As expected, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Freedom Alliance Party has won the recent Southern and Western provincial council elections. However, the lower margins of victory suggest he is no longer the undisputed leader in the two regions, considered the heartland of the ethnic-majority Sinhalese. In the Southern province, his party won only 33 seats out of 55, down from the 38 it won in 2009. The fall is more precipitous in the Western province, where it won 56 seats out of 104, against the 68 it won in 2009. Notably, Rajapaksa’s party tried to whip up passions among the Sinhalese by raking up the issue of the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution demanding war crimes probe in Sri Lanka.
One inference possible is that if he had not exploited the UN resolution, he might not have achieved even the limited success in the two provinces. In the Tamil-dominated Northern province, the Freedom Alliance Party has been routed with the Tamil National Alliance sweeping the polls. The results are also a reflection of the continuing ethnic divide. There is little to suggest that the situation is on the mend. What the country badly needs is reconciliation between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. Unfortunately, there has been no attempt whatsoever to effect such a rapprochement.
The results should serve as a warning to Rajapaksa that he cannot afford to ignore the ground realities. Narrow nationalism might have served some purpose while he was mounting a successful campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The defeat of the LTTE and the decimation of its leadership are history. Rajapaksa should now think more about the future of the country and the need to integrate the northern region with the rest of the country. He should also remain eternally wary about the possibility of the emergence of a militant Tamil outfit. International opinion is also against his strong-arm methods against the Tamils. Reconciliation should, therefore, become the watchword in Sri Lanka.