Sri Lanka’s former defense chief Rajapaksa becomes country’s new leader

Cheryl Sanders
November 19, 2019

With half the votes counted from Saturday's election, Rajapaksa led with 50.7 % while his main rival Sajith Premadasa had 43.8%, Reuters news agency quoting the Sri Lankan election commission said.

It's nearly certain Gotabaya will name as Prime Minister his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was Sri Lanka's strongman President until his 2015 defeat.

Given India's influence over the current ruling party, New Delhi desperately wanted to see the victory of Sajith Premadasa, a candidate of Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) and Pakistan was hoping for the victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa's party said in a statement that he will be sworn in as president on Monday morning in Anuradhapura, a city about 200 km from the capital Colombo.

Gotabaya's brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, now leads the opposition in Parliament and is widely expected to vie for the post of Prime Minister when parliamentary elections are held in 2020.

He and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former president, spearheaded the defeat of separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, ending a decades-long war in which at least 100,000 people died.

Sri Lanka's Tamil minority has expressed concerns over the return of the Rajapaksa clan, who have faced allegations of widespread human rights violations of civilians in the final stages of the war against the separatists in 2009.

"I have fully understood that I am the president of all citizens not only of those who voted for me but also all those who voted against me", he said. The outgoing government also re-established ties with neighboring India and the United States, both of whom have significant stakes in Sri Lanka as a buffer against China.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said he would discuss the possibility of a parliamentary election with the Speaker and party leaders soon. Mr Wickremesinghe, whose administration failed to prevent the April attacks despite prior, detailed intelligence warnings from India, can not be removed unless he steps down.

Under his brother, Gotabaya was defence secretary and effectively ran the security forces, allegedly overseeing "death squads" that bumped off rivals, journalists and others.

Gotabaya has denied allegations that he received millions of dollars by way of kickbacks from a second-hand aircraft purchase from Ukraine in 2007.

But they are detested and feared by many Tamils, who make up 15 per cent of the population.

Major infrastructure projects, such as port construction, were funded by Chinese loans. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Sunday saying he looks forward to deepening bilateral ties with the new government.

But for many in Sri Lanka's ethnic minorities, moving on is not an option.

Ten years after the end of the war against Tamils, Sri Lanka faced the biggest terror attack in its history on Easter Sunday (April 21, 2019) from the local IS suicide bombers.

Unlike in 2015 when there were bomb attacks and shootings, this election was relatively peaceful by the standards of Sri Lanka's fiery politics.

However, two women voters were injured when unidentified attackers pelted stones at their bus in the northwest region of Medawachchiya, police said.

Other reports by iNewsToday