( February 23, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) The January presidential election campaign as well as the post-election developments in Sri Lanka indicate quite clearly that the dominant political class of the country is deeply and antagonistically divided.
The tragedy of electoral democracy in Sri Lanka is that elections do not seem to help the political class to negotiate and settle their contradictions and resolve problems in the polity. Rather, elections compel the factions of the political class to resort to false agendas and, in turn, to invent and pursue enmities.
Although the civil war is over, the trajectory of the island’s post-civil war politics is still in the process of being formed. One thing though seems clear. Neither the ruling party nor the opposition (not even the minority parties) are going to place the rights of the minorities at the centre of their political agenda. Sri Lanka’s sixth presidential election was held on 26 January 2010.
Although this election was constitutionally due at the end of 2011, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent president, advanced the election by two years. Rajapaksa obviously wanted to capitalise his huge popularity gained by crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militarily in May 2009. His main rival at the presidential election was his own former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, who strategised and executed a pretty ruthless and therefore successful war against the LTTE.
The dispute between Rajapaksa and Fonseka erupted ostensibly on the question of sharing the credit for the military victory. A deeper issue was also involved in this dispute. Rajapaksa and his brothers, who are very influential civilian officials of the administration, may have tried to curtail the influence of the military on the post-war policy process.
Civilian politicians perhaps became aware of the need to restore the pre-war balance of power between them and the army. Obviously, this angered General Fonseka. The opposition which has been searching for a viable presidential candidate to pit against the popular President Rajapaksa wasted no time to entice General Fonseka to be its candidate.
Fonseka was also the centre of gravity of a new coalition which brought together the right wing United National Party (UNP), the left-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), and a significant section of Tamil and Muslim political parties.
Notable among the latter was the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main parliamentary coalition of mainstream Tamil parties which had maintained political sympathies with the LTTE.
At one level, the Rajapaksa-Fonseka dispute showed that the war coalition which President Rajapaksa put together had cracked up from within.
General Fonseka’s challenge to the incumbent president focused primarily on the issue of corruption and nepotism. These are, of course, governance issues. However, the debate during the election campaign was centred less on democratic reforms than on regime change.
Broad policy issues were not in the campaign agenda of either of the two main candidates. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has now been reelected with a comfortable majority of 58% of total votes cast. And his opponent is in jail.
Clearly, there were fears that he might challenge the election results before the Supreme Court, although it is surely a long-drawn out process with no immediate impact on the outcome of the election.
What is clear is that the Tamil-Sinhala divide remains deep and entrenched. The electoral districts with concentration of ethnic minorities have overwhelmingly voted for the opposition candidate. It is a sad thing that they did not have another alternative.
So they were voting for the man who led the assault against them. This is how democracy fails the people.Minorities are clearly estranged from the Rajapaksa regime. In this post-election context, reaching out to ethnic minorities, particularly the Tamils, will be essential to address this deep sense of minority alienation and for Sri Lanka’s political stability.
Sources: World Sikh News