Colombo, Sri Lanka – Gotabaya Rajapaksa will win Sri Lanka's presidency after a closely fought election, as his main opponent Sajith Premadasa of the ruling United National Party conceded defeat.
Rajapaksa, a former defense secretary and brother of two-time former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, based his campaign for Saturday's vote to provide strong leadership on national security issues, following coordinated bombings in April that killed at least 269 people.
"At the end of a hard-fought and lively election campaign, it is my privilege to honor the people's decision and congratulate Gotabaya Rajapaksa on his election as Sri Lanka's seventh president," Premadasa said in a statement on Sunday.
Official results would be released at 1
In a statement on Twitter, Rajapsaka said that "even though the official results are not out yet, we are now crossing the line of victory."
"As we embark on a new journey for Sri Lanka, we must remember that all Sri Lankans is part of this journey. Let us enjoy peace, with dignity and discipline in the same way we campaign. "
As we embark on a new journey for Sri Lanka, we must remember that all Sri Lankans are part of this trip. Let us rejoice peacefully, with dignity and discipline in the same way we fought. pic.twitter.com/tXqLrdH3Qv
– Gotabaya Rajapaksa (@GotabayaR) November 17, 2019
Keheliya Rambukwella, spokesman for Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, said national security is national security is "Primary concern", along with the revival of the economy.
"We are almost 600,000 votes ahead [and] we are confident that we will lead by 800,000 to one million votes," he added.
Rights groups have long requested investigations into alleged rights violations committed during Rajapaksa's earlier terms, including UN accusations that more than 40,000 people were killed by security forces during the last days of the country's invasion of the country in the north, when Tamil rebels took shelter from civilians.
Rajapakas's campaign emphasized his credentials as the Secretary of Defense leading a close to the bloody 26-year civil war, while calling for a review of the economic policy carried out by Premadasa's UNP during its five years in charge of Parliament.
"As Defense Secretary during his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa's decades-long presidency that ended in 2015, he was a leading figure in a government that many minority Tamils and Muslims, as well as opposition politicians, blame for the terrible political violence and oppression," said the International Crisis Group Alan Keenan earlier this week.
"During that period, dozens of journalists were killed or exiled in exile, prominent Tamil politicians were murdered and thousands of Sri Lankans disappeared forcibly; no one has since been held responsible for these crimes."
UNP remains in control of Parliament until at least February , which is the earliest that a constitutional mandate for parliamentary elections can be held. A potential standoff with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, UNP chief, may be in violation, as Rajapaksa has stated his intention to appoint his brother Mahinda as prime minister.
In his statement, Premadasa said he also resigned as UN Deputy Party leader.
More than 15.9 million Sri Lankans were eligible to vote in the presidential election, with turnout expected to be top 80 percent, Mahinda Deshapriya, chair of the Election Commission, told reporters on Saturday at the election ended.