Sri Lanka’s brave new beginning

President Sirisena must be commended if he means to continue as he has started

Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena attends the country's 67th Independence Day celebrations in Colombo. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP
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When Sri Lanka held its presidential election last month, Mahinda Rajapaksa was confident of winning an unprecedented third term. His conviction was founded on two main achievements. First, he directed the successful military campaign that brought to an end the 26-year civil war with Tamil insurgents. Second, the economy grew by seven per cent a yearduring his tenure. And yet his former cabinet member Maithripala Sirisena managed to defeat Mr Rajapaksa at the polls because the voters liked what they heard of his agenda. He said he was commited to fighting corruption, preserving democracy, promoting a more inclusive political settlement between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils and ending Sri Lanka's increasing international isolation.

There are encouraging signs that some of this is starting to happen. As The National reported yesterday, members of Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil National Alliance attended the national day celebrations on Wednesday for the first time in decades. Mr Sirisena is also due to visit India this month – a significant first step towards repairing relations with New Delhi and more diplomatic than his predecessor’s China-centric approach. Mr Sirisena has also shown interest in dealing with the concerns that led to the UN Human Rights Council-sponsored investigation into the events of the civil war. But again, in his trademark reconciliatory style, he has stated that he will not pursue Mr Rajapaksa over war crimes and that he favours a domestic investigation with the view to drawing a line under his country’s troubled past.

This is wise for all sorts of reasons. Reopening old wounds is always fraught, and especially if it’s on the international stage. And a vendetta against the former president would run the risk of further polarising the Sinhalese and the Tamils.

Mr Sirisena’s best chance would be to achieve some form of national unity in the non-corrosive way that South Africa managed through its post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.