Pope Francis stands next to Sri Lanka's newly elected president Mithripala Sirisena at the Colombo airport on January 13, 2015. (Reuters)
Pope Francis arrived in Sri Lanka today on a 3-day visit. He was received by the newly elected president Maithripala Sirisena.
Mr Sirisena, a Sinhala Buddhist himself, hopes that the Pope's visit will usher an era of co-existence between the minorities - Tamils, Muslims and Christians - and the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, something that the people who voted him to power are demanding.
It was former president Mahinda Rajapakse who had invited the Pope. Observers say Mr Rajapakse may have believed that a papal visit before the elections would help him get greater support from the minorities. Eventually most of the minority votes went to Mr Srisena.
AJM Muzammil, the Muslim mayor of Colombo, who did not have the support of the previous government, is confident that the new government is going to do justice to the minorities. "Minorities were discarded by the previous president. Rajapaksa was trying to exert powers thinking majority community would be able to help him. So he lost the Muslim vote and the election," he said.
Tamils, Muslims and Christians together account for 32 per cent of Sri Lanka's 15 million voters.
MAM Hinayathulla, Justice of Peace, said that the margin of victory was only 4.5 lakh votes and the minority vote made all the difference. "It is a good lesson for the entire world that when Minorities unite together, they can go for change," he said.
CV Wigneswaran, the first democratically elected Tamil chief minister of the Northern Province, is not so hopeful. His party, the Tamil National Alliance, backed Mr Sirisena but will not join the cabinet. He says real change is possible only after Mr Sirisena gets a clear majority in Parliament. "It is difficult to do anything beneficial for the minorities because the moment something is done, the Opposition party will cash in on it and say that the government is selling the country to the minorities, trying to bifurcate the country and give North and East to the Tamils,' Mr Wigneswaran said.
Tamils, who form about 12 per cent of Sri Lanka's population, have been demanding devolution of powers, withdrawal of the Army from northern and eastern provinces and justice for victims of alleged war crimes.