Israel is not the only place where the issue of war and peace has
distorted the usual development of the party system. Another is Sri
Lanka, where final results of the presidential election were announced on Friday.
Mahinda Rajapakse, candidate of the ruling party of outgoing president
Chandrika Kumaratunga, scored a narrow victory over the United National
Party’s candidate, former prime minister Ranil Wickramasinghe.
Wickramasinghe signed a ceasefire agreement with the Tamil Tigers in
2002, and had promised to actively pursue the peace process if elected.
Rajapakse, on the other hand, although he has tried to sound conciliatory
since his election, was the candidate of Sinhalese resentment against
the Tamils. The future of the ceasefire now looks precarious.
But the candidates’ other political positions defy the common
expectation that warmongering is the province of the “right” and peace
initiatives come from the “left.” Wickramasinghe was the free-market
candidate, supported by the middle class and the business lobby.
Rajapakse’s party is more committed to old-fashioned socialism and
state control, and his support comes more from poorer rural districts.
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The closeness of the election suggests a country deeply divided over
both sets of issues. In the north of the country, in the regions
controlled by the Tigers, turnout was negligible. Although the Tigers
promised beforehand that they would not interfere with polling, it
seems that if they had encouraged their own supporters to vote they
would have been able to deliver victory to Mr Wickramasinghe.
Then again, “only Nixon can go to China,” and maybe the more hard-line
forces of President Rajapakse will have to be brought around before
there can be a long-lasting peace.