A Step Forward To Sri Lanka

It’s being called the most significant election in Sri Lanka in decades. On Jan. 8, voters gave a surprise victory to the opposition candidate for president, Maithripala Sirisena, and rejected the authoritarianism, corruption and dynastic ambitions of the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is to Mr. Rajapaksa’s great credit that, as soon as the people’s verdict was clear, he graciously acknowledged defeat.

Mr. Sirisena has his work cut out for him. His biggest challenge will be to keep the diverse ethnic, religious and political coalition that voted for him from fracturing as he tries to reconcile the Sinhalese Buddhist majority with aggrieved Muslim and Tamil minorities. His pledge to hold parliamentary elections within 100 days will be a good step in this direction. Mr. Sirisena must also rein in the Bodu Bala Sena, an ultranationalist and extremist group that flourished under the Rajapaksa government, spewing anti-Muslim hate and sparking deadly rampages against minorities.

Mr. Rajapaksa adamantly refused in July to cooperate with a United Nations investigation into human rights abuses, including possible war crimes, committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war. Mr. Sirisena’s new government should immediately commit to cooperating.

Almost exactly six years ago, on Jan. 8, 2009, one of Sri Lanka’s most respected journalists, Lasantha Wickrematunge, the editor of The Sunday Leader newspaper, was murdered. His murder was never solved, but, in an open letter published days after his death, Mr. Wickrematunge, whose newspaper had exposed corruption scandals, blamed the Rajapaksa government. Mr. Rajapaksa tolerated criticism from no quarter and persecuted journalists. One of the most important steps Mr. Sirisena can take to fulfill the democratic promise of this extraordinary election would be to restore freedom of the press.
(New York Times)

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