidential race days after the April attack, orchestrated by Islamic State-group inspired militants. He ran a nationalist campaign, promising security, elimination of religious extremism, and a pardon to military commanders jailed for human rights violations during the war. He also promised to appoint as Prime Minister his brother Mahinda, who was ousted in 2015 over nepotism and corrupt dealings with China.
Sri Lankans cast their vote in the presidential elections on Saturday amid stray incidents of violence. Although no casualties were reported, some minority Muslim voters were shot at, while others were pelted with stones and blocked by burning tires. Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshappriya estimated an 80% voter turnout, however, the northern and eastern provinces of minority voters recorded a low turnout, favoring Rajapaksa.