In the recent presidential elections in Sri Lanka incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa gained 57 percent of the votes. His opponent, former army commander, General Sarath Fonseka, only received 40 percent and immediately claimed that the elections were unfair due to intimidation of his supporters.
It is now Rajapaksa’s task to secure the country’s fragile peace, achieved only recently in May 2009 after 25 years of civil war against the separatist ‘Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’ (LTTE).
The Tamil Hindu minority in the north has felt marginalized by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority ever since Sri Lanka’s independence from Britain in 1948. The 1950s government did not grant citizenship to Indian Tamils who were brought to Sri Lanka by the British to work on tea plantations, and only accepted Sinhalese as the national language.
The LTTE, a terrorist guerrilla group, was founded in 1974 with the aim of establishing an independent Tamil state, ‘Eelam’, in the north and east of the country. Anti-Tamil pogroms in July 1983 (‘Black July’) are commonly seen as the start of the civil war, which cost about 80,000 lives.
The LTTE were feared for suicide bombings and the use of child soldiers. Several peace talks failed; during a ceasefire between 2002 and 2005 a flood and a tsunami hit the country. Soon after Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as president in 2005, heavy fights broke out again.
In January 2009 the government troops finally captured the northern town of Kilinochchi, the administrative headquarters of the LTTE. The final push by the army to end the war was declared a war crime by the UN, as civilians were caught between the battle lines.
The LTTE surrendered in May 2009 and were guaranteed amnesty. Will Rajapaksa, the leader of the centre-left Sri Lanka Freedom Party, be able to improve the country’s social and political stability? He included many family members in his former government and is also said to be corrupt.
Election violence and a low turnout of Tamil voters make his victory questionable for some. “The question now is not whether or not the Tamils will grin and bear, but when they’ll once again get fed up, stand up, and fight,” a Cambridge student of Sri Lankan origin wonders.
Anna Goldenburg – TCS Reporter