Nov 17, 2019

Civil war defense chief wins Sri Lanka presidential election

Gotabaya Rajapaksa celebrates at a rally

Gotabaya Rajapaksa at a rally. Photo: Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the defense secretary during Sri Lanka's civil war, has won the island nation's presidential election, BBC News reports.

Why it matters: This is Sri Lanka's first election since the Easter Sunday terror attacks that left 277 dead earlier this year.

What to know: Axios world editor Dave Lawler writes that Rajapaksa is known for crushing the Tamil Tigers a decade ago as defense minister — and allegedly committing war crimes in the process. His brother, Mahinda, was president then and is expected to return as prime minister.

  • Many minorities fear the election of a president associated with Buddhist hardliners, particularly at a time of intense animosity toward Muslims in the wake of April’s attacks, Deutsche Welle reports.

Zoom out: The U.S. and China are competing for influence in South Asia, particularly in this "strategically located but heavily indebted Indian Ocean island nation," the FT's Amy Kazmin reports from Colombo.

  • Relations with the West suffered during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s strongman presidency (2005–2015), and he turned to China. He allegedly profited personally from Chinese-funded projects, the FT notes.
  • The current administration repaired relations with the U.S. and India, but it was riven with infighting and was unpopular.

Go deeper: Sri Lanka's Muslims face persecution in wake of terror attacks

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