News / Asia

Sri Lanka Chooses Tuesday between Incumbent President and His Former Top General

Campaign posters can be seen on the streets of Colombo
Campaign posters can be seen on the streets of Colombo

Multimedia

An unusual political irony is reaching a climax on the South Asian island nation of Sri Lanka. The two proclaimed heroes of the recently-ended quarter century civil war, who are openly accusing each other of war crimes, are facing off in the country's presidential election Tuesday. The two Sinhalese Buddhists have focused their campaigns on persuading the minority, mostly Hindu, Tamils, who bore the brunt of the war, to vote for them. The election is being closely watched by international agencies and donor governments. They hope whoever wins will quickly resettle displaced Tamils, demilitarize the country and support reforms designed to protect democratic rights.
 
During his final election rally Saturday night President Mahinda Rajapaksa sat with key political allies and Buddhist monks, on a stage replicating an ancient royal palace. Singers praised Mr. Rajapaksa as both a man of the people and a modern day king. He was also praised for the victory over the rebel Tamil Tigers, ending the civil war. :

The former general to whom others give credit for the military victory, Sarath Fonseka, is the main contender vying to unset the incumbent. He leads a diverse opposition coalition with seemingly incompatible views on crucial issues. The neck-and-neck contest has gone beyond just nasty political rhetoric alleging war crimes, corruption and incompetence.

Analyst Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Center for Policy Alternatives says the campaign has seen hundreds of serious acts of violence, including several killings. "So what it does suggest is that there is a violence embedded in the political culture of the country and that it is a zero-sum political culture. And, therefore, literally, not just metaphorically, parties go to war with each other in an electoral contest," he said.

It is in Tamil neighborhoods that the fate of the election could be decided. With predictions that the Sinhalese vote will be split right down the middle both the President and the former General are courting the Tamil vote. But the big question for Tamil voters is will they be able to get to polling places on election day unhindered.  "The issue here is going to be whether there will be violence and intimidatory activity which will prevent people from getting to polling stations."

General Fonseka, who has seen some of his campaign posters on the streets literally defaced, predicts desperate supporters of President Rajapaksa will do exactly that, especially in predominately Tamil precincts." "They'll come on the road on election day. There will be a lot of violence to intimidate the people, to turn the voters back because there's no other way out for them. They already lost the election," he said.

Despite the threats, retired Supreme Court Justice C.V. Wigneswaran tells VOA News he has been urging his fellow Tamils to come out of the political wilderness.  "Despite all these heavy odds against them, of various groups trying to prevent them (from voting) or even Army collaboration in these matters, they must come forward and go to vote," he said.

President Rajapaksa, behind bullet-proof glass, in his last speech to supporters before campaigning drew to a close, did not mention the election violence.  He vowed to embrace the hundreds of thousands of Tamils still displaced by the blood-filled chaos of the civil war's final months last year.  "We will win the hearts of the (Tamil) people in the North and East of the country and make certain terrorism does not resurface," he said.

Both the President and his former top general, now a bitter rival,  express confidence they will be victorious. For the challenger, it has been a difficult to get out his message to the masses.

The international organization Reporters Without Borders says state media, during the campaign,  allocated more than 98 percent of its news and current affairs air time to the President. The group says those figures put Sri Lanka in the same league as the regimes in Burma or North Korea.
 


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid