Sirisena elected as President of Lanka; Rajapaksa’s 10-year rule ends
Colombo (Jan. 09, 2015): Sri Lankan voters Friday ousted President Mahinda Rajapaksa from power, ending a 10-year rule that was marked by allegations of family rule, corruption and authoritarianism and chose his one-time minister Maithripala Sirisena in his place.
Hours after the results were declared, 63-year-old Sirisena, who led a revolt and defected to the opposition camp on the eve of announcement of the elections, was sworn-in as President symbolising a smooth transition of power.
Sworn-in along with him was his new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who till now was the leader of opposition. Both of them took the oath of office at a ceremony in the Independence Square. Supreme Court Justice K Sripavan administered the oath to Sirisena.
What was considered impossible till a few weeks ago became possible when the voters showed the door to 69-year-old Rajapaksa, who was suave but ruthless when it came to decimating the dreaded LTTE that had earned him the title of 'King' among the majority Sinhalese and unpopularity with the minority Tamils.
Health Minister under Rajapaksa and General Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party till he defected, Sirisena got 6,217,162 or 51.2 per cent of the votes against Rajapaksa's 5,768,090 or 47.6 per cent.
"I declare that Maithripala Sirisena has been duly elected as the President of Sri Lanka," announced Commissioner of Elections Mahinda Deshapriya bringing the curtains down on the closely fought elections that was advanced by two years by Rajapaksa who had amended the constitution for seeking an unprecedented third term.
Much before the declaration, Rajapaksa, who was accused of practising politics of dynasty, conceded defeat early in the morning and left the presidential house 'Temple Trees'. After his victory, Sirisena thanked Rajapaksa for ensuring a fair poll.
The minority Tamils and Muslims appeared to have voted heavily against Rajapaksa, who had earned the wrath of Tamils over the alleged human rights violations during the final phase of war against the LTTE in 2009 and for not implementing the promised constitutional amendments to devolve power to them.
Rajapaksa had promised smooth transition of power when Wickremesinghe met him in the morning. The leader of the opposition said they have to respect Rajapaksa for his action in finishing the war on LTTE.
Sirisena was backed by the main opposition United National Party (UNP), the Buddhist nationalist Heritage Party and a host of other Tamil and Muslim minority parties. In all, 26 ruling coalition MPs deserted Rajapaksa during the run up to the poll.
Rajapaksa had created a cult image around himself and placed numerous relatives in top positions, sidelining the party's old guard, which helped give rise to the dissent.
Notwithstanding the support he may have got, the President-elect may not make a radical departure from the policies of the ousted President.
The opposition campaign had accused Rajapaksa of nepotism, misrule, corruption and authoritarianism.
Rajapaksa's brothers - Gotabhaya and Basil - were defence and economic ministers respectively besides a number of his family members who were holding key posts and positions.
In the run up to the election, Sirisena had pledged to abolish the executive presidency within 100 days of being elected, repeal the controversial 18th amendment under which a President can seek re-election any number of times, re-instate the 17th amendment.
During campaigning in Tamil areas, Sirisena made it clear that he would not go soft on Tamil hardliners or withdraw the army from the north in exchange for their support in presidential election.
About 75 per cent of the 15.04 million electorate voted in yesterday's election.
Sirisena took strong lead from the ethnic Tamil-dominated and Muslims-dominated areas.
The Tamils, who account for 13 per cent, angered by Rajapaksa's successful military campaign that crushed the LTTE voted for the opposition unity candidate Sirisena.
Sirisena has no background of hobnobbing with the Colombo elite and socialites. No old boy of a leading Colombo school, he was more than a match for Rajapaksa's rural appeal.
There were 19 candidates in the fray. But the main fight was between two-term president Rajapaksa and Sirisena.
Rajapaksa, who has been accused of running a family rule and turning the country into an authoritarian regime, will be regretting for calling the snap poll two years ahead of schedule.