Rajapaksa's dharma

The remarkable victory won by the United Progressive Freedom Alliance led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the parliament elections held in Sri Lanka is a continuation of the impressive mandate secured by him in the presidential elections in January. The popular goodwill and political strength gained by him after the military defeat of the LTTE last year have expectedly continued to give his alliance a near two-thirds majority in parliament. The results give the Rajapaksa government an opportunity to pursue constitutional reforms which it has been planning, and to concentrate on economic reconstruction. But it will be unfortunate if the planned reforms lead to a more authoritarian system, as there are already such indications. It is also important that the government improves the human rights situation in the country. Sri Lanka’s democratic credentials have recently been marred by human rights abuses which were once even sought to be justified by the threat posed by the LTTE.

The opposition is in disarray, as seen by the lacklustre performance of the United National Party, though it has the consolation that its core strength has not been seriously damaged. The third front, consisting of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna led by former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who is facing a court martial, has fared poorly. The decline in polling percentage to about 55 per cent from the 75 in the presidential elections and from the normal 60-65 in Sri Lanka’s elections was not the only reason for their failure to make an impact.

The voter turnout in the North and East which have large Tamil populations was especially low, showing the continued alienation of the minorities. It should also be noted that the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance has done fairly well in the elections in the North. That makes it important that the new government considers reconciliation with the Tamil minority and its political and emotional integration in the Sri Lankan nation as its main task in the coming months. There are many proposals for a viable political order in which more powers are devolved to the minority-dominated regions. Rajapaksa can try to evolve a wide consensus on them, involving the Tamils, the Muslim minority and the opposition parties, within the framework of national unity. The victory in the elections should prod the government to move in this direction.

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