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‘Trouble brews in post-election Sri Lanka’

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The election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President of Sri Lanka “sent shockwaves across the Tamil-dominated northeast - where memories of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa's brutal presidency, marked by mass atrocities and enforced disappearances, remain fresh,” writes Mario Arulthas, Advocacy Director at People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL), in a piece for Al Jazeera this week.

“Tamils and Tamil-speaking Muslims went to the polls in large numbers, with the vast majority of the northeastern vote going to Premadasa. But it was not enough for his victory. His opponent, Gota, swept the Sinhala south, winning the election with a whopping majority.”

“The faint hopes for justice and reconciliation during the term of Gota's predecessor, Maithripala Sirisena, encouraged by over-enthusiastic Western governments and a Colombo-based elite, disconnected from ground realities and preoccupied with promoting superficial processes, are now gone. Sri Lanka is slipping back into chauvinistic politics which threatens to destabilise the country,” he added. 

“Gota also moved against those he saw as a threat to his government. He imposed a travel ban on police officers involved in investigations of alleged crimes perpetrated by his family after one of them fled the country to Switzerland after the election. Following his escape, an employee of the Swiss visa section was detained and questioned, a worrying development which could endanger the work of foreign embassies on the island.”

“Tamil and Sinhala media have also faced increasing pressure since the vote. Several journalists were forced to hand their computers to the police over unsubstantiated accusations of spreading hate speech. Tamil activists have ramped up their security protocols and some are reconsidering their continued presence in the country. Self-censorship has become the norm once again.

"Meanwhile, hate speech, particularly against Tamils, has exploded on social media, with no action taken against those posting. In the centre of the country, Tamils were attacked by Sinhalese, who accused them of voting against Gota.”

The Tamil community has remained defiant despite Gotabaya’s election. “Ten days after his inauguration, Tamils turned out in droves to commemorate Maaveerar Naal, the Tamil National Remembrance Day, in moving ceremonies at multiple locations across the northeast.”

“This, despite harassment by local authorities, arrests of a number of individuals involved in preparations for the commemoration and fears of a crackdown. Every main Tamil newspaper on the island covered the day on their front pages, sometimes with emotional tributes.”

“The events of November once again revealed the fundamental problem of the country and its nation-building project. The Sri Lankan political system has failed to give minority communities proper representation, while the state continues to promote an exclusionary national identity.”

“As this government has made it abundantly clear that it will not initiate the necessary reforms to accommodate minorities, the international community must condition its engagement with Sri Lanka on progress on justice and political devolution. Without these political changes, Sri Lanka will remain a failed nation and a divided island.”

Read his full piece here.