Wiping out terrorism, feather in Rajapaksa's cap
About a week before the presidential election, I visited one of my
good friends who was holidaying in Sri Lanka. My friend, a learned
surgeon has a good practice overseas.
Minister Champika Ranawaka
When I arrived, a few other friends too were there and I joined the
confabulation swiftly. The main topic was the presidential election and
the politics around it - the most interesting subject at the time.
It was a balanced conversation. Most of us did appreciate the
political leadership President Mahinda Rajapaksa provided to end the
civil war with the LTTE separatists. Undoubtedly, it is a feather in his
cap even now - wiping out a terrorist group that was a bane for 30 years
is a singular achievement for a politician by any standard. The LTTE
being the number one guerrilla movement that existed, this defeat was a
consolation for the entire world.
Having destroyed the LTTE in 2009, a unique window of opportunity
fell on President Rajapaksa's lap to take the country to greater
This was a rare opportunity a politician could ever dream of. The
entire peace-loving population expected him to make Sri Lanka a peaceful
and prosperous place for all as this opportunity dawned.
With the war victory President Rajapaksa wanted a fresh mandate for
another six years. As we all knew, the war achievement was the principal
reason behind President Rajapaksa's landslide victory in 2010. In fact,
he stood for this mandate on the promise of building Sri Lanka on all
Our little chit-chat advanced gradually, at some point, I expressed
my dismay as to why President Rajapaksa didn't want to become a Mandela
after winning the war. There was an immediate response from my surgeon
friend. He said boldly, "It's because Mahinda Rajapaksa was not a
We had a moment of 'pin-drop' silence in the room; I presume, did my
friend voice a lot by these few words.
Most of us witnessed how Nelson Mandela acted upon his election
victory in 1994.
He got elected as President of South Africa for a common purpose, he
delivered and stepped down gracefully having just done one term although
he had the right environment to continue. He kept his promise as a
I believe this behaviour is not common in the world, it takes a lot
of self-discipline; real education; wisdom and the selfless mindset and
nature of the person more importantly to sign-off in such a manner.
In the run up to the Presidential election this time, the country was
apprised as to how the war was fought after 2005. Minister Patali
Champika Ranawaka was one of the key speakers on this topic.
He did recall how the JHU-JVP kept President Rajapaksa on his toes to
continue the war at some important junctures when the latter was
hesitant over his political future.
Also, Minister Ranawaka said that the President Rajapaksa came
forward when the war was making its headway to accept the credit despite
his lukewarm initial responses. One would believe this statement to be
true as the public was not offered any counter-statement.
Also, Minister Rajitha Senaratne told the public about the futile
initiatives he took to persuade President Rajapaksa to apply for the
Nobel Peace prize.
Nevertheless, the war victory per se would not have been sufficient;
the application would require real peace-building efforts in the
post-war era for it to see some success.
After winning the war, I believe, President Rajapaksa had to select
between the following two options by and large.
(1) Becoming a real hero and patriot: This is a mammoth task. Honesty
is a must to be a real patriot as we all know. This route would have
been a real rough and tough one given Sri Lanka's socio-economic
structure. One of the key tasks would have been the reconciliation and
integration of our multi-racial and religious society. Also, it would
require to ensure equality and the economic benefits are distributed in
an accepted manner down to the grassroots.
(2) Becoming a sole authority (dictator): This is basically acting as
the sole proprietor of the country and handling it as a private property
according to the whims and fancies of President Rajapaksa, his family
and the henchmen that were around.
Unfortunately, President Rajapaksa opted for (2). In a nutshell, I
presume, he thought the country was an open cheque drawn in favour of
the Rajapakses as the war was won under President Rajapaksa's
stewardship. He gradually discarded or conveniently forgot the fact that
he was only the custodian of the state for a limited period of time.
