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FACTBOX – Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa

[Reuters, Wednesday, 27 January 2010 17:07 No Comment]

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa won a landslide victory on Wednesday in an historic national poll called after he declared victory in a 25-year war with the Tamil Tiger separatists in May.

Here are some key facts about Rajapaksa:

* The 64-year-old incumbent has spent four decades in politics. In 1970 he became the youngest legislator to enter parliament. A lawyer by training, he comes from a long line of politicians from the southern Sri Lankan district of Hambantota. He has three brothers who are serving in his administration, a fact that has led to charges of nepotism.

* He narrowly won his first term as president in 2005, when Sri Lanka was in the middle of a tenuous ceasefire agreement with the Tamil Tiger separatists. Peace talks yielded nothing and in 2006 the president turned to his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a retired infantry officer then serving as the defence secretary, to draw up a plan to defeat the Tigers once and for all.

* Rajapaksa is from the Sinhalese ethnic majority and draws the core of his support from rural Sinhalese voters. However, some have grumbled that the cost of staple foods has gone up since the end of the war. Others have said they are grateful because he has brought peace and security to the country after decades of suicide bombings and war.

* He cut two years from his first six-year term and went for an early re-election to get a fresh mandate to revive the economy and implement a political solution for ethnic minorities. He is the first of Sri Lanka’s five presidents to win a bigger majority in the second election than in the first.

* Rajapaksa, working closely with Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, has pushed hard to make Sri Lanka more business-friendly to capitalise on post-war investment opportunities in tourism, trade and infrastructure development. China and India are so far the biggest winners in the infrastructure race. Both are funding power plant construction and China is financing and building the $3 billion Hambantota port, which is along one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.

* Rajapaksa made a name for himself as a human rights defender during Sri Lanka’s 1987-1990 Marxist insurrection, on which the government cracked down violently. But his reputation has been dented seriously by events at the end of the Tamil Tiger war, during which thousands of civilians were killed as troops battled to corner and crush the rebels. He dismissed international criticism and calls for a last-minute ceasefire, which gave the military time to finish the war.

[Full Coverage]

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