COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse, who conceded defeat Tuesday in parliamentary polls months after being toppled as president, is a polarizing figure.
Rajapakse, who had hoped to become prime minister, won huge popularity among the majority Sinhalese community for crushing Tamil separatist rebels in a no-holds-barred offensive in 2009 that ended a 37-year ethnic war on the island.
But the 69-year-old veteran leader is deeply unpopular with the Tamil minority, who voted overwhelmingly for his successor at a presidential election in January.
He has also been criticized for filling positions of power with his relatives, some of whom now face charges of large-scale corruption.
Rajapakse’s success in overseeing an end to the war propelled him to a huge election victory and a second term in office.
He oversaw a period of growing prosperity with average growth rates of 7.5 percent, built Sri Lanka’s first expressway and rolled out new highways and railroads.
But he also used his mandate to give himself more powers and remove a two-term limit on the presidency. His decision to call a snap election in January for a third term prompted a stunning revolt from within his own party.