Elections in Sri Lanka on Tuesday returned President Mahinda Rajapaksa to office for a second six-year term.
His victory could keep Sri Lanka, a South Asian nation of 21 million, on a climb away from the problems that have tormented it virtually since independence from Britain in 1948. For nearly 30 years Sri Lanka was torn in two by a movement called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. That group's efforts to establish a separate Tamil state on the island led to conflict with the government that claimed an estimated 80,000 dead and many more displaced persons.
Mr. Rajapaksa as president organized an all-out military push to finally defeat the Tamil Tigers in battle. The effort succeeded last year. The general who led the government forces in their successful campaign was Gen. Sarath Fonseka. He became Mr. Rajapaksa's principal opponent in the election campaign that led up to Tuesday's vote.
The country's friends hope that Mr. Rajapaksa's victory means that Sri Lanka can now put the war behind it and concentrate on developing its economy. It is overpopulated in terms of being able to provide useful employment for its people. Many Sri Lankans are forced to work overseas, especially in the Middle East but including in the United States, to support their families with remittances.
Problems remain in addition to the state of the economy. The majority Sinhalese are Buddhist; the Tamils, for the most part Hindu. There are inevitably a lot of scars from the decades-long war. Before the conflict can be declared to be truly finished, Tamils who were displaced by it must be resettled productively from camps.
There is some concern that Mr. Fonseka, the losing candidate in the elections, may try to organize a military coup d'etat, a common problem in countries with bloated militaries, as Sri Lanka's is after years of war. If he had won the elections there would clearly have been continued calls on Sri Lanka's limited funds for special consideration of the military's needs and appetites.
All in all, Sri Lanka is now in line, with the war over and an elected civilian president in place for the next six years, to pursue a serious effort at economic development, harnessing the vigor and industriousness that its people are known for. It wasn't obvious that they would ever get there.