Maithripala Sirisena to be sworn in on Friday after president Rajapaksa conceded election defeat

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse (centre) waves outside a polling station in his native town of Tangalla on Jan 8, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse (centre) waves outside a polling station in his native town of Tangalla on Jan 8, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's main opposition presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena will be sworn in on Friday, after president Mahinda Rajapaksa conceded election defeat.

“The president met with former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe this morning. The president concedes defeat and will ensure a smooth transition of power bowing to the wishes of the people,” press secretary Mr Vijayananda Herath said.

There was no immediate comment from the island nation's main opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena who was still at his private home in Polonnaruwa, 215 kilometres east of the capital Colombo.

Opposition lawmaker Harsha de Silva said transitional arrangements were being discussed with Mr Rajapaksa and that Mr Wickremesinghe had “guaranteed him and his family security”.

Voters turned out in large numbers on Thursday for the tightest presidential election Sri Lanka has seen in decades.

Mr Rajapaksa had seemed assured of victory when he called snap polls in November seeking an unprecedented third term, five years after crushing a Tamil separatist rebellion that had traumatised the country for decades.

But he has become unpopular in recent years, dogged by accusations of increasing authoritarianism and corruption and a failure to bring about post-war reconciliation.

With nearly a third of the ballots officially declared, Mr Sirisena has 52.49 per cent of the vote and Mr Rajapaksa 46.21 percent.

Just over 75 per cent of the 15.04 million electorate turned out to vote in Thursday's election called two years ahead of schedule.

Turnout was higher than expected in Tamil-dominated areas of the north and east, which have boycotted national elections in the past and where resentment against Mr Rajapaksa runs high.

Tamils - Sri Lanka's largest minority, accounting for 13 per cent of the population - appeared to have voted overwhelmingly in support of Mr Sirisena.

Mr Sirisena was a relative unknown until he became the main opposition candidate, but his decision to run triggered a slew of defections and become a rallying point for disaffection with Mr Rajapaksa and his powerful family.

“The president has seen a clear majority for the opposition candidate and there is no way to overcome that,” a source close to the outgoing president said.

Election commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said final results were expected later on Friday.