Rajapaksa voted out as President of Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa lost his bid for a third term on 9 January 2015, ending a decade of rule that critics say had become increasingly authoritarian and marred by nepotism and corruption.

Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena, a one-time ally of Rajapaksa who defected in November 2014 and derailed what the president thought would be an easy win, took 51.3 percent of the votes polled in 8 January election. The soft-spoken 63-year-old from the rice-growing hinterlands of the Indian Ocean island State is from the majority Sinhala Buddhist community, but he reached out to ethnic minority Tamils and Muslims and has the support of several small parties.

Ranil Wickremesinghe has been sworn-in as the new Prime Minister of the country.

The results showed Rajapaksa remained popular among Sinhala Buddhists, who account for about 70 percent of the country’s 21 million people, but Sirisena earned his lead with the support of the ethnic Tamil-dominated former war zone in the north and Muslim-dominated areas.

Rajapaksa had won handsomely in the last election in 2010, surfing a wave of popularity months after the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels.  But critics say he had become increasingly authoritarian, with several members of his family holding powerful positions. Although the economy had blossomed since the end of the war, voters complained of the high cost of living.

Rajapaksa had called this election two years early, confident that the usually fractured opposition would fail to come up with a credible candidate.  But he did not anticipate the emergence of Sirisena, who shared a traditional Sri Lankan dinner with him one evening and turned on him the next day.  Sirisena leads a motley coalition of ethnic, religious, Marxist and centre-right parties, which analysts say could hamper economic reform and encourage populist policies.

Sirisena has pledged to abolish the executive presidency that gave Rajapaksa unprecedented power and hold a fresh parliamentary election within 100 days.  He has also promised a crackdown on corruption, which would include investigations into big infrastructure projects such as a $1.5 billion deal with China Communications Construction Co Ltd to build a port city.

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