The limitless praise and virtual coronation the public offered on the
war victory was taken as the confirmation of his ownership to the
country by President Rajapaksa. This could be a quite natural tendency
in Sri Lanka where people are too sentimental and emotional.
President Rajapaksa assumed that he and his family were bestowed with
perpetual positions in the society. Some people even went to the extent
to call him 'Maha Rajano' (king or emperor) and unfortunately President
Rajapaksa got intoxicated by the undue praise.
This self-centered thinking led him to get derailed from the peoples'
agenda and swiftly embark on a hidden personal plan.
President Rajapaksa was a brilliant actor much more than a statesman.
He had a talent to pretend that he cares about the people and this had
some success with the rural masses for sometime.
Kith and kin
As the second term began in 2010, President Rajapaksa wanted to be
more secure in his position. He did every dirty trick possible to
suppress and dismantle the opposition. One of the most deplorable deeds
of President Rajapaksa was jailing his opponent Gen. Sarath Fonseka and
harassing his family just because the latter stood against him.
President Rajapaksa violated most democratic principles and rights,
norms and traditions of the soil.
He placed his elder son and two brothers at the forefront; together
the family controlled about 60% of the national budget. On the second
tier, he placed all his uneducated and inexperienced kith and kin (the
entire living family tree) and close friends to hold important
portfolios just to maintain his sole control and the status quo over the
President Rajapaksa expected people to treat his family as royalty.
The entire family wanted the limelight. More often than not the public
witnessed the Rajapaksa family members deputise the Head of State over
the senior Cabinet Ministers.
Also, President Rajapaksa created institutions (commercial and
otherwise) according to his whims and fancies without any commercial
feasibility. In one of the election rallies he mentioned the reason to
set up Mihin Lanka.
The mere reason had been that Sri Lankan Air lines' (when it was
under Emirates) refusal to provide the seats for President Rajapaksa and
his 'battalion' for a sudden overseas visit. One would be shocked to
hear this from a person who is said to be a lawyer of that age. Most
professionals know how airlines are run. They would not refuse a
business for the fun of it. People expect professionals, at least, to
show their education in act. Some professionals show intelligence and
wisdom especially when they are mature. However, in real life, with age,
there can be two possibilities;
(1) Becoming a senior hand - This is running time holding on to
something, just count months and years; finally become a senior citizen
- no need to achieve much.
(2) Becoming a mature person - This involves acquiring intelligence
with time; basically learning from the past and getting better-equipped
for the future.
Where does President Rajapaksa stand? Did he show his education
and/or wisdom in his decisions? The act of incorporating Mihin Lanka was
similar to opening a bakery without checking its commercial viability
because one couldn't find bread one particular morning, wasn't it?
Would a prudent person launch a business risking the country's meagre
resources in this fashion? Mihin Lanka never reached its break even
since its inception, it was another added burden on the exchequer. This
is just one example. The last 4-5 year period saw prosperous times for
the Rajapaksas and their inner circle while the masses suffered on all
fronts. Most democratic and fundamental rights were absent. The basis
for most decisions was just the level of allegiance people had for the
Rajapaksa family. If one was on the Rajapaksa side he or she was a
'patriot' irrespective of his or her action and it was other way around
for the opponents. The Rajapaksas did damage the social fabric big time.
Sri Lanka was governed by two sets of laws. The government machinery was
The independence of the judiciary was swallowed and the judicial
decisions were made on the instructions that had been issued from Temple
Trees. The Rajapaksas allowed all types of ill trades in the country on
the basis; ‘I scratch your back, you scratch my back.’ Virtually it was
The law abiding public became helpless. They didn’t have a place to
go for redress. The people lost faith in the system but most of them
were helpless in front of the power that was revolving around the
Fortunately, an iota of government politicians of the past regime
were apparently clean or less corrupt compared to the Rajapaksas and
their inner circle.
But they too were helpless and didn’t have an opportunity to join
hands against the lousy system that prevailed. But, with time, they
managed to come out under the leadership of President Chandrika
Kumaratunge (as per her recent Sirasa TV interview).
