08 January 2010

The Most Interesting Election in the World, 2010

While Barefoot and Progressive may well be right that the 2010 Kentucky Senate race is the most entertaining election in the United States this year, the most interesting election from an international standpoint may be this year's presidential election in Sri Lanka.

This election will be historic for a number of reasons. First, it will be the first presidential election since the end of the civil war and the defeat of the Tamil Tigers last May. The Tigers' insurgency had raged for over 25 years and was finally brought to a close by a brutal government offensive in 2009. Many Tamils are still languishing in IDP camps and this election will have a major impact on the course of national ethnic reconciliation going forward.

Second, the personalities involved are incredibly large. The election is going to pit incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president who presided over the defeat of the Tigers, against Sarath Fonseka, the general who led the operations that defeated the Tigers and, according to India's Defense Minister, the "best army commander in the world."

The two Sri Lankan heavyweights have, predictably, begun to snipe at each other over who really deserves credit for the victory. General Fonseka has also criticized Rajapaksa's foot dragging on national reconciliation following the Tigers' defeat. This has created some odd political dynamics. For his part, President Rajapaksa has remained aligned with relatively anti-Tamil Sinhalese nationalist political elements. This has led Fonseka to align himself with Tamil and pro-Tamil political elements in the country. So you have the general who led the operation that was, by almost all accounts, a humanitarian disaster for Tamils living in Tiger-controlled areas, "championing" the Tamil cause. Needless to say, many Tamils are wary of Fonseka's newfound concern over their plight.

However, the Tamils could play an important role in the outcome of this election. They make up around 15% of the population in Sri Lanka. In the past, though, the Tigers encouraged them to boycott elections. The marginalized minority group may actually have the opportunity to play kingmaker in this election.

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