Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has conceded a shock defeat in the country’s presidential election. Official sources said results announced so far had given opposition presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena an unassailable lead. Presidential press secretary Vijayananda Herath told AFP: “The president met with former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe this morning. The president concedes defeat and will ensure a smooth transition of power bowing to the wishes of the people.” There was no immediate comment from Sirisena who was still at his private home in Polonnaruwa, 215 kilometres (134 miles) east of the capital Colombo.
Opposition parliamentarian Harsha de Silva said transitional arrangements were being discussed with Rajapaksa and that Wickremesinghe had “guaranteed him and his family security”. One senior government official and close ally of Rajapaksa told Reuters: “We don’t have any good news. It is all bad news. I think people need a change and this is democracy.” The Elections Commission said the election was peaceful. Some voters were prevented from casting ballots in the Tamil-dominated north, according to the Center for Monitoring Election Violence.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, was already the longest-serving ruler in the region and was seeking a third term that would allow him to consolidate what critics said was an increasingly authoritarian and dynastic rule. The 69-year-old had decided to call early elections in the hope of an easy victory over a fragmented opposition. Until just a few weeks ago, he was widely expected to easily win. But that changed suddenly in November when Sirisena split from him, and gathered the support of other defecting lawmakers and many of the country’s ethnic minorities, making the election a fierce political battle.
Rajapaksa was still thought to be tough to beat because he controlled the state media, has immense financial resources and is still popular among the Sinhala majority, some of whom see him as a saviour for destroying Tamil Tiger rebels and ending a decades-long civil war in 2009. But polling was notably strong Thursday in Tamil-dominated areas, where voting had been poor in previous elections. Many Tamils have felt abandoned since the war’s end, when Rajapaksa largely ignored Tamil demands to heal the wounds of the fighting and years of ethnic divisions. They were thought to have voted heavily for Sirisena. Both Sirisena and Rajapaksa are ethnic Sinhalese, who make up about three-quarters of the country.
Sirisena wins majority votes in: Gampaha District – Kelaniya, Mahanuwara District – Hewaheta, Kandy District – Harispattuwa, Colombo District – Colombo North, Mahanuwara District – Udunuwara, Kurunegala District postal polls, Vanni District – Vavuniya, Nuwara-Eliya District – Maskeliya, Kalutara District – Panadura, Badulla District – Welimada, Jaffna District – Manipay, Badulla District – Passara, Kandy District – Gampola, Colombo District – Colombo West, Badulla District – Haputale, Jaffna District – Nallur, Badulla District – Hali-Ela, Jaffna District – Point Pedro, Jaffna District – Kopay, Colombo District – Colombo-East, Mahanuwara District – Kundasale, Batticaloa District – Padiruppu and Jaffna District – Udupiddy.