Colombo, Jan 9 (IANS) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa Friday conceded defeat in the presidential election after officials indicated a landslide win for joint opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena.
Stunned by the setback in an election he called two years ahead of schedule anticipating a win, Rajapaksa did not make any public comment but an aide said he had accepted defeat.
Rajakpaksa’s press officer said the president “concedes defeat and will ensure a smooth transition of power bowing to the wishes of the people”.
He said Rajapaksa had left his official residence and that the new leader of the island nation would be sworn in later Friday.
Official results will be known later Friday but Sirisena is expected to garner more than 50 percent of the over 11 million votes polled Thursday.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first world leaders to congratulate Sirisena.
“I spoke to Sirisena and congratulated him. I congratulate the people of Sri Lanka on the peaceful and democratic poll process,” he said in a statement in New Delhi.
“As a close friend and neighbour, I reaffirmed India’s continued solidarity and support for Sri Lanka’s peace, development and prosperity,” Modi added.
US Secretary of State John Kerry also hailed Sirisena’s victory and said he looked forward to working with his government as it builds “a Sri Lanka that is peaceful, inclusive, democratic and prosperous”.
Sirisena was the health minister in Rajapaksa’s cabinet before he dramatically defected to the opposition in November. That undid whatever hopes Rajapaksa had of retaining the presidency for a third term.
Wild celebrations erupted all across capital Colombo as it became known that Rajapaksa, who took power in November 2005, had accepted defeat. Many burst firecrackers and danced on the streets.
Sirisena spearheded a spirited challenge against the president, blaming him for corruption and nepotism and for promoting family rule.
Sirisena attracted support not only from the Sinhalese, the country’s majority community, but also from minorities including Tamils and Muslims.
Voting was high all around the island Thursday, including in the Tamil areas where the LTTE once held sway until it was militarily crushed in 2009 and its leadership wiped out.
A former prime minister, Rajapaksa was first elected the president in 2005, defeating Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party, and in 2010 when he defeated his former army chief Sarath Fonseka.
Fonseka was later jailed on charges of implicating the government in war crimes.