On the face of it Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse should sail smoothly through the snap presidential elections called by him, after a 10-year stranglehold on power.
The reality, however, could be altered given that his reign is showing signs of decay, thanks to questionable policy decisions coupled with a totalitarian attitude that has seen him set up a virtual private family enterprise within government.
It is no surprise that given the people’s diminishing faith in and frustration with the faltering administrative process, a suitable and strong candidate like Mathripala Sirisena has come forward to challenge Rajapakse and make a bid for power.
The opposition candidate has strong credentials and he has been aided by mass defections from the ruling party. This is also a telling sign of the Rajapakse’s wavering popularity within his party.
What completes the script is that Sirisena was once among the president’s closest ministers and counsellors. Quite naturally, he is being viewed as a traitor by the opposition camp. To many observers and voters, however, he might be most suited to bring about a balance of power and effect a semblance of democracy in the country.
Both candidates must, however, take stock and address the people’s expectations — especially the plight of the island’s minorities, Tamils, Christians and Muslims — who have struggled to be part of the mainstream, across a broad spectrum of allegations and concerns.
Sri Lanka may have turned the corner economically, since the offensive against the LTTE concluded with victory for the government forces, but questions linger about its divisive social fabric given the failure to rehabilitate the minorities, especially the Tamils, and address the uncomfortable truth about alleged human rights abuses.
The winner of these elections must address the people’s concerns.