Former President Concedes, Then Reverses, in Sri Lanka


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Mahinda Rajapaksa’s hopes of returning to power hung by a thread on Tuesday, as he first appeared to concede defeat but then backed away and said he wanted to await official results of Monday’s parliamentary vote.

“My dream of becoming prime minister has faded away,” Mr. Rajapaksa told Agence France-Presse early Tuesday. “I am conceding. We have lost a good fight.”

But in an interview with Reuters  later in the day, Mr. Rajapaksa stopped short of conceding, saying only that he was unlikely to lead Sri Lanka’s next government. “I will support good policies and oppose bad things,” he said.

His opponents refrained from claiming victory, and results were still being tallied Tuesday morning in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city. Election officials said results would not be announced until midday.

Should Mr. Rajapaksa indeed lose, the country would be left firmly in the grasp of reformers intent on dismantling most of his policies and completing corruption inquiries that have been closing in on him and his family.

The election, held peacefully with high voter turnout, will determine the makeup of Sri Lanka’s 225-member Parliament. Mr. Rajapaksa is expected to easily win a seat. But unless his political coalition can win a majority, he has no chance of being named prime minister, the second-most powerful job in Sri Lanka’s government. And it was this majority that he and his supporters seemed to agree on Tuesday had eluded them.

Instead, the results appear to have strengthened his archrivals, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the odd-couple political partners who joined forces to oppose Mr. Rajapaksa.

In January, they struck the first blow against Mr. Rajapaksa by defeating his quest for an unprecedented third term as president. In the months since, they have teamed up to begin tearing down Mr. Rajapaksa’s most cherished project — building an elaborate hierarchy that gave him and his family immense, unchallenged power over the nation’s military, economy and news media.

If the latest results reaffirm January’s rejection of Mr. Rajapaksa, the changes proposed by Mr. Sirisena and Mr. Wickremesinghe will continue, including nascent efforts to bridge deep divisions left when Mr. Rajapaksa brutally crushed a 26-year Tamil uprising in 2009.

A defeat for Mr. Rajapaksa also increases the likelihood that there will be a careful accounting of his decade in power. His opponents accuse him and his family of plundering billions of dollars from the national treasury, a charge that Mr. Rajapaksa has vehemently denied. “Whatever you may say, we are not thieves,” he told reporters last week.

But the roster of his former ministers and close associates under investigation is steadily growing, and several inquiries are now aimed directly at Mr. Rajapaksa and his family.

In April, Sri Lankan police arrested his brother Basil Rajapaksa, the former economic development minister, on charges of misappropriating public funds. The same month, another brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the former defense secretary, was summoned to appear before the nation’s Bribery Commission. In June, his wife, Shiranthi Rajapaksa, was questioned by the newly formed Financial Crime Investigation Division.

This month, government sources accused one of his sons, Yoshitha Rajapaksa, of ordering the killing of Wasim Thajudeen, a member of Sri Lanka’s national rugby team, in a dispute over a woman. According to officials, three members of his father’s security detail have been identified as the men who abducted, tortured and killed Mr. Thajudeen in 2012.

As part of his campaign this summer, Mr. Rajapaksa pledged to stop many of these investigations, portraying them as nothing more than a political witch hunt. Monday’s loss, though, means “almost certain prosecution” for Mr. Rajapaksa, said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, who runs an election monitoring group and a policy research organization in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Rajapaksa also sought to mobilize voters against a United Nations investigation into suspected war crimes during the last stages of the war against Tamil separatists. United Nations officials have estimated that as many as 40,000 civilians died in the final assault on the Tamil-dominated north in 2009.

“Are you going to vote to divide this country and take us to court in Geneva?” Mr. Rajapaksa asked at one recent rally.

Monday’s election also has geopolitical ramifications. As president, Mr. Rajapaksa aggressively courted China, building economic and military ties that alarmed India and the United States. Neither country is keen for China to gain a larger presence on an island strategically situated along the maritime trade routes between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Mr. Sirisena and Mr. Wickremesinghe have put the courtship on pause, saying the relationship with China needs to be “rebalanced.”

 Culled from:


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here