Sri Lanka hopes President Sirisena will usher in an era of peace

Sri Lanka hopes President Sirisena will usher in an era of peace

President Maithripala Sirisena is a busy man. No sooner has he finished his morning walk around Colombo’s Independence Square than a stream of officials, visitors, business people, soldiers and ambassadors file through the colonial-era gates to his white-washed residence in Sri Lanka’s principal city.

One day last week he appointed a new appeal judge and the head of a key committee, had a two-hour security meeting, met a senior executive of a major Indian telecommunications firm, and accepted the presentation of a new astrological almanac, all before lunch.

“There’s a lot to do, and not much time,” explained a harassed aide.

This is an understatement. A month after his surprise defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose controversial rule had lasted more than nine years, the new leader of Sri Lanka has launched an ambitious 100-day programme of reform and redirection.

However, allegations of corruption, violent intimidation of political opponents, attacks on journalists, growing resentment among Tamils and mounting sectarian violence led to concern at home and abroad.

A strategic tilt towards China also worried the US and India, Sri Lanka’s northerly neighbour. The appointment of two brothers, a nephew and a son to key posts prompted charges of nepotism. The constitutional changes led to accusations of authoritarianism.