Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who contested for a second term two years ahead of the end of his first, was officially declared elected by the Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake on Wednesday.
Mr. Rajapaksa trounced the Opposition consensus candidate and former Army Chief, retired General Sarath Fonseka, by a huge margin of over 17 per cent. As per the final result notified on the official web site of the island-nation’s Department of Elections, Mr. Rajapaksa obtained 6,015,934 votes (57.88 per cent) and Gen. Fonseka 4,173,185 votes (40.15 per cent). The margin of victory proved the predictions of a close contest wrong. District-wise results showed that Mr. Rajapaksa retained his enormous rural base and the impact of the commander- turned-politician was confined to urban pockets, barring Colombo district.
A beaming Rajapaksa in his first informal interaction with the media, outside the office of the Election Commission, said during his second stint he would strive for development and reconciliation among the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil and Muslim communities as promised in his manifesto.
Gen. Fonseka, who checked into a local hotel in the early hours of Wednesday citing security concerns, complained of ‘large scale electoral malpractices’ and said he would ask the Election Commission to annul the result.
The bulk of the Opposition, which had thrown its weight behind the General, however did not share his sentiments. They visited him individually at the hotel and also urged the President to ensure his safety.
Democratic People’s Front (DPF) leader Mano Ganesan, after a brief meeting with Gen. Fonseka, told reporters at the hotel that the Opposition would issue a joint statement.
The enthusiasm evident among the Opposition leaders for Gen. Fonseka till polling day was missing after the verdict. They appeared to be embarrassed over the discovery he had not deemed it necessary to enrol himself as a voter.
In response to a question on Gen. Fonseka’s apprehensions, Mr. Rajapaksa asked, “What is his problem? He can always get in touch with me on matters related to his security. After all he was my former Army Chief.”
Later amidst much cheering and bursting of crackers, he told a group of party supporters that he would make Sri Lanka the number one destination for investment and tourism. He also asked them to gear up for the Parliamentary election scheduled for April.
In his comments at the ceremony to declare the winner, the Election Commissioner said he was disappointed as his directives were not adhered to by the State media and some government department heads during electioneering.
Several times in the past the Election Commissioner had asked the government to relieve him of his responsibilities on health grounds.
Fonseka in ‘safe house’
General Fonseka left a luxury hotel here after being holed up there all day surrounded by troops, an AFP reporter witnessed. He drove out of the lake-side hotel complex in a black BMW in a motorcade of several cars, which was stopped briefly by the soldiers before they allowed him to continue to a safe house in the capital.