Gotabaya Rajapaksa claims victory in Sri Lanka presidential election

Gotabaya Rajapaksa claims victory in Sri Lanka presidential election

Sri Lanka’s former wartime defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been elected president, his spokesman said Sunday following a fiercely fought election seven months after Islamist attacks killed 269 people.

The 70-year-old retired lieutenant colonel had a 48.2 percent share of the vote with close to three million ballots counted but results from Sinhalese-majority regions -- the Rajapaksas’ core support base -- were expected to push this above 50 percent.

“We got between 53 to 54 percent,” his spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told AFP.

“It is a clear win. We envisaged it. We are very happy that Gota will be the next president. He will be sworn in tomorrow or the day after,” Rambukwella said.

His younger rival, housing minister Sajith Premadasa, 52, was trailing on 45.3 percent. He had strong support in minority Tamil areas and a poor showing in larger Sinhalese constituencies.

Election Commission chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said at least 80 percent of the 15.99 million eligible voters participated in Saturday’s poll, which was marred by isolated violence that left several people injured.

Rajapaksa conducted a nationalist campaign with a promise of security and a vow to crush religious extremism in the Buddhist-majority country following the April 21 suicide bomb attacks blamed on a homegrown jihadi group.

Three luxury hotels and three churches were targeted in the coordinated bombings. The Islamic State too claimed responsibility for the attack which left 45 foreigners dead.

Saturday’s poll was the first popularity test of the United National Party (UNP) government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who stepped aside and allowed his deputy Premadasa to stand in the election.