Sri Lanka elected a new President yesterday. Having argued for years that (a) Sri Lanka under Mahinda Rajapaksa was no dictatorship but a unipolar democracy because of the meltdown of the centre-right opposition, the UNP under its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, and (b) that the Opposition should put forward a liberal nationalist instead, my perspective has been at least partly vindicated. By fielding the former secretary of President Rajapakse’s own party, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena as the candidate, the opposition gained 52.1% of votes to win the election against the incumbent president seeking a third term.
The Opposition outmaneuvered and outplayed Mahinda Rajapaksa and his camp. Its strategy was to win the vast majority of the minorities and a minority of the majority, by generating a split in the majority vote. The plan worked. The compensatory vote from the majority community for President Rajapaksa was not sufficient to compensate for the near-total loss of the minorities and the slice of majority votes garnered by Mr. Maithripala Sirisena. To reiterate, the Opposition game plan proved to be a good one, and it succeeded.
President Rajapaksa paid heavily for the sins of his family. The post-war model of the Rajapaksa administration was not compatible with the social needs of peacetime. If Mahinda Rajapaksa won the war with the managerial dedication of Gotabhaya, he lost the peace and therefore the election also because of the personality and policy impositions of those close to him who failed to transcend that time.
The grave mismanagement of foreign policy lost the country the support of India, while the extremist Buddhist organization the BBS lost us the Islamic states of the OIC. This created a broad Indo-US-Islamic external coalition with considerable local assets, and a vested interest in regime change. It worked.
It is the end of a cycle; perhaps even an age, one defined by the 30 year war and in that sense it is also the ‘end of history’. It is the defeat of a certain idea, project, paradigm, way of being and set of values. Its ethos could be regarded as that of wartime, or more dramatically, the Spirit of 2009. Despite all my criticisms I supported Mahinda Rajapaksa in all three of his elections — 2005, 2010 and 2015 — because I shared those values of heroic struggle more than I did those of his opponents on each occasion while being a trenchant critic of his post-war administration.
This time five million people shared those values but that was not enough. A majority of citizens opted for change.