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Sri Lanka press welcome Sirisena, shun fallen strongman

January 10, 2015

Sri Lanka’s press showed rare unity Saturday in giving the thumbs up to new President Maithripala Sirisena who had promised to restore media freedom and lift censorship on websites.

“MS in stunning win over MR,” the Island newspaper said in a headline referring to Sirisena’s victory over incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse who conceded defeated even before the final results were released Friday.

The paper noted that the transfer of power was smooth and the post-election period was unusually peaceful in a country known for violence before, during and after national elections in the past.

The state-run Daily News, which had led a vituperative campaign against Sirisena, made a volte face Saturday to praise the new president and relegated Rajapakse to a stamp-size photo at the bottom of the front page.

Just a day earlier, the Daily News had said that a victory of Sirisena “seems to be a figment of the imaginations of various interested parties”.

The Sinhalese-language Dinamina, which is also state-run, carried a banner headline saying Sirisena’s win was a “Stunning Victory”. The new administration is yet to take control of state-owned media outlets.

Sirisena’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told reporters Friday that they are “free to report whatever you want without the fear of being abducted”. He said a programme of Internet censorship enforced by the former regime was also being lifted.

The Sinhalese Lakbima paper hailed Rajapakse’s swift departure from his official residence early on Friday, a move that cleared the way for a peaceful transition.

“His stepping down is a good start for a new political culture,” the paper said, splashing photos of Sirisena and his family on the front page.

The private Daily Mirror, which had supported Sirisena during the campaign, said it expected him to be a “promise keeper”.

“President Sirisena, you rise to great heights if you are a promise keeper and not just a promise maker.”

The English-language Island noted that Sirisena had urged his supporters to refrain from harming the vanquished and said the call was magnanimous.

Sirisena’s election were marred by firebomb and shooting attacks that left at least one dead and scores injured. Sirisena referred to the violence in his address to the nation shortly after being sworn in, but urged restraint.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.