Colombo: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa won a bruising re-election battle on Wednesday that left his main rival in apparent fear of assassination as heavily armed troops surrounded his Colombo hotel.
Election commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake said Rajapaksa had secured 57.9% of the popular vote in Tuesday’s presidential election—the first since the military victory over Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels in May ended the decades-long civil war.
“President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the winner,” Dissanayake announced.
He said Rajapaksa received 6.01 million votes, 1.84 million more than his main rival Sarath Fonseka.
“This is a victory for the people,” Rajapaksa said after the announcement. “I thank those who voted for me and those who did not. I will work for all of them.”
Contentious race: Mahinda Rajapaksa waves to his supporters in front of the election commission office in Colombo on Wednesday. Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
Fonseka got 40.1% of the votes and vowed to challenge the result in court.
The contest had been a straight race between the two men, who were hailed as national heroes after engineering the victory over the LTTE.
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.
Even as the votes were being counted, up to 100 soldiers with machine guns surrounded the luxury Colombo hotel where Fonseka was staying with several other opposition leaders.
Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the deployment of troops followed information that Fonseka had hunkered down in the hotel with 400 people, some of whom were “army deserters”.
Nanayakkara insisted the move was simply a precautionary measure and that the retired four-star general was free to leave whenever he chose.
But Fonseka told reporters that the government was plotting to have him killed by removing his personal security guards and exposing him to assassination.
“They are behaving like murderers,” he said. “We will never accept this result. We will petition (the court) against it,” he added.