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Rajapakse beats former army chief to win second term

4 min

Mahinda Rajapakse won a second term as Sri Lanka's president after a hard fought and often bitter campaign against his one-time army chief and main rival, Sarath Fonseka.


AFP - Mahinda Rajapakse, who was elected for a second term as Sri Lankan president Wednesday, is a Sinhalese nationalist who ordered the military offensive that finally ended the island's long ethnic war.

During his first term, he placed his three brothers in key government positions and ruthlessly pursued the Tamil Tiger rebels until they were crushed in May.

As war raged, the opposition focused on the alleged corruption of the "Rajapakse Brothers and Company," but the president strongly defended his family and pressed ahead with his onslaught against the separatist guerrillas.

An unabashed "hawk", he became a villain for international rights groups during fighting against the Tigers who were eventually wiped out by troops commanded by his unsuccessful poll opponent, former army chief Sarath Fonseka.


Rajapakse, 64, stands accused of abuses and war crimes, with the United Nations estimating that 7,000 civilians were killed in the final months of fighting.

He blames the damage to his international image on a "Western conspiracy" and his spokesman openly accused the United States and former peacebroker Norway of funding those who opposed him in the election.

"They are trying to preach to us about civilians," Rajapakse said last year. "I tell them to go and see what they are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan."

When the United States and the European Union cut off aid, Rajapakse leaned heavily on China, Iran and Libya as well as other Asian nations for cash and arms to fight the Tigers. In November, he hosted Myanmar's junta leader General Than Shwe.

A veteran street-fighter politician who entered parliament aged 24, Rajapakse drew on all his experience to retain the presidency in a bruising campaign against Fonseka, a political novice.

Rajapakse had handpicked Fonseka for the top military role soon after coming to power in 2005 and lauded him as the "best army commander in the world" in the afterglow of their victory over the Tigers.

But their friendship soured over who should take the most credit for winning the conflict amid suspicion that Fonseka was becoming too powerful and might stage a coup.

In a measure of the bad blood between them, when Rajapakse was asked if he had made any poor choices during his first four years in charge he replied: "Choosing my army commander".

Despite allegations of corruption and nepotism, Rajapakse retained much popular affection among Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese community -- who greeted the Tigers' defeat with delight.

He boasts an easy charm with ordinary people, who also warm to his wife Shiranthi, a former "Miss Sri Lanka".

He took on the part of an army general in the 1993 Sinhalese movie, "Nomiyana Minusun" (The Immortals). In real life, as commander-in-chief, he achieved the single goal of his first term: the Tigers' extinction.

But he faces an enormous task in rebuilding Sri Lanka's war ravaged economy, and is under stiff international pressure to secure a lasting political solution that addresses the grievances of the Tamil minority.

Rajapakse and Fonseka had both courted Tamil voters during the election campaign, with pledges of greater political inclusion and investment in the devastated northeast region.

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