PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS GONE ASTRAY
Rajapakse triggered the presidential election, believing he would be easily returned to power for a third term, even though he had two more years left in his 2nd term. A great believer in soothsayers, he probably relied on their advice, and the war-victory over the LTTE in 2009, to carry him to victory.
But his regime, is hobbled by war crime charges. A brother of the President, Gotabaya, is accused of having been directly involved. On his orders, Tamil combatants surrendering under a white flags were said to have been taken away and shot dead, in breach of international laws governing war, and to which Sri Lanka had subscribed. President Rajapakse, as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, is very likely implicated in the war crimes.
NEW FACE IN PRESIDENTIAL RACE
The choice of Maitripala Sirisena was a bold one as he was from the same party, the SLFP. He was admired as an honest person and who did not hanker after wealth or power for their own sake. As a senior cabinet member he has an equal claim to the victory in the war that ended in 2009. He is also free of the HR violations, the bombing of hospitals and civilian sites. It was former President Kumaratunga, and UNP Leader Ranil Wicremesinghe, who persuaded Sirisena to contest the presidency. Their political acumen paid off when Sirisena won. But it was not easy unseating an incumbent, who wielded a lot of power, and a brother who commanded the police and armed forces!
ELECTION AND SHENANIGANS
As the voting concluded, both contestants were continuously monitoring the results. At some point Rajapakse decided he was going to lose and called Lt. Gen Daya Ratnayake, the head of the armed forces, to deploy troops and intervene, but the general declined, as he did not want do anything illegal. It was only after this that Rajapakse made his concession speech. Later a top aide to the President Sirisena, said that even at the last hour, Rajapakse had tried to remain in office by other means.
RAJAPAKSE NOT THE LEADER OF ALL THE PEOPLE
The Tamils were a forgotten people after the war. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, in its report said that reconciliation was vital to bring the Tamils and Sinhalese together. But Rajapakse did nothing. It served his purpose to have the Tamils remain as a danger to the nation.
Sri Lanka regime was accused of war crimes, and President Rajapakse’s brother, Gotabaya, was specifically identified as the accused who gave the order to kill surrendering combatants. Instead of reconciling with the Tamils, the President sent an army into the North, hounding, plundering, robbing, and killing the Tamils. In the capital, the terrorist organization Body Bala Sena was hounding the minorities and others who got in the way! The White Van episodes had come to an end, but people knew who was responsible for their deployment.
WHAT ARE SIRISENA’S OPTIONS
Sirisena will no doubt have a plan of action, as to how he was going to tackle the various problems confronting the nation. Every minority, specifically, the Muslims/Moors, the Christians and the Tamils are the targeted. But these problems did not manifest themselves during the British rule.
The President needs time to prepare the ground, and create the atmosphere for minority problems to be considered. Solving the Tamil problem will also help settle the difficulties with the other ethnic groups.
As a matter of urgency, the nation needs a well qualified minister of defense, and another to preside over the police. Both were managed by a lowly retired army officer who knew next to nothing about managing a ministry, caring for the lives of surrendering combatants, or the well-being of his soldiers.
For a start, President Sirisena may get outside help from the UN to replace the army in the North, with a foreign military or police force from the West. However, the Provincial Council in the North should be consulted.
Nothing is going to change overnight, because the country has a new leader. President Sirisena has a lot on his plate, including the mess left behind by Rajapakse. The Tamils have been waiting expectantly since 1948. The President has to indicate, at some appropriate time, how he plans to proceed.
LEARN FROM OTHERS
Sri Lanka is equally the country of the Sinhalese as the Tamils, as it was when the British left in 1948. What is more, the Sinhalese and Tamils lived side by side for centuries without any conflict.
We can learn from the experience of many countries, where different peoples live together without any sort of conflict. Sri Lanka will do well to benefit from these countries, even get their assistance.
EUPHORIA IN THE NORTH
There was widespread euphoria in North as news reached the Tamils that Maitripala Sirisena had been elected as the new President.
Following is what a foreign visitor to the North revealed on returning to Colombo just after the presidential election, to catch a flight to his home country:
- People, it appeared, were breathing more freely, as he said.
- There was a palpable feeling of happiness.
- Pongal was being celebrated, with the crackers going off everywhere.
- People felt unafraid to freely discuss politics
- No army personnel were in sight.
- Douglas was nowhere to be seen.
- In Colombo, he noted, both Sinhalese and Tamils, were walking in front of Temple Trees without fear or concern.