Sri Lanka is warned again to listen to Tamils or else

Sri Lanka’s election approaches as the beleaguered Tamil minority are once again treated as a commodity to be bought, sold and abused.

This column by Hamish McDonald in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald outlines a path ahead and warns that future conflict is almost inevitable unless Tamil grievances are addressed (highly unlikely, if history is any guide):

The second bombshell has been an unlikely alliance that makes this election a real cliffhanger and has Rajapaksa extremely worried. Fonseka unveiled a power-sharing agreement with Ranil Wickramasinghe, the leader of the pro-business United National Party and a former prime minister. If he wins, Wickramasinghe will be made a powerful prime minister.

An even more likely addition is the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, or People’s Liberation Front, a Marxist outfit that has mounted two bloody insurgencies in the last 40 years among impoverished rural Sinhalese, the last put down by an equally savage counter-operation by a UNP government in which Wickramasinghe was a minister.

How they would work together is a mystery but a combination of Wickramasinghe’s impeccable establishment connections and economic expertise with the JVP’s populism and Fonseka’s heroic status will worry Rajapaksa. In a close contest, it could even turn out that the Tamil minority’s vote will be pivotal – a supreme irony, in that an abstention ordered by the Tigers originally brought Rajapaksa to power.

Wickramasinghe is understood to have engaged James McGrath, late of the Canberra strategists Crosby/Textor and current Liberal Party vice-president, as an adviser. Having helped engineer the win of Boris Johnson as mayor of London against Ken Livingstone in 2008 and the ousting of the Maldives’ president of 30 years the same year, and observed his own party’s recent leadership fights, McGrath is no doubt unfazed.