We extend our sincere congratulations to President Maithripala Sirisena. After a decade of the Rajapaksas, Sri Lankans have decided to make a change. And we’re happy that, in spite of Rajapaksa’s egregious abuse of state resources in the run-up to the vote, voting day was a relatively clean, fair affair.
Having said that, it is both unfortunate and unsurprising that Tamil issues were sidelined during the presidential campaign. We watched closely as Sirisena came out so clearly on matters pertaining to international war crimes prosecution and devolution. Undoubtedly, bringing the JHU on board was an added bonus as he sought to shore up his Sinhala-Buddhist credentials and further cut into Rajapaksa’s voter base.
During the campaign, both sides took the Tamil vote for granted. Over the past ten years, Rajapaksa’s policies alienated the Tamil community. The former president knew he was unpopular in the North and East and barely made an effort during the campaign. On the other hand, Sirisena (correctly) recognized that, if Tamils were allowed to go to the polls, he’d carry the overwhelming majority of the Tamil (and Muslim) vote.
Encouragingly, misguided calls for a Tamil boycott were met with a robust turnout in historically Tamil areas. Now that the election is over, some have suggested that Sirisena will not concern himself with Tamil issues. After all, minority voters are (potentially) far more important in a presidential election than a parliamentary one. Will Sri Lanka’s numerical minorities be forgotten until the next presidential election?
Going forward, Sirisena will need to do more than just brand himself as the anti-Rajapaksa. When it comes to Tamil issues, it remains unclear how Sirisena would do things differently. Broadly speaking, the four crucial areas which are of immediate concern to Tamils include: transitional justice, a political solution, militarization and land issues. While we understand that sweeping changes will not happen overnight, here are a few places that a new administration could start:
This was a close election and it’s clear that Rajapaksa remains popular amongst the Sinhala-Buddhist community. Civil society and the international community should pay close attention to Sirisena’s first few months in office and adjust accordingly.
Many commentators have already suggested that Sirisena’s win is not a real victory for democracy in Sri Lanka. That remains to be seen, but a perpetuation of majoritarian triumphalism will not go unnoticed.
Over the past few years, issues like accountability, reconciliation and a political solution have been fervently debated outside of Sri Lanka, yet discussion on the island has been rather weak.
Let’s change that. Let’s bring the debate about post-war Sri Lanka – a united Sri Lanka – back home. And let’s not forget that talk, unaccompanied by action, is meaningless.
First published on Groundviews website on 01/15/2015
Promoting Just Peace, Reconciliation and Engaging Citizens to Enhance Public Service Delivery and State Accountability