Leading article: The wrong direction

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The Independent Online

By Sri Lankan standards it was a remarkably peaceful campaign. But this week's presidential election also marked a crucial moment in that country's troubled recent history.

The moderate candidate, Ranil Wickramasinghe, had pledged to uphold the ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers. He had also cultivated the support of the Sri Lankan businesses sector by campaigning for greater foreign investment and privatisation.

The other candidate, Mahinda Rajapakse, was an unabashed populist, enjoying the support of hardline nationalist and Buddhist parties. He promised a tougher line on the Tamil separatists, who make up 20 per cent of the island's population. No friend of economic reform, he pledged subsidies for farmers. Sadly, Mr Rajapakse won.

The effects of the Boxing Day tsunami on Sri Lanka revealed a badly run country with an economy riddled by corruption. With the election of Mr Rajapakse, Sri Lanka has taken a further dangerous step in the wrong direction.