An election campaign in Sri Lanka stirs old ghosts

Sep 05, 2019

THE FRONT-RUNNER in Sri Lanka’s presidential election in November has a boring message. It is designed to be wonderfully soothing to those alarmed by the political chaos of the past couple of years, as the president and prime minister have feuded—and indeed to those for whom the brutal civil war that ended only a decade ago still casts a frightening shadow.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who declared his candidacy last month, assures voters that the future is one of peaceful, “knowledge-based” development for all. It will be led by technocrats, and be free of the curse of politicking. His years as an army officer, “Gota” says, will ensure crisp, meritocratic efficiency.

The blandness of Mr Rajapaksa’s campaign is the message. For there is another Gotabaya, from under whom Sri Lanka has already once had to crawl. Ten years ago a horrendous civil war ended in a massive government assault on Tamil rebels on a narrow strip of beach in the north of the island, overseen by Mr Rajapaksa, who was secretary of defence at the time. There, Tamil commanders and their families were killed by troops meant to be accepting their surrender, but not before thousands of civilians trapped in the fighting had perished too.

A 26-year-old war had ended, with unspeakable crimes on both sides. But when the victorious government was returned in a...

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