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, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs