SRI LANKA POLL … Brother Rajapaksa wins presidential poll in Sri Lanka; new era in island

COLOMBO/NEW DELHI: The island nation of Sri Lanka is set for a significant and widely watched change of authority at the government’s apex. The results of the presidential poll, released on Sunday, saw the return of the Rajapaksa family to power. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former defence secretary and brother of former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, has been elected as the new head of the nation. Indications are that Mahinda too would soon step in as Prime Minister in place of incumbent Ranil Wickremasinghe.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as nominee of the Podujana Peramuna Party (SLPP) defeated Sajith Premadasa of the ruling United National Party (UNP) by a massive mandate. The majority Sinhalas solidly backed Gotabaya while support went to Premadasa from the minority Tamil and Muslim populations, voting trends showed.

It was the governments led by Mahinda Rajapaksa which finished off the LTTE menace from Sri Lanka after its spread of violence for a quarter of a century under the leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran. Prabhakaran’s extermination by the security forces of the Mahinda government, with able efforts from his brother as defence secretary, dealt the final and crushing blow to the LTTE.

In the past, the Rajapaksas were out-and-out pro-China and pro-Pakistan, and India’s relations with Sri Lanka suffered under their rule. By contrast, Ranil Wickremasinghe sought to maintain normal diplomatic ties with India and kept China and Pakistan at a distance. He is likely to quit office soon, though he is entitled to hold power till February. 

What went against Ranil as also present president Sirisena was, mainly, the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka by Pakistan-based terror networks, which killed nearly 300 people in serial blasts in April last. Indian intelligence agencies had alerted the Sri Lankan administration about an impending terror strike, but the government there did not take a serious note. Governmental functionaries saw it as a “fake” alert, an Indian attempt to spite Pakistan, and hence courted doom.

In its aftermath, as people’s security fears mounted again in the island nation, after a period of relative calm following the neutralization of the LTTE, this turned into a vote for the strongman and his brother this time, say analysts.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to congratulate Gotabaya Rajapaksa for his election win, but New Delhi is set to keep a close watch on how things shape up there. International human rights organisations have expressed concern over the election of Gotabaya, who as head of the security forces had been accused of gross human rights violations on LTTE cadres, resulting in the death of thousands and disappearance of an equal number as well. IHN-NN


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