Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s wartime defence secretary who played a key role in crushing militants fighting for an independent homeland for Tamils in north-east region, won the presidential election on Sunday by defeating Sajith Premadasa of the ruling United National Party (UNP) by more than 1.3 million votes, official results said.
In a tweet, Rajapaksa, who represented the Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP), thanked his supporters and urged them to rejoice peacefully. He will be sworn in as president on Monday.
Premadasa conceded defeat even before the official results were out. He also resigned as UNP’s deputy leader.
In a tweet, he congratulated Rajapaksa and said he respects people’s mandate.
Both candidates belong to political dynasties that ruled the nation. Rajapaksa is the younger brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa while Premadasa is the son of former president Ranasinghe Premadasa who was assassinated by a Tamil suicide bomber in 1993 in Colombo.
Rajapaksa’s presidential campaign focused on the security of the island nation which was targeted by Islamist terrorists leaving some 269 people in Colombo on Easter Sunday earlier this year.
People reposed a lot of hope in this controversial ‘war hero’ and gave him a massive mandate in Saturday’s presidential election which saw a record 80% turnout.
Tamil and Muslim minorities in Sri Lanka are, however, alarmed by the victory of the ‘terminator’ Rajapaksa who, along with his brother Mahinda, is accused of encouraging the military to indulge in alleged rights abuses, extra-judicial killings and rapes during the crackdown on Tamil militants between 2005 and 2015.
Some 40,000 Tamils were killed in their military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that ended in 2009.
Tamil Hindus and Muslims make up more than 20% of the country’s population and most of them voted for Premadasa. However, people living in Sihalese-majority areas voted for Rajapaksa.
Tamils are also upset after Rajapaksa categorically said last month that if elected, he would not honour the country’s commitments to the UN Human Rights Council on post-war accountability and reconciliation.
Rajapaksa’s poll win is also a matter of concern for Sri Lanka’s neighbour India and the US because of his pro-China views. During the campaign, he assured voters that if elected, he would restore warm ties with China, the country’s top lender .
After Sri Lanka fell into what its critics describe as a Chinese debt trap under Mahinda, it allowed two submarines of that country to dock in Colombo in 2014.
In his tweet, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Rajapaksa and said he looks forward to further strengthening the age-old ties between the two nations.
Rajapaksa said he looks forward to meeting Modi in the near future.