Sri Lanka Votes for End to Nepotism and Corruption
January 12th, 2015
In a surprising electoral upset, Sri Lankans voted in Opposition Presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena, a former Health minister. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the man responsible for the crushing defeat of the Tamil Tigers, conceded defeat on Friday. The Tamil and Muslim voting appears to have decided the outcome of the election, as the Sinhalese vote was split.
A new Administration holds out the possibility for some change, although how much remains to be seen. The new President was acting Defense Minister at the end of the civil war in June 2009, and like Rajapaksa, rejects the UN investigation into war crimes allegations, and has pledged that senior commanders accused of such war crimes will not face legal action. He also reportedly has no plans to reduce the large military presence in northern (Tamil) Sri Lanka.
On the other hand, the issue of corruption will be addressed (the Rajapaksa family was in many positions of authority at the national and local levels of government, and controlled both the Defense Ministry and the Development Ministry.). The increasing consolidation of power in the Presidency will also be reversed. President Sirisena pledged, during the campaign, to abolish the executive presidency within 100 days of being elected, repeal the controversial 18th amendment, re-instate the 17th amendment and appoint UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe as prime minister. The constitutional changes will be important. Already, the new President has called for Parliamentary elections to be held in three months.
In terms of foreign policy, the election results will mean a shift away from China, and back toward India, and possibly better relations with the West.
The new government has said it will investigate an alleged attempt by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to remain in power by having the military stop the vote count, when results showed he was losing last week’s election, according to a spokesman for the new President.
Pope Francis will be entering the country at an interesting time. He is due to arrive in Colombo on Tuesday, less than a week after the election, and just after the formation of a new Cabinet. The Pope is expected to meet the new president, and to attend an interfaith conference that will include Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic leaders.