As the outcome of the Sri Lankan presidential poll became clear on Sunday, the candidate of the incumbent government Sajith Premadasa conceded defeat to his opponent Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He also resigned from the post of Deputy Leader of his United National Party (UNP).
Earlier in the day, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Party) claimed victory – pending final results – after party candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa was seen to be leading in most districts in the country, barring the largely Tamil-speaking north and east.
The final, official results are yet to be announced but according to the Information Department’s website, Mr. Rajapaksa had crossed the 50% mark in vote share, required to be declared winner, by 11.30 a.m.
“At the conclusion of a hard fought and spirited election campaign, It is my privilege to honour the decision of the people and congratulate Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa on his election as the seventh President of Sri Lanka,” Mr. Premadasa said in a special statement.
Observing that the country had witnessed its “most peaceful presidential election”, he attributed it to the “democratic gains and institutional reforms” initiated by his government in the last five years.
“My appeal to the incoming President is that he take this process forward and strengthen and protect the democratic institutions and values that enabled his peaceful election as the 7th President of Sri Lanka,” he said, urging Mr. Rajapaksa to ensure that the post-election environment is peaceful.
“We thank all the people of the country, across ethnicities, for this victory,” said Keheliya Rambukewella, a spokesman for Mr. Rajapaksa.
A voter turnout of about 80 % was recorded in Saturday’s presidential poll, in which nearly 16 million voters were eligible to cast their ballot.
Mr. Premadasa, fielded by the incumbent United National Party-led government, made big gains in the north and east – home to a majority of Tamils and Muslims – where Mr. Rajapaksa fared rather poorly. However, the huge margins seem inadequate to make up for the strong anti-incumbency sentiment among a majority of voters in the country, and the widespread anger over the government’s failure to act on intelligence warnings prior to the Easter terror attacks.
“We do notice that the people of the north and east have not voted for us, they must have some concerns and reservations. We will reach out to them and see how best we can address those concerns. We should not have such a north-south divide, the line has to be blurred for a better future for our country,” Mr. Rambukewella told The Hindu.