In a commendable display of the democratic process, Sri Lankans went to the polls and freely, fairly and peacefully elected a new president on January 8. Maithripala Sirisena, a former health minister, defeated President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had been in office for nearly a decade. Voter turnout was a record for Sri Lanka with 81.5 percent of eligible voters going to the polls according to the Elections Commission. President Rajapaksa, quickly conceded the election, permitting the orderly transition of power.
Mr. Sirisena ran on an anti-corruption platform that includes strengthening the rule of law and democratic governance. In his first address after being sworn in as president, Mr. Sirisena said Sri Lanka would return to a parliamentary system. "What our country needs," he said, "is not a king, but a real human being." Indeed, the Sirisena government said it would immediately restore access to a number of websites that had been blocked, including those of the Colombo Telegraph and Tamilnet. President Sirisena also announced an end to surveillance in the country.
The election in Sri Lanka is part of a trend in South Asia over the last decade embracing more democratic governance. In 2006, the King of Bhutan ordered an end to the country's absolute monarchy. In 2008, Nepal also abolished its monarch. In 2008, authorities in the Maldives allowed it first contested election in 30 years.
The people of Sri Lanka deserve great credit, bravelyturning out in great numbers to peacefully determine the future of their country, especially given the violence that marred the last presidential election in 2010. The United States applauds the Sri Lankan Elections Commissioner, the security forces, Sri Lankan civil society, and the candidates themselves for making sure this election was not marred by unrest.
The United States, said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, "looks forward to working with President Sirisena as his new government works to implement its campaign platform of a Sri Lanka that is peaceful, inclusive, democratic, and prosperous."