For President Sirisena and his supporters, this exercise was much
more than a mere election campaign. It was a battle between
We Sri Lankans should be grateful to President Sirisena for risking
everything he had and fighting injustice on behalf of us.
As a result of much tedious action, today, Sri Lanka is blessed with
Mr. Maithripala Sirisena as President of Sri Lanka - thanks to all who
voted irrespective of colours.
With this much awaited change that took place on January 9, the
country saw a lot of liberation. It was a breath of fresh air. The much
needed environment was set in for people to enjoy their democratic
As a result of President Sirisena’s victory, the government changed
and Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Prime Minister together with a
new cabinet to implement the 100-day plan.
Some of the promises have already been fulfilled, but a lot to be
done yet. One of the salient points was; President Sirisena giving back
95% of his 2015 budget for the benefit of the people (the budget is now
reduced to about Rs. 270 million).
Although it’s important to prove the allegations, these days, the
country is bombarded with colossal bribery and corruption charges that
are being levelled against the Rajapaksas and their henchmen. There
can’t be a smoke without a fire - but the country is yet to ascertain
the extent of this fire officially.
However, it is apparent that the Rajapaksas allowed their favourites
to enjoy the country’s resources without any checks and balances while
they get secured in their positions and control the more lucrative deals
by themselves. One of the reasons for this concession granted was to
maintain a captive clan to be used as gatekeepers against criticism and
other possible animosities.
The Rajapaksas were intoxicated with power and prepared to do
anything to retain the same. That was the only thing they were after.
They never thought of a defeat. The plan was to market the war victory
and President Rajapaksa’s indispensability (the notion of LTTE’s return
if the country loses him). But, the people were really tired of the
Rajapaksas. Also this marketing strategy/tactic was dated - it is not
possible to fool/hoodwink all the people all the time.
The country has to move on, the Rajapaksa rulership is behind us now.
People’s expectations are high. The 100-day program was attractive to
the people despite the various bribes President Rajapaksa offered to
Now the Sirisena administration must perform and deliver. It’s
obviously an uphill task as the country is in disarray. First and
foremost the new administration should keep the house in order. It
includes the passing of necessary parliamentary acts and laws to
strengthen the democratic institutions of the country. One of the other
short-run priorities is bringing the people who robbed the country to
justice, as promised.
In the medium to long run, the government led by President Sirisena
must make sure that the economic benefits are distributed on a
justifiable basis right down to the grassroots. The racial integration
is an vital component of this exercise. Equality is a must in a society
to achieve long-lasting peace which is a prerequisite for economic
Easier said than done; obviously, this exercise would take tireless,
painstaking, sincere and honest efforts.
Hope President Sirisena could achieve these ambitious objectives to a
great extent in his tenure. The general election that would fall in the
middle part of this year would be crucial to take these plans forward;
hope the people of this country will send the right human beings to the
parliament for this purpose.
Let’s see how President Maithripala Sirisena will perform as the
chief government servant (as he says). He appears to be quite simple
despite his accomplishment, most decorations and privileges have already
been relinquished. He looks a well-rounded human being; his tenure has
been reduced from six years to five; his retirement is already
This poses a real contrast against President Rajapaksa who wanted to
be in power for ever and hand over the battle to the next generation
My surgeon friend was right. I believe, the aforesaid is sufficient
evidence to suggest that President Rajapaksa was not the ‘Mandela’
The 2009 opening (the war victory) was a lost opportunity for the
country. But, our little island nation could now forge ahead again to
bring about peace and prosperity as President Sirisena has won the
hearts of most segments of the society.
On the strength of achieving long-lasting peace through proper social
reconciliation; integration and distribution of economic benefits, our
noble country would be able to produce a Nobel Peace prize winner too in
time to come.
The writer is a marine engineer by profession