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Incumbent President Rajapakse has made it clear he favors economic growth over the well-being of his populace.
When I asked a friend in Sri Lanka what she thought of the presidential election and its aftermath, she said with exasperation, “The election was a joke. These politics are a joke.”
Another friend said, “At least Sri Lankans are again beginning to laugh and take their politicians less seriously.”
Whether or not the latter comment may be true, the recent politics and events in Sri Lanka are no laughing matter. As concerned individuals, we must critically examine the presidential election and its aftermath at this moment in order to press for restoring justice, dignity and democracy for all inhabitants of Sri Lanka.
Since the war’s end in May 2009, there has been little relief for Sri Lankans, and, in particular, for those civilians who have been uprooted and displaced by the protracted civil conflict. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are still being held without land rights, homes or the freedom to move freely within the country’s borders. Muslims, expelled from Jaffna peninsula by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1990, have yet to secure unified support from Sri Lanka’s politicians to return homes.
During the conflict, thousands of Up-Country Tamils living and working on the tea and rubber plantations were chased out of their homes during a series of anti-Tamil riots. Today, many of the individuals remaining in the postwar IDP camps are in fact Up-Country Tamils who — displaced twice and thrice over the past decades — have no home to return to.
In the months before the presidential election, the widening space for dissent gave hopeful indication that Sri Lanka’s politicians might adequately address minority grievances and develop long-lasting strategies for reconciliation. Nevertheless, the election was marred by, as election monitoring centers report, 900 instances of violence, forms of corruption and blatant abuse of public funds for private interests.
Furthermore, the post-election arrest and detainment of retired General Sarath Fonseka has distracted politicians from pressing issues such as the resettlement of IDPs and the need for a far-reaching political solution.
In the last week, the opposition alliance has split, and Sarath Fonseka, while detained, has left the United National Party (UNP)-led alliance and started a new alliance called the Democratic National Alliance (DNA). This fracture and shift may suggest yet another victory for Rajapakse’s governing coalition in the Parliamentary elections, which are set to take place on April 8.
With the recent announcement that the detained Fonseka will contest in the April elections, voters may face the real possibility of continued violence and the residual effects of political elitism that plagued the presidential election.