President Maithripala Sirisena, 63, took his oath of office as the 6th Executive President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka before Supreme Court Judge K. Sri Pawan at the Independence Square in Colombo Friday evening, Jan. 9, the Sri Lankan online newspaper Daily Mirror reported.
Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa conceded defeat in this morning’s polls ending his 10-year rule, which he tried to extend by removing the constitutional term limit for the presidency. He called elections two years ahead of schedule and was reportedly widely predicted to win before his party mate and health minister defected from the party to run against him.
Around the time Rajapaksa conceded defeat, the Department of Elections said it had counted 56.5 percent of the votes in favor of Sirisena while Rajapaksa garnered 42 percent.
Analysts say aside from winning votes of Tamil and Muslim electors in the countryside, Sirisena, a Sinhala Buddhist, also split votes of southern Sinhalese electors that traditionally backed Rajapaksa who led the government when it defeated Tamil militants in 2009.
Recently, however, Rajapaksa, 69, has been criticized for his authoritarian leadership and appointing family members to key positions in government.
Sirisena raised these issues in his campaign and promised to fight corruption and bring constitutional reforms to weaken the power of the presidency. His platform of government or “Manifesto” promises he would work for genuine democracy by amending the constitution, review economic and development ventures and policies, promote a moral society, food security and sustainable agriculture, provide healthcare for all Sri Lankans, reform education, among others.
The elections were conducted just 5 days before Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Sri Lanka to canonize its first saint and pray with pilgrims at the Marian Shrine in Madhu in a northern district heavily affected by the civil war.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith had said the candidates pledged at a meeting with bishops they would work for a “peaceful atmosphere” during Pope Francis’ visit to their country Jan. 13-15. Since Rajapaksa invited the pope for a state visit, the defeated president “gave his personal assurance that … he will not allow anything untoward to happen during the Papal Visit,” Cardinal Ranjith added in an interview in mid-December.