The outcome of the parliamentary poll in Sri Lanka can have a salutary effect on re-establishing durable peace between various ethnic groups and for putting the nation back on the path of development and economic growth. In other words, the defeat of the divisive and authoritarian Mahinda Rajapaksa is good for the country. Finally, Sri Lanka can now put to rest the ghosts of the decades-long ethnic strife. Rajapaksa was defeated by his own party colleague, Maithripala Srisena, in the presidential poll only eight months ago. Srisena, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party leader had defied his party colleague and outgoing President Rajapaksa to contest the presidential poll as the candidate of the joint opposition. He won. For eight months he and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who belongs to the United National Party, have worked closely to restore harmony and peace between various ethnic groups and lessen fear and tensions in the Tamil-dominated eastern and northern districts. Because Rajapaksa in his nine-year rule as president had also alienated the sizable Muslim community, the duo has also tried to address their grievances and allay apprehensions about the ever-increasing belligerence of the majority Sinhala community.
The Tamils and Muslims voted in large numbers against Rajapaksa, though the middle-roader Tamil National Alliance swept the poll in the Northern Province. Because Wickremesighe’s UNP fell short of the majority by a few seats, winning 106 out of a total 225, the TNA with 16 winners is expected to support his government. Rajapaksa won a total of 93 seats and was quick to concede defeat since he was aware that none of the smaller parties would back him for prime ministership. Voters were clearly impressed with the manner in which Srisena and Wickremsinghe had worked in tandem to provide a smooth and transparent administration. They feared that the return of Rajapaksa would unnecessarily cause tension between the President and the Prime Minister and might lead to a confrontation, thus paralysing the administration.
Sri Lanka cannot afford to risk that personality and ideological clashes between two of its highest level functionaries. While reconciliation and socio-economic development and rehabilitation of the hitherto neglected regions is an integral part of the plan of Srisena-Wickremsinghe combine, Rajapaksa’s entire politics is predicated on an avowedly anti-minority platform which does not permit him to apply the salve on the wounds of the ethnic minorities, particularly the Tamils in the northern and eastern parts who are still to recover from the brutal excesses of the army. Even now, thousands of Tamils are living in inhuman conditions in camps, while their homes were devastated and their lands forcibly taken over by the authorities. In a way, the fact that Wickremsinghe would rely on the support of the Tamil National Alliance for his majority would ensure that the relief and rehabilitation process in the war-ravaged northern districts would receive urgent attention.
The recipe for national reconciliation lies not in a majoritarian rule but in a national consensus, on laying the ghosts of the Tamil extremism to rest while putting a strong lid over aggressive Sinhala nationalism. A multi-ethnic Sri Lanka very badly needs a healing touch. Indeed, the Indian Government now has the opportunity to render all possible assistance to the Wickremsinghe Government in order to ensure that peace and progress returns to the Tamil-dominated areas in Sri Lanka. India can have no interest other than the welfare of the Tamils in particular, and all Sri Lankans in general. Being its closest neighbour with centuries-old ties, India and Sri Lanka should be able to dispel the growing impression that China has replaced it as Colombo’s all-weather friend. Civilisational, historical and geographic links make India and Sri Lanka natural friends and allies, though under Rajapaksa, Colombo had sought to play the China card to rile New Delhi. Happily, there can now be no threat of that sort of adventurism by the new dispensation in Sri Lanka.