ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Massive Achievement

A mandate from across ethnic and social groups in Sri Lanka has felled the mighty Rajapaksa regime.

In what was a remarkable result in Sri Lankan presidential elections, strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has been defeated by Maithripala Sirisena, the candidate of a united opposition. It was barely a month and a half ago that Sirisena, a member of Rajapaksa’s ministry, announced his defection from his parent party. In this short period, a realignment of the opposition forces took place. The leading opposition party, the United National Party (UNP), declared its support to Sirisena, and more defections from the SLFP – most notably, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga – coincided with withdrawal of support to Rajapaksa from the Buddhist party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya. The tacit support from the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna for the opposition and the announcement by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Muslim parties that they too favoured Rajapaksa’s opponent turned Sirisena into a strong candidate against the president who had enjoyed two terms in office.

The “coup” within the SLFP turned out to be vital. Sections of the SLFP old guard led by Kumaratunga had rallied around the Sirisena candidature, thereby weakening the ruling party. The choice of Sirisena as a candidate was itself dictated by the fact that this member of the Rajapaksa cabinet, with agrarian roots and having served previously in the ministries of agriculture and health in earlier regimes, enjoyed vast support among the Sinhala rural populace. Sirisena’s candidature thus undercut the formidable support that Rajapaksa enjoyed among the rural electorate. The TNA and other Tamil parties gave their support without any preconditions on devolution of power as these parties realised that this was a unique political moment that they too should be part of and contribute to the ousting of Rajapaksa. The moment had allowed various sections of the Sri Lankan population to register a common mandate against what was widely seen as creeping authoritarianism and centralisation of power by the Rajapaksa presidency. In many ways Mahinda Rajapaksa had to endure a moment similar to what was faced by former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi post the Emergency in 1977.

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