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.

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Daudzai

Updated 46 min 11 sec ago

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.