Rajapaksa wins Sri Lanka presidency by big margin

Supporters of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa celebrate in Colombo on Sunday, November 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 November 2019

Rajapaksa wins Sri Lanka presidency by big margin

  • Former defense chief promises strong leadership to secure island of 22m people

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s former defense secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was declared the seventh executive president on Sunday following the presidential polls held a day earlier.
The announcement was made by election commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya in the presence of all 35 contestants.
The brother of former president Mahindra Rajapaksa, Gotabaya — of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) — won 52.25 percent of the total votes, with Sajith Premadasa of the New Democratic Front (NDF) more than 1.3 million votes behind at 41.99 percent.
President designate Rajapaksa, who is slated to take his oath in the sacred city of Anuradhapura on Monday, said that he would strive to be fair and serve his countrymen without any political, racial or religious discrimination, and wanted to be the president for all Sri Lankans.
Reacting to the poll results, Premadasa said: “I express my heartfelt gratitude to all of our citizens who voted for me from all corners of the island. I am humbled that you placed your faith in me. Your support has been a fountain of strength throughout my 26-year-long political career.”
He added that it was a hard-fought and spirited election campaign and congratulated Rajapaksa on his win.
Following the announcement of the final results, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Non-Cabinet Minister of Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology Ajith P Perera and Minister of Telecommunications, Sports and Foreign Employment Harin Fernando all tendered their resignations from their portfolios, conceding the defeat of their party candidate Premadasa.
The executive director of People’s Action for Fair and Free Elections (PAFFREL) Rohan Hettiaratchi said there was a record turnout of 83 percent at the poll, and he described it as the most peaceful and lawful election in recent times, despite several incidents that were handled speedily and effectively by the police in cooperation with the Election Commission.
Indian Premier Narendra Modi was the first foreign leader to congratulate Rajapaksa, posting a message on Twitter: “I look forward to working closely with you for deepening the close and fraternal ties between our two countries and citizens, and for peace, prosperity as well as security in our region.”

Let us rejoice peacefully, with dignity and discipline in the same manner in which we campaigned.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Former defense secretary

Spelling out the reason for Rajapaksa’s victory, international political lobbyist and strategist Muheed Jeeran said that following the Easter Sunday bomb blasts in April, the people wanted security and sovereignty, and they knew that Gotabaya Rajapaksa could deliver these.
“The Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brand name went a long way for the grand victory,” he said.
Dr. H. M. Rafeek, former president of the Sri Lankan Expatriates in Jeddah and currently based in Colombo, said that Rajapaksa got such a massive majority of votes because people knew him as a “man of vision and innovation.”
“What he did during his tenure as defense secretary bears eloquent testimony to his devotion and perseverance,” he said.

Indians demonstrate against ‘divisive’ citizenship bill

Updated 11 December 2019

Indians demonstrate against ‘divisive’ citizenship bill

  • The bill, which goes to the upper house on Wednesday, would ensure citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but exclude Muslims

NEW DELHI: Protests erupted across various parts of India on Tuesday, a day after the lower house of Parliament passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) which makes religion the basis for granting Indian citizenship to minorities from neighboring countries. 

The bill, which goes to the upper house on Wednesday, would ensure citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but exclude Muslims.

“After the CAB, we are going to bring in the National Register of Citizens (NRC),” Home Minister Amit Shah said after the passage of the bill. 

The fear among a large section of Indians is that by bringing in the CAB and the NRC — a process to identify illegal immigrants — the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to target Muslim minorities. 

They insist that the new bill protects all other communities except Muslims, who constitute around 14 percent of India’s total population.

The opposition Congress Party said that the bill was a move to “destroy the foundation” of India.

“The CAB is an attack on the Indian constitution. Anyone who supports it is attacking and attempting to destroy the foundation of our nation,” party leader Rahul Gandhi posted in a tweet.

Priyanka Gandhi, Rahul’s sister and a prominent opposition leader, called the bill “India’s tryst with bigotry.”

However, BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma said: “The opposition is communalizing the bill. 

The CAB saves minorities who owe their origin to India from being prosecuted on grounds of religious status. The same is not the case with Muslims since they have not been prosecuted because of their religion.”

Eight northeastern states observed a day-long strike against the CAB. 

“Once the bill is implemented, the native tribal people will become permanent minorities in their own state,” Animesh Debbarma, a tribal leader who organized the strike in the state of Tripura said.

“The bill is against our fundamental rights and it is an attack on our constitution and secularism,” he told Arab News.

In Assam, some places saw violence with a vehicle belonging to the BJP state president vandalized.

In New Delhi, different civil society groups and individuals gathered close to the Indian Parliament and expressed their outrage at the “open and blatant attack” on what they called the “idea” of India.

“The CAB is not only against Muslim minorities but against all the minorities — be it Tamils or Nepali Gurkhas — and is a blatant attempt to polarize the society in the name of religion and turn India into a majoritarian Hindu state,” Nadeem Khan, head of United Against Hate, a campaign to connect people from different faiths, said.

Rallies and protests were also organized in Pune, Ahmadabad, Allahabad, Patna and Lucknow.

On Tuesday, more than 600 academics, activists, lawyers and writers called the bill “divisive, discriminatory, unconstitutional” in an open letter, and urged the government to withdraw the proposed law.

They said that the CAB, along with the NRC, “will bring untold suffering to people across the country. It will damage fundamentally and irreparably, the nature of the Indian republic.”

Delhi-based activist and a prominent human rights campaigner, Harsh Mander, said: “I feel the CAB is the most dangerous bill that has ever been brought by the Indian Parliament. We need a mass civil disobedience movement to oppose this legislation.”

Meanwhile, the international community is also watching the domestic debate on the CAB. 

Describing the initiative as a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction,”  a federal US commission on international religious freedom has sought US sanctions against Shah and other Indian leaders if the bill with the “religious criterion” is passed.

EU ambassador to India, Ugo Astuto, in a press conference in New Delhi on Monday said that he hopes: “The spirit of equality enshrined in the Indian constitution will be upheld by the Parliament.”