The Sri Lankan parliamentary elections unfolded as expected with the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG), led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, defeating the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), headed by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. A UNFGG win was on the cards because a significant number of Sri Lankans were eager to carry forward the “revolution” which they had triggered on January 8, when the joint opposition candidate, Maithripala Sirisena, trounced incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an election dominated by issues such as the latter’s authoritarianism, family rule, unbridled corruption and culture of impunity. Sri Lankans were aware that the culture spawned by Rajapaksa had not been rooted out and that a counter-revolution was round the corner with the UPFA enjoying a majority in Parliament.
Emboldened by their parliamentary strength, Rajapaksa and associates continued to target minority Tamils. No attempt was made to mend fences with estranged Muslims either or make up with the regional power, India, and the West which had security and human rights concerns. But Rajapaksa’s belligerence only added wind to the UNFGG’s sails and heightened the resolve of the liberals and minorities to deny him a parliamentary majority. Admittedly, post-poll problems loom large. The UNFGG government will be under pressure to deliver on its grandiose promises to bring about fast but equitable economic development, progressive constitutional changes, and ethnic reconciliation. It has to formulate a foreign policy, which will safeguard Sri Lankans’ concerns about sovereignty while keeping in mind issues flagged by India and the West.
Prospects of stability are bright as the President and the Prime Minister have been comrades-in-arms since the presidential election. But with Rajapaksa in Parliament, the government may find the going tough. Acutely aware of this, Wickremesinghe may tread cautiously in dealing with the Tamils, India and the western powers. In this process, he may come under pressure from Tamil radicals to take a tough line. If he succumbs, India will find Colombo wanting. Patience and understanding will be called for from all the stakeholders.