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'Why Sirisena’s Victory is Not a Victory for Sri Lanka’s Tamils'

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Despite Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena's surprise election victory, there is little to suggest change in government policy towards the island's indigenous Tamil and Muslim communities, said Tamil Civil Society Forum spokesperson Kumaravadivel Guruparan.

Writing in The Caravan, Guruparan said that Tamils “voted for Sirisena not because they liked his candidacy but because they wanted to oust Rajapaksa”.

“As far as this electorate was concerned, their vote for Sirisena was the only way in which they could voice their anger against a regime that had inflicted enormous suffering on them, almost threatening their very existence,” said Guruparan.

On Sri Lanka's new president, Guruparan added,

“Sirisena was an integral part of the Rajapaksa regime that unleashed a horrendous war, a war that was waged not just against the LTTE, but also against the Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka. He was a part of the Rajapaksa regime that not so long ago used the military to take over vast amounts of private land belonging to the Tamils in the regions dominated by them.The regime initiated a rapid process of demographic change in the northeast in favour of the Sinhalese, and endorsed the maltreatment of ex-LTTE cadres.”

“Sirisena maintained a stoic silence on literally all of these issues during his election campaign. To placate the Sinhala vote base, he repeatedly said that he would not withdraw troops from the north, citing security reasons. Sirisena also signed an agreement with the ultra-nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), promising not to tamper with the unitary character of the constitution, even though most Tamils are close to unanimous in their view that a solution cannot be found within a unitary state. A unitary state centralises power in the centre. In a majoritarian democracy like Sri Lanka, this implies exclusive control of state power by the dominant community—the Sinhalese. For more than 60 years now, Tamils in Sri Lanka have been demanding self-determination against such a system, either through autonomous arrangements or a separate state. Furthermore, Sirisena has promised not to cooperate with the enquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014 to probe the conduct of both the government and the LTTE in the last phase of the war. Sirisena’s aides went a step further and claimed that Rajapaksa would be safe from the International Criminal Court only if Sirisena was voted back into power.”

“Under these circumstances, it should come as no surprise that Sirisena’s campaign completely ignored the key Tamil demands of demilitarisation and normalisation, a political solution that grants genuine autonomy and accountability for the crimes that were committed against Tamils during the war.”

Noting that Sirisena, alongside the island's two major political parties, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP), have maintained a Sinhala Buddhist commitment that is “fundamentally against the Tamil position that seeks self-determination, autonomy and a secular Sri Lanka”, Guruparan further added “[Sirisena] and his coalition are well aware of their difficulties with the Sinhala voters and are unlikely to do anything that could jeopardise their political future.”

See the full piece here.