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Sirisena victory delights Sri Lankan expats in Saudi Arabia

There was widespread jubilation among the 500,000-strong Sri Lankan expatriate community in the Kingdom as they savored the victory of Maithripala Sirisena over incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential elections on Thursday.
For the expatriates, it was a long night on Thursday. Such was their excitement that they remained glued to their television sets until the wee hours of Friday.
As soon as the results were declared and it became clear that Rajapaksa had lost to Sirisena, there was a flurry of congratulatory messages on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
A majority of expatriates attributed Rajapaksa’s defeat to his dictatorial attitude.
“Yes, Rajapaksa did a lot of good things, but then he became a little arrogant and stopped listening to the grievances of the minorities, especially the Tamils, Muslims and Christians,” said prominent Jeddah-based Sri Lankan community leader H.M. Rafeek.
“The anger of the minorities against Rajapaksa was reflected in the massive turnout in the country’s north and east ... There was a 70 percent turnout and it was overwhelmingly against Rajapaksa,” he said.
Rafeek said Sri Lankans were looking for change. “The minorities want equal rights, and freedom to practice their religion,” he said.
“Sirisena is a down-to-earth person. He has with him people from different backgrounds and that inspires confidence among all sections of the country,” he said.
It was not only members of the minorities who voted against Rajapaksa. The Sinhalese, who form the country’s majority, also felt uneasy with him. They voted for Sirisena in substantial numbers.
However, Riyadh-based Dilan Bandara, a Sinhala expatriate, was not happy with the result. “Rajapaksa will always be remembered for defeating the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009. For me, and many like me, Rajapaksa was the best president ever,” said Bandara.
Sarath Perera agreed with Bandara. “Rajapaksa was our war hero,” he said. “He brought peace to our country. He defied Western pressure to finish off Vellupillai Prabakaran and his terrorist gang.
But the Tamil expatriates, like the Muslims, were ecstatic at Rajapaksa’s defeat. “Rajapaksa did not show any interest in resolving the political problems of minority communities such as the Tamils, Muslims and Christians. Now, we feel we have a chance to build national unity,” said Alkhobar-based T. Mahesan, an engineer. “We look forward to a new era of peace and prosperity under President Sirisena.”
“Political reconciliation and maximum devolution of power to northern and eastern provinces should be a priority for the new president,” C. Kunarajah told Arab News. “He should remove all forms of racial discrimination.”
The new prime minister got the thumbs-up from expatriates. “A real gentleman has become the premier of Sri Lanka,” said Ibrahim Jiffry, referring to the appointment of Ranil Wickremasinghe as the new premier.
There was also praise for Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya and Inspector General of Police N.K. Illangakoon for holding a peaceful election. No major incidents of violence were reported at this presidential election.
One expatriate had a key word of advice for the new president.
“Competent career diplomats should be appointed to Gulf countries,” said Indika Gunasekara from Jubail. “Rajapaksa has been sending political lackeys as diplomats to work at Sri Lankan missions in the Middle East. This practice has to stop. Only talented diplomats can protect the interests of Sri Lankans abroad.”
Gunasekara said migrant workers in the Gulf need strong diplomatic support from the embassies. “We request the new president to overhaul the foreign service,” he said.
Sri Lankan Muslim expatriates were seen exchanging greetings and embracing each other after Friday prayers. “I couldn’t sleep the whole night out of excitement,” added Rafeek. “You can say we voted for change. We voted for a new, inclusive Sri Lanka.”

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