News24

Sri Lanka president wins election

2010-01-27 13:00

Colombo - Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse won a bitterly fought re-election on Wednesday, state television reported, as troops ringed the hotel of his main rival, who appealed for foreign protection.

"It is a resounding victory for the president," the state-run Rupavahini channel announced.

Although the formal result from the Election Commission was still awaited, Rajapakse's spokesperson Chandrapala Liyanage said the president had won his second term with a majority of 1.8 million votes more than his former army chief, Sarath Fonseka, out of more than 9.84 million ballots cast.

"The president is very pleased and he thanks the entire electorate," Liyanage said.

The contest had been a straight race between the incumbent and Fonseka.

The two men had been hailed as national heroes after engineering the final defeat last May of a 30-year ethnic Tamil insurgency in the northeast of the country that had claimed between 80 000-100 000 lives, according to UN figures.

But from close allies on the battlefield they turned into irreconcilable enemies after Fonseka, a political novice, decided to challenge his former boss at the ballot box on an anti-corruption platform.

Intimidation

As the votes were still being counted, up to 80 soldiers with machine guns surrounded the luxury Colombo hotel where Fonseka was staying with several other opposition leaders.

Military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the troops had been deployed following information that army deserters were among some 400 people inside.

The opposition condemned what it called the military's "unfathomable" intimidation of their candidate, and Fonseka's spokesperson, Mano Ganeshan, said they would appeal for foreign protection.

"I am going to meet a diplomat of a neighbouring country to seek assurances of the safety of Sarath Fonseka," Ganeshan said, in an apparent reference to India.

The government had earlier accused Fonseka of employing a private militia consisting of army deserters, a charge denied by the opposition.

The campaign's vitriolic nature, the personal animosity between the two main candidates and tit-for-tat accusations of coup plots had all fuelled concerns that any result would be contested and foment new unrest.

Opposition spokesperson Rauf Hakeen argued that the electoral process had been violated even before voting even began.

International pressure

"On the election day there were no serious incidents to talk about, but you have to look at the election process from the beginning," he said, adding that state resources had been abused, including the state-run media.

Four people were killed and more than 1 000 election-related incidents were reported to police in the run-up to Tuesday's contest.

There were a number of violent incidents during voting, including bomb attacks in the northern Tamil stronghold of Jaffna, which monitors said had deterred some people from voting.

Last year's military defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had fought for a Tamil homeland since 1972, has since been mired in allegations of war crimes.

The United Nations says 7 000 Tamil civilians may have died in the final months of the fighting, though the government denies this.

Rajapakse has ruled Sri Lanka since 2005. His three brothers and other family members are in key government positions including the ministries of defence and ports.

The country faces an enormous task in rebuilding its war ravaged economy, and is under stiff international pressure to secure a lasting political solution that addresses the grievances of the large Tamil minority.