Sri Lanka's President Wins Re-Election

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President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in a hard-fought race with his former army chief. Both men had worked together to defeat the Tamil Tiger rebels in a conflict that lasted about 25 years. The challenger rejected the official results and troops have surrounded his hotel.


One day after Sri Lankas presidential election, the winner seems clear, but the drama is not over. The current president has won reelection, and his chief rival is now contesting the results. Soldiers have surrounded the hotel where the leading opponent is staying. NPRs Philip Reeves joins us now from the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo.

Describe who the contenders are and what the standoff is about.

PHILIP REEVES: Well, the contenders are the current president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the former army commander, a former friend and ally of Rajapaksa, a gentleman called Sarath´┐ŻFonseka. The election commission has now come out with the result of this election, and Rajapaksa, according to the commission, has won with 57.8 percent of the vote, a full 17 percent - more than 17 percent ahead of Fonseka. But Fonseka is challenging this. He's rejected the results, he says. He says he's initiating proceedings to have the vote annulled. He accuses Rajapaksa's team of misusing the state media, of misappropriating public funds, and of preventing displaced members of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka from voting.

SHAPIRO: Are his claims likely to have any impact on the outcome?

REEVES: It seems unlikely, because the scale of the vote - which has gone the way of Rajapaksa - is pretty significant. And it seems that most of the complaints that are being made are about what happened in the run-up to the pole rather than on election day itself. But alongside all of this, there is a second sort of parallel drama playing out outside the hotel in which the chief opposition candidate Fonseka is staying.

SHAPIRO: What's happening outside of the hotel? Why are soldiers there? What are they trying to do?

REEVES: Well, it's not clear to us, but what we do know is that there is at least a hundred of them. They've been stationed outside this five-star hotel in the middle of the capital city, Colombo, all day. Now, General Fonseka and his allies say that they are preventing the general from leaving, and the general says that he fears he'll be arrested.

Meanwhile, the army stationed outside the hotel, and also government officials, are saying that they don't have any plans to arrest Fonseka, and that they're actually interested in some army deserters inside the hotel. Fonseka has a security detail with him. He argues, as his aides argue, that these members of the armed forces are there with the approval of the election commission. But the army seems to be saying that that's their sort of concern.

SHAPIRO: Well, Phil, when we spoke with you yesterday, there was isolated violence as people voted. What's the mood like on the streets today?

REEVES: Well, it's been a very tense day in Colombo. There's no question about that, not least because of the fact that the chief opposition candidate was holed up in this manner in his hotel. And there was, in central Sri Lanka, a grenade attack against a Buddhist temple in which two people were killed. It is still tense. It slightly eased off towards the evening when we began to hear firecrackers, the celebrations of supporters of Rajapaksa, the newly elected president, out on the streets. But there is still a mood of acrimony - this has been a very acrimonious election throughout, and that is still the case, even thought the results are now officially announced.

SHAPIRO: Thanks, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Philip Reeves, covering the Sri Lankan election in the capital, Colombo.

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