By Munza Mushtaq
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AA) – Sri Lanka’s former defense chief claimed an easy victory against his main rival from the ruling party in the presidential race, official results revealed on Sunday.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa secured 52.25% of the vote in Saturday’s poll, while Sajith Premadasa from the ruling United National Party could gain 41.99% of the votes.
Rajapaksa claimed victory with a 1.3-million-vote lead to become the country’s seventh president. He is scheduled to be sworn in on Monday near a sacred Buddhist temple, Ruwanwelisaya in Anuradhapura, some 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the capital Colombo.
The final results were announced on Sunday evening by Mahinda Deshapriya, the chairman of the Election Commission in Sri Lanka in the presence of all 35 candidates. Soon after the announcement, jubilant supporters of Rajapaksa lit firecrackers across the country, while many also were seen thronging the streets to dance and celebrate.
Rajapaksa, a one-time defense secretary who helped crush the rebel group LTTE in 2009, enjoys a faithful following of mainly Sinhala Buddhists, who make up the majority of the multi-ethnic South Asian nation.
Soon after being announced the winner, Rajapaksa addressed the media to extend his appreciation to the voters for placing their confidence in him and electing him as their new president.
“I promise to uphold the trust placed in me,” the president said.
Rajapaksa also said that he will serve not only those who voted for him but also against him because he is the president of the country.
“I pledge to serve every Sri Lankan, regardless of their race or religion,” he added.
Ashoka Perera, a cab driver from Colombo, was ecstatic of Rajapaksa's win.
"I am certain that he will put our country back on the right track and we will not have to worry about anymore bombs going off like in April," he told Anadolu Agency.
Rajapaksa, who used national security as his election plank following the Easter attacks in April, however, failed to gain support from the country’s north and east provinces which are dominant by Tamil and Muslim minorities due to his controversial record on human rights and dissent.
Rajapaksa swept the election across most of Sinhala majority districts, while Premadasa swept votes across the north and east.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first world leaders to congratulate Rajapaksa on his win.
“I look forward to working closely with you for deepening the close and fraternal ties between our two countries and citizens, and for peace, prosperity as well as security in our region,” he said on Twitter.
Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi said in his congratulatory message: “We hope to continue working with you for the betterment of our people and to advance our shared interests of regional peace, stability & prosperity.”