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New president Gotabaya Rajapaksa is notorious for his bloody ending of the civil war in 2009, photo Jorge Cardoso/CC (Click to enlarge)
The extremely polarised presidential election in Sri Lanka on 16 November has resulted in victory for Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the Sri Lanka People's Front (SLPP).
As defence minister under the dictatorial president, his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya ordered the bloody genocide at the end of the country's civil war in 2009.
Rajapaksa won over 52% of the votes (6,924,255) in comparison to his opponent, Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party (UNP), who won just under 42% (5,564,239). Votes for all the other main candidates fell sharply. The candidate of the so-called left, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), came third but their previous vote was nearly halved to just over 3% (418,553).
The turnout of 83.72% is historically high for Sri Lanka, and the highest anywhere in South Asia.
The voting pattern shows how Sri Lanka stands sharply divided along ethnic lines. The vote for Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the Sinhala-dominated southern districts was very high. The majority in most of the Tamil-speaking districts was for the opposition.
The Tamil-speaking Hill Country voters defied the call for support for Gotabaya made by the CWC Ceylon Workers' Congress which claims to represent them. Instead they voted against Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The anti-Rajapaksa vote in these areas was even higher than in the 2015 presidential election that saw the temporary end of the Rajapaksas' rule.
In 2015, all the minorities' rejection of dictatorial rule, along with the division that existed inside the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party), resulted in unexpected defeat for the then president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, this time, the increase in the vote in the south made sure that this was not repeated.
In a statement released soon after the election result, Mahinda Rajapaksa actually thanked voters for "decisively defeating the 2015-style attempt made to once again purloin the mandate of the people through backroom deals with various chauvinistic, ethnic and religious groupings organised around narrow political agendas".
This is a direct attack on the Tamil and Muslim leaders who turned against the Rajapaksas and tried to make a deal with the UNP to defeat them.
The terrorist bombings that took place at Easter, earlier this year, was also used by the Rajapaksa clan to fan the flames of Sinhala nationalism. The ruling capitalist UNP-led privatisations and the International Monetary Fund-led economic policies have also seen a deterioration in living conditions for many people.
In this chaos, Gotabaya presented himself as a 'strong' leader who will sort out the 'terrorist' and other problems, once again. The return of the Rajapaksa family is, however, seen as a return to a dictatorial period - a continuation of where they left off in 2015.
Already announcements are being made about changing the country's constitution to "strengthen" law and order, and making the country more "disciplined".
We have already seen some of the leading military personnel who stand accused of war crimes being promoted. All key ministers have resigned and their places will be filled by the Rajapaksa loyalists. They are expected to call parliamentary elections soon, with the aim of getting more control.
In what was a highly polarised election, the vote for the left, in general, declined. The United Socialist Party's (sister party of the Socialist Party in England and Wales) candidate, Siritunga Jayasuriya, received 3,944 votes -
despite the very favourable reception that the USP got during the election campaign.
The working-class policies that Siritunga popularised during the election campaign are more needed than ever. Creating a mass organisation or even a platform to bring together all those who are in struggle and demanding democratic and economic rights, is essential to strengthen the fightback.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not be able to deliver on the empty promises of improving conditions for all workers and poor. He is likely to continue with the privatisation and IMF-led policies, just like the previous president.
Declining economic growth and emerging geo-political tensions will see the conditions that the masses face deteriorate even further. There is an urgent need to build the fight-back. Trade unions, socialists and all activists should come forward to make sure that happens.
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Article dated 27 November 2019
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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