Sri Lanka: Last Chance for Lasting Peace

Sri Lanka: Last Chance for Lasting Peace

The recent election loss of Sri Lankan opposition candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka underlines the island's failure to build on its recently achieved peace, while his subsequent detention brought to light a threat to its democracy. Now, upcoming parliamentary elections, slated for April 8, represent the country's last chance to build an opposition that can bring the ethnic grievances that drove Sri Lanka's civil war into the political arena, while also maintaining a stable multiparty democracy.

Incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa wasted little time in using his commanding electoral victory over Fonseka to consolidate his power. Shortly after the election, Fonseka was arrested and has since been kept in detention under unofficial charges of sedition. Some see this as an act of revenge and political suppression by Rajapaksa against his opponents. Others see it as a preemptive strike to silence Fonseka - who, as the commanding general of Sri Lanka's military campaign to defeat the Tamil Tiger insurgency, could reveal information supporting potential war crimes charges against the government.

Nonetheless, the political ramifications of the arrest have already begun to be felt. Fonseka's National Democratic Front party -- a coalition that had the support of both Tamils and Muslims -- has begun to disintegrate into its component parties, which are preparing to contest April's elections separately. While many of these smaller parties differed greatly in policy, they were able to coalesce around Fonseka in the presidential balloting because they realized the broad range of support needed to challenge Rajapaksa. Without such a unified presence countering him in April, the president could expand his majority to pick up the two-thirds necessary to amend the constitution -- allowing him to potentially consolidate his power institutionally thereafter.

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