Gotabaya Rajapaksa sworn in as Sri Lanka’s seventh president
by Melani Manel Perera

The ceremony took place this morning in a Buddhist complex in an ancient capital. Voting split along confessional and ethnic lines. Gotabaya says he will take a neutral line in foreign policy, even though he stressed his close ties to China during the campaign.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70, is the new president of Sri Lanka. He took the oath of office this morning before the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in the presence of his brother, a former president and strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, as well as opposition leaders.

The new head of state won thanks to the support of the country’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority whilst most Tamils ​​and Muslims voted for others.

During the election campaign, the new president stressed his close ties to China. Today, however, in his first speech, he promised “to remain neutral in our foreign relations and stay out of any conflicts amongst the world powers.” By the same token, “We request all foreign nations to respect the sovereignty and the unity of our nation”.

The swearing-in ceremony was held at the Maha Maluwa (large terrace) of the Ruwanwelisaya (Buddhist stupa), in the city of Anuradhapura, one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals. Earlier, the new president honoured the Buddhist gods by praying at the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi (sacred fig tree) inside the stupa.

The presidential election was held on Saturday and saw a massive turnout, 83.73 per cent of voters. Gotabaya took 52.25 per cent of the vote (6,924,255 ballots), whilst his main rival Sajith Premadasa, 52, reached 41.99 per cent (5,564,239 ballots). The other 33 candidates shared the remaining 5.79 per cent.

Voting split along ethnic lines. Gotabaya, former Secretary to the Defence Ministry at the time of the civil war, won hands down among Sinhalese Buddhist voters. His rival, Premadasa, was largely backed by Muslims and Tamils. The latter consider the new president – like his brother before him – responsible for serious crimes against humanity and the disappearance of thousands of civilians and rebels.

In his first speech, Gotabaya spoke directly to Tamils ​​and Muslims, inviting them “to be partners in victory”. “As the President,” he said, “my responsibility is to serve all people in the country. Accordingly, I will protect the civil rights of all those voted for me as well as those who didn’t.”

In his address, the president touched all the items in his manifesto: national security in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks, fight against terrorism, organised crime, robberies, extortions, drug trafficking, abuse against women and minors, elimination of plastic and polyethylene from the public administration, the promotion of meritocracy, and the fight against corruption.