Freedom in the World
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The government ended its long-running civil war with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May, destroying the Tigers’ leadership in a final battle on the coast. Several hundred thousand civilians displaced by the last months of fighting remained forcibly interned in camps for much of the year before the majority were allowed to leave or exercise somewhat greater freedom of movement in late November. Despite the war’s completion and an improvement in security throughout the country, the situation for human rights defenders and journalists remained grim, with numerous attacks and cases of intimidation occurring amid a climate of nationalist rhetoric and impunity.
Buoyed by this voter support, the government continued to crack down on dissent after the end of the war, harassing prominent journalists and human rights advocates as well as international critics. Rajapaksa also called for the presidential election to be held nearlytwo years early, in January 2010. However, in a surprise move, General Sarath Fonseka resigned as head of the armed forces and declared his candidacy on behalf of an opposition coalition in December. At year’s end, both main candidates were engaged in a heated campaign, trading charges of fraud, nepotism, and misconduct.
Sri Lanka is an electoral democracy. The 1978 constitution vested strong executive powers in the president, who is directly elected for a six-year term and can dissolve Parliament. The prime minister heads the leading party in Parliament but otherwise has limited powers. The 225-member unicameral legislature is elected for a six-year term through a mixed proportional-representation system.
Some observers charge that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s centralized, authoritarian style of rule has led to a lack of transparent, inclusive policy formulation. The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and others have noted the concentration of power in the hands of the Rajapaksa family. Several of the president’s brothers hold important posts—Gotabaya serves as Defense Secretary—and therefore control a significant proportion of the national budget and take a lead role in policy formulation. Other trusted party stalwarts serve as implementers and advisers.
For many years, the LTTE effectively controlled 10 to 15 percent of Sri Lankan territory and operated a parallel administration that included schools, hospitals, courts, and law enforcement. It raised money through extortion, kidnapping, theft, and the seizure of property. The LTTE also imposed mandatory military and civil-defense training on civilians, and regularly engaged in summary executions, assassinations, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture, and the forcible conscription of children. The Tigers’ leadership and territorial control were essentially eliminated by the end of the war in May 2009, though the possibility of terrorist attacks by any surviving fighters remained a concern.