COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa conceded defeat Friday in an election many believed he would win.
The 69-year-old vacated his official residence early Friday morning "to allow the new president to assume his duties," presidential spokesman and former health minister Maithripala Sirisena said.
"President Rajapaksa said he is leaving in order to respect the verdict of the people," Rajapaksa's media director said.
Rajapaksa called for the election two years early in an effort to reestablish his position after the popularity of his party declined. He was expected to win the election, but the race became tight when Maithripala Sirisena, who is expected to win the election, defected from the ruling party and challenged Rajapaksa.
Even as recently as Thursday, Rajapaksa was expected to win the election, but by a narrow margin.
"President Rajapaksa is a very seasoned and mature politician; he has seen many transitions previously where he has gone into government or gone out of government," opposition member of parliament Eran Wickramaratne said. "They are dealing with very seasoned politicians on both sides. I think this can be handled in a mature way."