The stunning presidential election results in Sri Lanka have ended incumbent Mahindra Rajapaksa’s decade long authoritarian rule and hailed his rival and former cabinet collegue Maithripala Sirisena as the sixth president of the country.
Sirisena received 51.28 percent of the total votes while Rajapaksa scored only 47.58 percent in the run for presidential post. Rajapaksa, who has two more years in power, had amended the constitution in 2010 to scrap the two term limit on the presidency to give himself more power over public servants and judges. He was seeking for a third term in office. But his shocking poll defeat has proved that his decision to run for a third time in the polls has been wrong. Even while Rajapaksa was credited for ending the civil war, crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 and boosting the economy, he was widely criticised for nepotism, corruption and for being increasingly authoritarian. His family’s growing power and presence in the government invited much criticism. Rajapaksa had failed to respond positively to the UN demand of curbing the military crimes and civilian casualities.
Sirisena received a huge support not only from the opposition but also from a section of the ruling party. He was backed by the country’s majority community, the Sinhalese and also by the minorities, the Muslims, who come up to around 10 percent and the Tamils, coming up to 11.2 percent. Both the DNA and the SLMC supported Sirisena. The Sinhalese vote went to Rajapaksa in the previous elections. The Tamils were seen upon as secondary citizens and the Muslims were wary of the far right communal tensions building up among the Sinhalese Buddhists. Rajapaksa failed to address these issues and bring relief to the minorities following which the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress representatives resigned from the ministry.
Sirisena had promised sweeping reforms of the presidency and to improve the ties with the international community. He also pledged to transfer many of his executive powers to the parliament. The poll results are a significant setback for Rajapaksa who was certain of his victory. The results therefore represent a victory for Sri Lankan democracy. Sirisena should re-analyze the reasons for his victory and why the people have chosen him and fullfil the promises. Sri Lanka has inclined towards China more than India, in recent years under Rajapaksa. India should therefore be cautious and vigilant about Sirisena’s future steps.