By Ranga Kalansooriya –
A historic election and a historic victory. But why is it so historic..?
Not one, but there are several reasons for it to be significant among other Presidential Polls held in the country. The first is its national outreach. In fact Maithri could be proud of being the first President to be elected through a true national election. The participation of North – West – East and South as one electorate was unique in its own dynamics. Probably this could be the first ever indication of national reconciliation in post-conflict Sri Lanka.
“For the first time since 1982, Tamils in the North are voting free,” journalist Parameswaram told me on Thursday when I inquired about polling patterns in the north. Polls were free and fair in every part of the country, too, but North and East were noteworthy as it was a different case for the past three decades.
No argument that there was a clear division in the votes for the two main candidates. Mahinda championed in the Sinhala Buddhist platform while Maithri performed well in both minority as well as majority community areas. But one could easily argue that Maithree’s victory was mainly due to the minority vote.
Fair enough but what does it mean? Minorities in large numbers preferred Mairthri against Mahinda. The reasons behind this phenomenon do not demand post-mortems as they were pretty obvious. Thus, shall look at the future based on this verdict of the people.
Any poll would be described as a reflection of hopes of the people and that rationale is relatively strong in this particular case of Thursday’s elections. What were the hopes behind the voting pattern this time?
For majority those were about democracy, good governance, anti-corruption – so on and so forth irrespective of ethnicity. But for the ethnic minorities there were specific hopes, I assume. For Tamils in post-conflict areas it was predominantly freedom. They demanded freedom to speak, freedom to gather, freedom to move around and may be even freedom to think. Of course this could be a matter for further deliberation mainly on radicalization point of view but Northerners were certainly prayed for freedom from the clutches of LTTE as well as military authoritarianism. But this does not, at any cost, mean the stereotype argument on the recent political platforms of withdrawing military from the north or any such demilitarizing move.
The Muslims had their own hopes – mainly resolving their identity issue which ultimately led to their own safety. The creation of Sinhala Buddhist extremist elements under state patronage threatened the identity of Muslims in Sri Lanka. Thus, Muslims expect their safety and dignity under a new regime led by another strong Sinhala Buddhist leader – Maithri. In fact post conflict Sri Lanka is yet to recognize its own pluralism and this was clearly evident during the electioneering process. The inclusion of Muslims and Tamils within the Miathri camp was a move to divide the country as claimed by Mahinda camp, a clear undermining of the statehood of minorities in this country.
“But irrespective of ethnicity, we all have one aspiration, as far as I see it – the return of democracy and protecting basic human rights that will ultimately meet the expectations of all Sri Lankans,” said Imtiaz Bakeer Markar.
Nonetheless, the high voter turnout indicates the level of expectations from the new regime. The Maithri – Ranil camp has to manage these high hopes of the people while managing the conflicting political agendas of its own coalition members which will be the biggest challenge. If failed to deliver as promised, their popularity will diminish faster than that of Mahinda. And those who helped them to reach pinnacle of power would be the same people who would pulled the first trigger against them. That was exactly what happened to Mahinda, and Maithri-Ranil should learn the bitter lesson before even they start the drama.