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Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa concedes defeat

January 9, 2015

Surprise challenger Maithripala Sirisena has emerged victorious in the Sri Lankan presidential election. The one-time ally of President Rajapaksa has promised to revoke his rival's authoritarian laws.

Sri Lanka Präsident Mahinda Rajapakse
Image: picture alliance/Photoshot

President Mahinda Rajapaksa (pictured above) who once seemed invincible, admitted on Friday to being bested by opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena in Sri Lanka's tense presidential election.

"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," his press secretary Vijayananda Herath said.

The Department of Elections said results from 11 of the country's 160 polling divisions together with a large number of postal votes gave Sirisena a lead of 56.5 percent against 42 percent for Rajapaksa, who was seeking a third term as president. Full results are not expected until later Friday, as Sri Lanka does not conduct exit polls.

Turnout was massive, with just over 75 percent of 15.04 million eligible voters coming out for Thursday's poll in what monitors say was a surprisingly peaceful ballot, considering the uptick in violence during the bitter campaign between one-time allies.

There were a few isolated incidents at polling stations, and some voters were preventing from casting ballots in the Tamil-dominated north, according to the Center for Monitoring Election Violence, based in Colombo.

Tamils, Sri Lanka's largest minority, who make up 13 percent of the population, appear to have voted overwhelmingly in favor of Sirisena.

A wake-up call for the formerly unstoppable Rajapaksa

President Rajapaksa based his reputation on his role in government during the decades-long civil war with the Tamil Tigers. He used the wave of support stemming from this victory to push through measures many, including his rival Sirisena, have called authoritarian and corrupt.

Rajapaksa pushed through laws doing away with presidential term limits and giving the president increased power on appointing influential bureaucrats, judges, and military leaders. He also filled the government with family members and friends.

Sirisena was part of this administration, holding the post of health minister, until November when he broke with the president and presented Rajapaksa with his first real electoral challenger. He campaigned largely on a platform of curbing presidential power.

Sirisena was relatively unknown before he announced his candidacy. His campaign prompted a slew of defections and became a rallying point for those disenchanted with Rajapaksa and his powerfully family.

es/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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