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.