A time for change?

Election votingThe 2015 elections are crucial for Sri Lanka. The little island nation has now decided its next leader in the hotly contested polls, with incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa contesting for the third time, after a top court allowed him to modify the Constitution in his favour.

Rajapaksa has been President since 2005 and taking him on was his former Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena. Sri Lanka has suffered vastly in the past 10 years. The war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) came to a bloody end and the country is yet to recover fully from it.

While the Northerners lick their war wounds, Muslims in the Eastern Provinces are struggling to recover from discrimination inflicted by the LTTE as well as the Sinhalas. The Sinhala Buddhist majority in the country is reeling under what many call an oppressive regime. The army rules with an iron hand over most of the country.

It is in this situation that Sri Lanka went to polls. Rajapaksa had a tough battle convincing voters to elect him again. Allegations of corruption and family rule and suppression of the free media have not gone down well with the populace. Whether a free and fair election was held, only time will tell.

Sri Lanka rose above its misery and came out to vote. If they wanted change, or if they believed in Rajapaksa, it was the time to show it. A time when the poor and the helpless could shout out through the ballot. Human rights, accountability and transparency are crucial in a democracy.

Because of fears that the election itself may not be fully free or fair, international observers were deployed in large numbers to monitor the election process to watch closely and ensure that democracy is the ultimate winner.

Sri Lankans have long suffered under successive regimes that preferred elitist economic policies over uplifting the poor. Poverty and dispossession of land have finally made it to the list of key campaign issues in this election.

Sri Lankan youth too voted, demanding employment opportunities which have all but dried up in the country. Those who have fled Sri Lanka during the war, who want to come back to their homeland, must also raise their voice and demand inclusion, putting an end to racism and majoritarianism.

Whether the common opposition candidate Sirisena can deliver all of this is a moot point. Rajapaksa’s track record speaks volumes for itself. But vote, Sri Lanka did. Change, if necessary, can only come from the people. (Khaleej Times)


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