By Hilmy Ahamed –
Sri Lanka has decided on its future with its bets placed heavily on President Maithripala Sirisena to embark on compassionate governance to unite the fragmented communities and build a truly reconciled nation.
The voting pattern in the just concluded presidential election is probably the saddest indictment of a divided society. The majority of the Buddhist community voted in favor of a hardline president who believed that he did not need the vote of the minority communities to be re-elected to the august position of the President of our nation. His reliance on just the majority Sinhala Buddhist vote not only deprived him of his third term, but also created a very divided nation. His last minute attempt to woo minority votes fell on deaf ears.
The voting patterns of the people of a once peaceful nation who co-existed as different communities are a cause for concern. The Sinhala Buddhist majority voted for a Presidency where the racial divide will be entrenched in its future governance, while the minorities trusted in a change, for a better and peaceful nation under a compassionate leader that they could trust.
*Maithri takes oaths- Photo courtesy Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Sri Lanka Facebook page
It would have been difficult for Maithripala Sirisena to win if the minority communities had divided their loyalties between the two main contending Presidential candidates or abstained from exercising their franchise.
The effort by the Jathika Hela Urumaya, Ven. Sobitha Thero, Ven. Athuraliye Ratana Thero and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna to garner a larger segment of the Sinhala Buddhist vote did not translate in to any substantial number of votes cast for Maithripala Sirisena’s Maithri Yugaya (A compassionate era).
The rallying call for Democracy, Rule of Law and good governance by the common opposition led by the United National Party and other key stake holders in forming a coalition for change resonated well amongst the minority communities.
The minority communities who were subjected to a brutal campaign of hate by Buddhist extremists believed in a new coalition that would re-establish the glory of a united Sri Lanka. The Northern Tamil, Muslim and the Plantation Tamil community, voted overwhelmingly with over 90% of them casting their vote in favor of Maithripala Sirisena. I do not believe that they expect anything herculean from the new President, but to provide a conducive climate for all citizens of this country to have equal opportunities and justice, that did not exist during the second term of the Rajapaksa administration, especially after the war victory of 2009.
The peaceful transition from the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency offers ample space for an immediate and innovative approach to unite the fragmented communities. The task today for the new president and a capable visionary Prime Minister is to address these issues as a priority and move towards a compassionate era where all Sri Lankans would claim to be part of the bright future on offer.
Maithripala Sirisena could be the “Mandela” of Sri Lanka. His acceptance speech after the swearing in ceremony reminds of Nelson Mandela’s approach to unite the black and white population in South Africa after decades of apartheid rule. While President Maithripala Sirisena has many promises to keep, his priority should be towards ethnic reconciliation, especially to capitalize on the trust the minorities have placed in him. It is now time for him to walk the talk. With the mandate provided to him by the nation, he should immediately set about addressing the lost opportunities during the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency to reconcile with the Northern Tamil population. The Tamil National Alliance is on record saying that they would work with His Excellency, Maithripala Sirisena to find lasting solutions to the grievances of the Tamil population. He now has the opportunity to take bold decisions in addressing their legitimate grievances and finding a lasting solution that would not alienate any of the communities living in Sri Lanka. A truth and reconciliation commission along the lines of the South African experience would be most appropriate.
Almost the entire political, civil and to a certain extent the religious leadership of the Muslims placed their trust on the new president to embark on a proper and necessary mechanism for the Muslims to live in peace, practice their religion and be equal citizens, devoid of the hate mongering that existed during the second term of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. This can be achieved by ensuring that those who were responsible for the hate crimes and violence are brought to justice, and engage the Muslims in a constructive dialogue to address any issues of concern they may pose to the majority community.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna is probably the unsung hero of this Presidential campaign. Their contribution to Maithripala Sirisena’s camp would go unrecognized to a large extent, mainly because they were not on stage with Maithripala. Their commitment to principles and values and objections to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s 3rd term should be appreciated and adequate support and encouragement should be ensured for them in future elections. Engagement and support from minority communities for the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna should also be encouraged so that a wider political representation would be ensured.
Sri Lanka needs to embark on its new journey of a truly united Sri Lankan nation by discarding the communal/ethnic-based politics that came in to existence with the introduction of the proportional representation electoral system under the J R Jayewardene’s amendment to the constitution. Towards this end, it would be important to establish a mechanism where minority communities and other vulnerable groups would have the necessary space for political representation without creating communal political institutions. Mainstream political parties will need to strategize to accommodate a new political culture for the nation.