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  OPINION  
     
 
   
  Return of Rajapaksa
     
  Will he act to heal Sri Lanka's wounds?  
     
  MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA has won his second famous victory. The question, however, is: will this prove a victory for war-torn, long-suffering Sri Lanka as well?

If no readily reassuring answer is available, it is because neither of the victories has been seen as one of the island-nation as a whole. Sri Lanka and the world saw the military victory won last May over the insurgency led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) more as an end to an armed ethnic conflict. The way the war was waged, with unarmed sections of the minority Tamil community as the main victims, and their mass displacement in its wake have not created an occasion for all-round celebration.

There is little doubt about the victory of Rajapaksa and the United People's Front led by his Sri Lanka Freedom Party over retired army chief Sarath Fonseka of the New Democratic Front dominated by the United National Party. The regime of Rajapaksa, running for his second presidential term, did misuse state media and agencies, by most accounts. But such abuses alone did not account for the 57 per cent vote he won, giving him a margin of over 17 per cent over his rival.

Rajapaksa's electoral majority, however, also represented an ethnic majority. Not long ago, both he and Fonseka wore the halo of Sinhala-Buddhist-majority war heroes. Rajapaksa would seem to have carved out a bigger slice of the shared constituency after the former chief secured the support of the Tamil National Alliance and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, representing the two major sections of the minority in the northern and eastern provinces.

It is this aspect of the verdict that makes it less of a victory for Sri Lanka of a larger, composite identity. Trying to make the right post-election noises, the reborn President has promised a "national reconciliation". He has also asked the country to wait for this to happen after the parliamentary elections, expected in April. In the run-up to the presidential poll, he had rejected the idea of a north-east merger and even a federal set-up. It remains to be seen what kind of a "political solution" he is prepared to offer the Tamils, especially if he repeats his electoral triumph in the parliamentary polls.

Rajapaksa also envisages a prosperous future for the country as a hub of IT and airline as well as maritime transport. He needs to recognise that the success of such initiatives, undertaken with international (including Indian) assistance, will require a modicum of internal peace and stability.
 
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