Maithripala Sirisena, the combined opposition parties candidate in Sri Lanka’s presidential elections, has defeated the two-term President Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sirisena, a former minister in Rajapaksa’s cabinet, contested from the platform of New Democratic Front (NDF), which includes some Tamil parties. Rajapaksa sought an unprecedented third term in office after a revision of the constitution. But he failed to win the public trust this time, winning 47 percent of the vote against Sirisena’s 51.8 percent in a closely contested election which saw high turnout.
Sri Lankan media reports said President Rajapaksa has conceded his defeat. Presidential spokesman Mohan Samaranayake told journalists in Colombo that Rajapaksa had called Sirisena early Friday morning (Jan 9) and congratulated him on his impending victory and inquired from him when he would assume the office.
President Rajapaksa has vacated Temple Trees, his official residence, after consulting opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and the cabinet assuring a smooth transfer of power,
Backed by the main opposition United National Party (UNP), Sirisena heads the opposition coalition which is calling for constitutional reforms to limit executive power and restore independent bodies to monitor the civil service, judiciary and human rights.
Sirisena, who held health portfolio in Rajapaksa cabinet, promises to rid Sri Lanka of one-man, one-family rule and to cut the overly-strong presidency back to size within 100 days of his election. It’s a manifesto that appeals to those who fear years of dynastic rule by the Rajapaksas, including, clearly, those within the erstwhile ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) itself. It resonates with growing public resentment about cronyism and worsening corruption and an environment within which businesses complain that only those on the inside can win official contracts.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the few world leaders who congratulated Sirisena during a telephone call. “I spoke to Shri Maithripala Sirisena and congratulated him. I congratulate the people of Sri Lanka on the peaceful & democratic poll process. As a close friend & neighbor, reaffirmed India’s continued solidarity & support for Sri Lanka’s peace, development & prosperity,” he tweeted.