The election of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s last January to presidency gave rise to hopes for all sections of the island nation, especially the Tamils and Muslims as major minorities who had very high expectations from the new president they happily elected.
Elections in January when Sirisena defeated the increasingly authoritarian Mahinda Rajapaksa in his quest to win an unprecedented third term and August parliamentary polls, combined with the recently passed UN Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution on Sri Lanka, have presented the country with some real hopes for better treatment of minorities even if they are not given preferential treatment in jobs and other domains.
Upon assuming office, Sirisena declared reconciliation with Tamils as one of his main premises of governance and he promised proper action on former president’s war crimes. However, he has not undertaken steps to realize his objectives. Recently he said the year 2016 will be the year of building of the economy of the country. He said a lot of programs will be implemented to bring about prosperous lives to all people in this country. “The government has entered into the program to bring about prosperous lives to the people by doing required political reforms and saving the people from poverty,” Sirisena said. However, he did not refer to UN probe into war crimes.
Sri Lankan Tamils have barely come out of the shock they received because of state sponsored massacres of the Tamil community under pro-Sinhalese Rajapaksha government. Tamils are worried if Sirisena is insincere as he is silent about his promise of reconciliation. Accusing fingers are pointed at him by onlookers for trying to save the former ruler. Thus far, Sirisena has been reluctant to take even small steps to reach out to the Tamil community. That needs to change if he were to be sincere about reconciliation.
Year 2015 was to herald the rising Rajapaksa’s eldest son Namal, who was obviously being groomed for a larger political role, but it turned out to be bad, indeed it spelled doom for Rajapaksa’s autocratic political career and he thought he was finished but he is now a Member of Parliament and has close links with President Sirisena.
Sirisena knows that Rajapaksha is likely concerned now about protecting himself and his family from criminal prosecution as well. Ensuring that Namal, who is also a member of parliament and stays politically active is probably a priority for the former president too. Ideally, Rajapaksa wants to preserve his reputation amongst Sinhala people as a war hero who finally defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and ended a war which ran from 1983 to 2009.
Tamils feel Sirisena is just rhetoric, that he does not seem to seriously think about justice for Tamils maybe, possibly because he, like his ministerial colleagues, might consider such a move to upset the majority Sinhalese community that “enjoyed” the military genocides of Tamils. But the fact is that no positive action to assure the Tamil minority community of their right to exist in the island nation certainly would not go against Sinhalese people.
Under pressure from the Sinhalese-Buddhist majority, the president is undecided about how to punish the criminal elements among the ruling elites who perpetrated or promoted crimes in the name of democracy, patriotism and security.