Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa in close fight for president, early vote count shows

Sri Lanka People’s Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa leaves after casting his vote during the presidential election in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 16, 2019. — Reuters pic
Sri Lanka People’s Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa leaves after casting his vote during the presidential election in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 16, 2019. — Reuters pic

COLOMBO, Nov 17 — Sri Lanka’s former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa was locked in a close fight with his main rival in a presidential election months after deadly militant attacks in the island, early results showed today.

Millions of Sri Lankans voted yesterday to elect a new president to lead the country out of its deepest economic slump in over 15 years, following Easter Sunday suicide bombings that sapped investor confidence and hurt its tourism sector.

Rajapaksa, who oversaw the military defeat of Tamil separatists under his brother and then president Mahinda Rajapaksa 10 years ago, has promised strong leadership to secure the island of 22 million people, the majority of whom are Sinhalese Buddhists.

Early returns showed Rajapaksa picking up votes in the Sinhalese-dominated southern part of the island as well as postal ballots.

His main rival Sajith Premadasa, a government minister, was leading in the north where minority Tamils are predominant.

The election commission has said it expects results to be clear by late today and a new president will be sworn in within a day.

Tamil political parties are strongly opposed to Rajapaksa who has faced allegations of widespread human rights violations of civilians in the final stages of the war against the separatists in 2009.

Rajapaksa and his brother deny the allegations.

Muslims, the other large minority group, say they too have faced hostility since the April attacks on hotels and churches in which more than 250 people were killed. Islamic State claimed responsibility. — Reuters

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