Lankans Vote Out Rajapaksa, Elect Sirisena

Lankans Vote Out Rajapaksa, Elect SirisenaLankans Vote Out Rajapaksa, Elect Sirisena

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa lost his bid for a third term on Friday, ending a decade of rule. Official results showed Maithripala Sirisena, a former ally of the incumbent, had won 51.3% of the vote.

Rajapaksa, in office since 2005, said he looked forward to a peaceful transition of power. His supporters credit him with ending the civil war and boosting the economy, but critics say he had become increasingly authoritarian and corrupt, BBC said in a report.

Rajapaksa was seeking a third term in office after he changed the constitution to scrap the two-term limit. Results showed Rajapaksa remained popular among Sinhala Buddhists, who account for around 70 percent of the country’s 21 million people, but Sirisena took his lead from the ethnic Tamil-dominated former war zone in the north and Muslims-dominated areas.

Sirisena had already received promises of support from Tamil and Muslim leaders before the election. But the result shows he also picked up a significant portion of the majority Sinhalese vote, most of whom solidly supported Rajapaksa in previous elections.

  Smooth Transition

Before the results were announced, Rajakpaksa’s press officer said the president “concedes defeat and will ensure a smooth transition of power bowing to the wishes of the people”.

Both Rajapaksa and Sirisena are Sinhalese, the majority ethnic group in Sri Lanka. They were allies until November when Sirisena, the health minister in Rajapaksa’s government, announced his surprise candidacy.

  Tamil Turnaround

Turnout in many areas was above 70%, roughly in line with previous elections, with no reports of major incidents disrupting the voting process.

In Jaffna and Trincomalee, two of the main Tamil strongholds, turnout was higher than previous national elections. The build-up to Sri Lankan elections is usually blighted by dozens of deaths, but this year just one election-related death was reported.

Rajapaksa was last elected in 2010 when he defeated his former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who was later jailed on charges of implicating the government in war crimes.

Rajapaksa easily won the last election, surfing a wave of popularity months after the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels. But his critics say he became increasingly authoritarian and failed to tackle the legacy of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which left the Tamil areas in the north impoverished and embittered.

Both sides in the war were accused of atrocities, but an inquiry set up by the government that largely exonerated the army was dismissed by rights groups as flawed.