COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) — Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former defence official revered by Sri Lanka’s ethnic majority for his role in ending a bloody civil war but feared by minorities for his brutal approach, declared victory yesterday in the nation’s presidential election.
Sri Lanka’s ruling party presidential candidate, Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa, conceded defeat to Rajapaksa, saying he would honour the decision of the people.
Rajapaksa, the campaign front-runner and former defence secretary under his brother, ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, pledged to restore security to the Indian Ocean island nation still recovering from Islamic State (IS)-inspired attacks last Easter.
Rajapaksa announced his candidacy shortly after the terrorist attack that killed 269 people, faulting the government for intelligence lapses and letting the security sector falter.
His victory in last Saturday’s vote marks the return of a family ousted from power in 2015 elections amid constant reports of nepotism, skimming off development deals with China and alleged human rights violations during the end of the decades-long war with the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009. The election also mirrors the global trend of populist strongmen appealing to disgruntled majorities amid rising ethno-nationalism.
“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,” Rajapaksa tweeted.
Supporters outside Rajapaksa’s home on the outskirts of the capital Colombo hugged and cheered, some clutching bouquets of flowers.
About 15 million people were eligible to vote, and Sri Lanka’s Election Commission estimated 80 per cent turnout after polls closed.