Sri Lanka vote: Rajapaksa wins presidency as Premadasa concedes


Saranya survived the Easter bomb attack but her husband didn’t. Aaron Fernandes SBS News

After polls closed, Elections Commission chairman Mahinda Deshappriya said there were "no serious incidents of violence".

Is it back to the past for Sri Lanka after voters elected as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, once the much-feared defence minister who brutally crushed the Tamil Tigers?

His triumph will, however, alarm Sri Lanka's Tamil and Muslim minorities as well as activists, journalists and possibly some in the global community following the 2005-15 presidency of his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Well, Gotabaya is considered to be very close to China.

A record 35 candidates competed to replace outgoing President Maithripala Sirisena, whose term was marred by the Easter bombings and a failed attempt to remove Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe from office. IS too claimed responsibility for the attack which left 45 foreigners dead. Ahead of this weekend's election, NPR's Lauren Frayer talked to several Tamil mothers whose children are still missing after security forces led by Rajapaksa took them away before the end of the civil war more than a decade ago.

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He also brushed aside questions about war crimes during the final offensive of the Tamil war, during which some 40,000 Tamil civilians are alleged to have been killed.

"There is a concerted effort to keep the Muslims away from the ballot box", Ratnajeevan Hoole, a member of the Elections Commission, told The Associated Press. Under Mahinda Rajapaksa's presidency, there was a repression of dissent, with journalists and campaigners regularly arrested and attacked, while the courts and the police were controlled by the government. Police officials said the attackers burnt tyres on the road and also set up makeshift road blocks to ambush the convoy of more than 100 vehicles. There were no injuries but witnesses said there were tires burning.

Votes will be counted soon after polling stations close that evening but the results are not expected before Sunday.

And then there were a number of weird rants - about the cashew nuts on board Sri Lanka's national carrier, for example, and about the organisers of a gig by Spanish pop star Enrique Iglesias, whom Mr Sirisena said should be whipped. But even 10 years after the war ended nothing has moved so far.

A Sri Lankan voter said, "We especially need security, the economy usually goes up and down anyway". Before that though, in an interview to an Indian publication in early 2018, Gotabaya was quoted as having said the Modi government looked at Sri Lanka in a different way (from the earlier Congress government) and accused it of raising issues without having proper understanding of those.

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The son of a president who was assassinated by Tamil Tiger rebels in 1993, he is the current housing minister and has managed to take on the Rajapaksa family in their own region.

Almost 16 million of Sri Lanka's 22 million people were eligible to vote and choose a new president from a record 35 candidates.

To numerous country's Sinhala Buddhists, he's a war hero who led government forces to victory in the civil war.

"The reason is we like him, young and we need a person like that in our country", Nawaz said.

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