After the Triumph

If Sri Lanka can achieve a harmonious peace, all its
communities can get together to carve a way forward.

By Amjad Ali Siyal | February 2020

Sri Lanka has a bitter history of civil war and political turmoil. The civil war in the country, which continued for about 25 years, was crushed in 2009 during the tenure of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. This gave new hope to the citizens of the island nation that they would live in peace after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. However, political turmoil continued, the media was muzzled, and human rights abused. Although the memories of the Easter bombings were fresh, the 2019 presidential elections were peaceful. They catapulted Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the position of President of Sri Lanka. It has been hoped that the new president will respect human rights and bring peace and prosperity to the chaotic Sri Lanka.

The Rajapaksas are a prominent political family in Sri Lanka. Mahinda has also served as the President from 2005 to 2015. His brother Basil was advisor to President Mahinda as well as a minister, while the other brother Gotabaya served as the defence minister during that tenure. It was during Mahinda’s tenure in 2009 when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) were defeated and war came to an end with the death of Velupillai Prabhakaran. Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the defence minister played an important role in the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. On the other side, he is blamed for gross human rights violations, corruption and media muzzling during the civil war.

Former President Maithripala Sirisena served as minister under the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, he defected from Mahinda and joined forces with Ranil Wickramasinghe. That coalition defeated Rajapaksa in the 2015 election. President Sirisena appointed Ranil Wickremasinghe as his Prime Minister. Ironically, due to disagreements on administrative and economic issues, a tug-of-war ensued between them. Consequently, President Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and appointed former President Mahinda as the PM. Ranil Wickremasinghe refused to back down and termed his sacking as unconstitutional. The situation led to a constitutional crisis. The Supreme Court reinstated Ranil Wickremasinghe as PM in December 2018.

When the Easter bombings occurred on April 21, 2019 in which more than 250 people were killed and 1,000 plus were injured, it created an atmosphere of insecurity amongst the Sri Lankans. Against that backdrop, after six days of bombings on April 27, Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced he would run for the presidential election. For that purpose, he also renounced his US citizenship. Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised economic prosperity which requires stability and enhanced security as prerequisites. The slogan to boost security in the backdrop of the Easter bombings appealed to the Sri Lankans who voted for him. His opponent Sajith Premadasa, adhering to the democratic norm, accepted defeat and congratulated Gotabaya on being elected as the 7th President of Sri Lanka. Gotabaya appointed his brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as the prime minister.

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The writer is a development sector practitioner and can be reached at

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