On January 8, 2015 Maithripala Sirisena defeated incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa to become Sri Lanka's seventh President. To many, it was a surprise defeat for Rajapaksa, who had ruled with an iron fist since 2005 and defeated the LTTE in 2009, ending the 30-year civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.

The post-Rajapaksa era presents an opportunity for reconciliation between Sri Lanka's Sinhalese and Tamil communities, and early signs from President Sirisena are positive in this regard. Immediately after taking office, Sirisena announced a 100-day reform plan, which aims to dismantle the government bureaucracy built by Rajapaksa. Other important steps being taken include the appointment of Sri Lanka's first Tamil Chief Justice, Judge Kanagasabapathy Sripavan, and the release of hundreds of Tamil detainees. In addition, Sirisena has promised to lift restrictions on civil society groups and the media.

The Sri Lankan civil war was felt most acutely in the Tamil-majority areas in the north and east, and it is yet to be seen what steps Sirisena will take to provide justice to the many thousands affected in the war. However, the initial steps are positive, and the post-Rajapaksa era presents an unprecedented opportunity for reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

AuthorPaul Hastings