By Susitha Fernando
Colombo, Nov 17 (IANS): Amidst clear divisive vote between the majority and the minority, President-elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Sunday said that he is the President of all Sri Lankans and the leader of not only those elected him but also those voted against him too.
After Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriyya officially announced his election to the country’s top post, Rajapaksa said: “I am well aware that I am bound to serve all Sri Lankans despite their racial or religious barriers. I assure that I would conduct accordingly and I thank my citizens for electing me.”
The newly-elected seventh President of the island nation won the majority Sinahala votes of 6,924,255, or 52.25 per cent, from total valid votes of 13,252,499 cast in the November 16 election.
In a separate Facebook post, Rakapaksa stated: “It’s no overstatement: today we made history together. November 16, 2019 will be remembered as the day when the wounds of the past were healed, and our nation moved forward to embrace the future.”
Rajapaksa, former Defence Secretary in the government of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa – who oversaw victory in the 26-year-long war against rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the North and East in 2009, noted: “Sri Lankans chose hope over fear, unity over conflict, smile over anger. Our vision for a better tomorrow, won the hearts and the minds of the people.”
“From now on, the path to great achievements lies open in front of us and this was our first step together with many other accomplishments to follow. I promise not to stop, until we reach the heights Sri Lankans aspire to,” he added.
Out of 25 administrative districts, Gotabaya won 16: Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Monaragala, Ratnapura, Badulla, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Gampaha, Kandy, Matale, Polonnaruwa, Colombo, Kegalle and Anuradhapura.
However, he was heavily defeated in Tamil and Muslim-majority Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Tamils in all five administrative districts in the Northern province — Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mulaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar, and the majority Muslims in three districts in the Eastern Province — Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara — voted against Rajapaksa with lead of 80 percent in most districts.
In the November 16 election, out of nearly 16 million voters, 13,387,951 or 83.72 per cent were polled but 135,452 were marked as invalid by the Election Commission. Out of 13,252,499 valid votes, Rajapaksa’s main opponent Sajith Premadasa won 5,564,239 votes with 42.99 per cent.
Eight out of nine districts won by Premadasa were from the North and the Eastern provinces.
After being elected as the President, Rajapaksa also stated that he would respect the democratic institutions and adhere to the democratic values.
Election Commission Chairman Deshapriya also urged Rajapaksa to ensure democracy and said that through democracy, only proper election could be conducted.
“Though you were elected by your voters, now you are the President of all Sri Lanka. We hope that you will work to fulfil what you promised in your manifesto,” he noted.
Following the end of the ethnic war against Tamil rebels in May 2009, the United Nations has alleged that there were serious human rights violations that could amount to war crimes but the Rajapaksas have denied the allegations.
Ten years after the end of the war against Tamils, Sri Lanka faced the biggest terror attack in its history on Easter Sunday (April 21, 2019) from the local IS suicide bombers. The attacks killed 269 civilians and injured over 400 in three churches and three luxury hotels.
Rajapaksa led the election campaign with national security as the topmost priority and vowed that he would eliminate terrorists and ensure that similar attack would not be repeated.
Conceding defeat before the final result was announced, Premadasa issued a statement congratulating Gotabaya on his victory. He announced that he would step down as Deputy Leader of the ruling United National Party with immediate effect.
“At the conclusion of a hard fought and spirited election campaign, it is my privilege to honour the decision of the people and congratulate Gotabaya Rajapaksa on his election as the seventh President of Sri Lanka,” Premadasa noted.
Premadasa, the son of Ranasinghe Premadasa, who served as the President from 1989 until he was assassinated in May 1993 by the LTTE, had pledged to fight for the Muslim and Tamil minorities.
Following Premadasa’s admission of the defeat and resignation from the party, several ministers including Finance Minster Mangala Samaraweera, Sports and Digital Affairs Minister Harin Fernando, Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema and Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology Minister Ajith P. Perera resigned from their posts.
Sri Lanka’s main Marxist party candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who represented National People’s Party (NPP), emerged third with 418,553 votes and 3.16 per cent while former Army Commander, Lt. General Mahesh Senanayake, who formed a party after he left the army last August, emerged fourth with 49,655 votes.
The swearing-in ceremony of Rajapaksa is to be held in the Buddhist sacred city of Anuradhapura, in the North Central province, 200 km away from capital Colombo.