On 8 January, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has dominated Sri Lankan politics for a decade, was defeated in the country’s presidential election, thus missing out on a third successive term in office. Incredibly, Rajapaksa’s victorious opponent, Maithripala Sirisena, was a member of his own government only a few months ago. Sirisena’s decision to jump ship and challenge Sri Lanka’s strongman (and his family – three of Rajapaksa’s brothers were also government ministers) unleashed waves of anger and dissatisfaction against Rajapaksa’s government and all its works. A largely unexpected political earthquake is now under way. To understand why, read Samanth Subramanian’s This Divided Island.
But this excellent, powerful book is more than just an account of how the country reached this situation. Looking beyond the confines of Sri Lanka, it also conveys an enduring truth about the nature of all modern conflicts: that how you win a war is just as important as winning it in the first place. Rajapaksa’s popularity with the Sri Lankan electorate rested on his role as the man who finally defeated the Tamil Tiger separatists after a twenty-six-year civil war in a bloody showdown on the beaches of the northeast of the country in early 2009. This, of