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Sri Lanka's Transition Of Power Maybe Not So Peaceful After All

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa after casting his ballot in last week's election. The new government says that contrary to reports of a peaceful transition when Rajapaksa lost, the long-time leader tried to stay in power by force.
Pradeep Dilruckshana

When we brought you the news last week that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had been defeated in nationwide elections, reports were that Asia's longest serving leader willingly handed over the reins to his rival.

Rajapaksa, who had ruled since 2005, even tweeted that he looked forward to a "peaceful transition of power" to erstwhile ally Maithripala Sirisena, who won by just under 4 percent of the vote.

Indeed, as the BBC notes, Rajapaksa had "been widely praised for conceding defeat to Sirisena before the final results were announced."

But it turns out that he may not have been so eager to go after all.

Sirisena's newly sworn-in government on Sunday accused the former president of trying to stage an eleventh-hour military clampdown after the results of Thursday's poll were known.

"People think it was a peaceful transition. It was anything but," presidential aide Mangala Samaraweera told reporters on Sunday.

At a news conference, Samaraweera said that Rajapaksa had tried to persuade army and police chiefs to help him thwart the election outcome. The bid crumbled only when Army Chief Lt. Gen. Daya Ratnayake "did not want to do anything against democracy at that decisive time," Samaraweera said.

The army chief stood firm despite orders from Rajapaksa and his brother, then-Defense Chief Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, to send troops into the streets, the presidential aide said.

The Indian daily The Hindu contacted Gen. Ratnayake to ask him about the allegations, but the army chief declined to confirm the report.

"I can't comment on that, it is very sensitive. You have to check with the politicians," Ratnayake reportedly told the Hindu. The general did say, however, that if the government initiated an inquiry, the army would cooperate, the newspaper says.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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