Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in on Thursday as Sri Lanka’s prime minister by his brother and the country’s newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, PTI reported. The swearing-in ceremony was conducted hours after former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe resigned from the post.

“I’m honoured to have taken oaths as Sri Lanka’s new prime minister,” Mahinda Rajapaksa tweeted. “I look forward to serving all Sri Lankans as we take our country forward with a new vision to further develop and protect it for future generations.” Gotabaya Rajapaksa extended his “warmest wishes” to the prime minister ahead of the ceremony.

Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed his new role from Thursday, and will function as prime minister of the caretaker Cabinet till the country’s General Election in August next year. The 74-year-old politician had served as Sri Lanka’s prime minister for a few months in 2018 when the country went through a political turmoil.

Following the swearing-in, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated his Sri Lankan counterpart. “Congratulations and best wishes to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksam,” Modi tweeted. “I look forward to working closely with him for further strengthening fraternal India-Sri Lanka ties.”

To this, the Sri Lankan prime minister responded saying that the “shared partnership for peace and prosperity” between the two countries and the region should continue to be promoted.

On Sunday, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former defence secretary, defeated the ruling party’s candidate Sajith Premadasa by more than 13 lakh votes. About 16 million citizens were eligible to vote in November 16’s elections. About 80% of them turned up to cast their votes and choose from among 35 candidates on the ballot, including Rajapaksa of the opposition Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (or Sri Lanka People’s Party) and Premadasa.

After the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was charged with human rights offences – allegations that he has denied. His campaign focused on national security. Among the Sinhalese majority, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is considered a national hero for orchestrating the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009 and bringing an end to the 26-year-long armed conflict. However, he remains deeply unpopular among the Tamil and Muslim communities.

The presidential election came at a critical time for the country. The government has been in turmoil since President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe last year and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa, a move that had sparked a three-month constitutional crisis.

This was followed by the Easter Sunday bombings on April 21, which killed at least 253 people and sharpened tensions between majority Sinhalese and minority Muslims in the island. A harsh crackdown on the country’s Muslim minority followed.

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