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Sri Lanka: Painting peace on the pearl

Filed on November 17, 2019

The attack on a cavalcade of buses carrying Muslims to the hustings in Sri Lanka on Saturday does flaw the pearl in the Indian Ocean and detract from the Gotabaya Rajapaksa victory. This aberration has to be addressed and the gunmen who engaged in intimidation brought to book. While it is no surprise that the vast Sinhalese majority would usher in the leader of the most loved family, the Tamil minority is not likely to share the exuberance. With this multiple unease still noticeable in specific quarters it is salutary that newly elected Rajapaksa has struck a conciliatory note when, soon after, his rival Sajith Premadasa conceded defeat and went on record to say: "As we usher in a new journey for Sri Lanka, we must remember that all Sri Lankans are part of this journey. Let us rejoice peacefully, with dignity and discipline in the same manner in which we campaigned." This might be easier said than done as the island nation is facing a very severe fiscal slump, perhaps the worst in this century. The wounds of the Easter Sunday suicide bombings are still relatively raw and the multiple religious schisms endure, thereby making the economy and nationalism into willing bedfellows a top priority. Tourism is still hurting as a sector and that impacts directly on the bottom line already slackened by a loss in investor confidence.

A former defence minister in his brother's government, the former Lt Colonel has an almost folklorish reputation in the majority population and is known as the 'Terminator' for having led the assault on the LTTE and being touted the only government to successfully destroy terrorism within a nation after the Tamil Tigers were tamed. The grass root faith and support are therefore tangible and with the majority behind him so squarely, Rajapaksha has the mandate to bring the country together and herald a new era. His first curative step might well be to call upon his ace rival Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party to join him in this effort to heal the nation. As the son of assassinated president Ranasinghe Premadasa, Sajith does have a fair amount of public affection and a move by the new president to make peace a collective government initiative would send out a strong message that from this time onwards it is Sri Lankans and Sri Lanka first. What he cannot afford is antagonism, religious acrimony and distrust. To pretend it does not exist would be folly. Ushered in on a platform where the largest plank was the return of security and peace, he must now prove the intent by action and not words. It is indeed a beautiful country and its leadership must now ensure that peace and trust also translate into a better life. If that prosperity begins to manifest itself the acts of attrition will automatically vanish.


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