The presidential election ended and power was transferred from Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was referred as the ‘King of Sri Lanka,’ to a commoner.
Rajapaksa, when he was the M
inister of Labour under President Chandrika Kumaratunga, used the funds of the Employees Trust Fund to purchase Salt Corporation, which was privatised by the then Government. After a directive of the President, he sold it. He wanted to have control of the Salt Corporation in expense of the hard-earned money of the contributors to the ETF.
Later when he was the Prime Minister, several private companies including John Keells contributed to the tsunami fund and he transferred the funds dubiously to a private fund called ‘Helping Hambantota’. When a case was filed, the then Chief Justice had freed him from all charges. It was proved that the judgment was biased once the same Judge after retirement apologised to the public openly for the wrong judgment delivered.
If an unbiased judgment was delivered, Rajapaksa would have not been the President of Sri Lanka. From the outset, Rajapaksa displayed suspicious behaviour and this paved the way for his unorthodox behaviour which brought disaster to him as well as to the nation.
‘King of Sri Lanka’
After the war victory he was referred as the ‘King of Sri Lanka’. When the time went on the ‘King’ was drunk with power, whereas his subjects, whether they were rural or urban, rich or poor, educated or not, were drunk with the war victory and unfortunately some of them still are.
This writer started criticising the acts of the regime which were in the view of the writer going against the interests of the general public of this country from 2011 writing to a Sinhala tabloid Samabima and for the Daily FT much later.
Rajapaksa and Mandela got similar opportunities and unfortunately Rajapaksa was unable to live up to the huge image of him created after the war unlike his counterpart. Same Rajapaksa, the dwarf, was living inside that huge image and that was the tragedy faced by him and the nation.
Sinhala Buddhist vote
He came into power in 2010 mainly from the votes of the majority Sinhala Buddhists setting aside a myth hitherto believed that a candidate of a presidential election should secure the support of the minority votes in order to win. Sinhala Buddhists supported him en bloc as gratitude for winning the war.
This paved the way for another myth that a presidential election could be won by simply appeasing the Sinhala Buddhists at the expense of the minorities of the country. That was the policy adapted by the Rajapaksa regime in local politics, which severely affected ethnic and religious harmony in the country.
Since this naïve policy was extended beyond the borders of Sri Lanka, the country was becoming an international pariah gradually with more affiliations of similar states internationally. Underneath this appeasement of the Sinhala Buddhists, it was pointed out that large sums of money exchanged hands.
That was the basic thinking and the resultant action of the Rajapaksa regime which were designed and implemented to achieve the goals and interests of Rajapaksa family at the expense of the same of the nation. Therefore, it is the time to wake up from hallucinations of the war victory for those who are experiencing the same even now.
Marginalisation of Tamil people
Rajapaksa deliberately refrained from giving honour to the Tamils after the war. This was quite in contrast to the way Dutugemunu acted after defeating Elara two millennia back; the way Vijayabahu the Great acted after defeating Chola invaders at a decisive time of the history of the nation, a millennium back; and the way Mandela acted after becoming the first black President of South Africa two decades back.
He acted in this manner to suit his grand strategy which was not described in the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’. The Northern Provincial Council election was held under Indian pressure and thereafter irrespective of the political gesture extended by the Chief Minister to take oaths in front of him, Rajapaksa continued to intimidate the Council by using the Governor.
Rajapaksa has given deliberate false promises to the Secretary General of United Nations and to the Prime Minister of India in relation to the distribution of power to the Tamils and thereby degraded the credibility of Sri Lankan State in the eyes of the international community.
When the act of marginalisation of the Tamils in order to appease the Sinhala Buddhists took place, India started pressurising the regime since India had supported to destroy the LTTE on the condition that suitable power sharing should take place after the war.
In order to balance Indian pressure, the regime got closer to China, which antagonised the West as well. In addition to the political advantage the regime got from China in international organisations, it was reported that the regime got their palms oiled well.
Rajapaksa could have avoided the tragedy faced at the UN Human Rights council by extending Tamils the hand of peace and by implementing the recommendations of the Commission appointed by himself. These were simple things which could have been done with ease unless he had those ulterior motives of appeasing Sinhala Buddhists for votes.
When the Sinhala Buddhists started realising the facts, Rajapaksa wanted another enemy and they were the Muslims and to a great extent minority Christian sects. The infamous Bodu Bala Sena was a creation of the Rajapaksa family either actively by initiating the process or passively by deliberately avoiding taking any action against their illegal activities in the name of the Buddhists which is an insult to true Buddhists.
In his economic policy, industry and especially exporters were nowhere. It was an anti-export policy. It created quite a number of cronies. Just as Rajapaksa took control of the Salt Corporation when he was a minister, his Government gradually got control of various private institutions, especially banks. Instead of exports, the reliance was on foreign remittances from the persons, mainly housemaids, who went abroad because of the unfavourable conditions in the country.
Rajapaksa ruled the country in the manner a mafia leader rules his gang with utter disrespect for law and order. The Parliament and unfortunately the Supreme Court supported this mafia type of rule which created a dire necessity for good governance and this was capitalised on well by the Opposition in the election although certain political analysts had different views.
With poor governance and ample corruption, Rajapaksa started losing his Sinhala Buddhist vote base and with the alienation of the minority votes which was his strategy, he lost the election. There were reports that he attempted to stay in power illegally – legality was not at all a concern for him – which was foiled by the courageous public servants.
Golden opportunity lost
All in all Rajapaksa, after winning the war for which he should be commended unconditionally, lost a golden opportunity to become the king of the hearts of all Sri Lankans forever mainly because of his short-sightedness and placing his own goal ahead of the goal of the nation.
To achieve this, he misled the majority Sinhala Buddhists, bringing in false allegations of international conspiracies. International pressure was a reaction to the outcome of his grand strategy to appease the Sinhala Buddhists. Thus he was a mere politician, not a statesman.
Establishing good governance
We congratulate the new President Maithripala Sirisena and his actions so far are in line with his promises. Civil society should keep a close eye of the work of the new Government and extend whatever the support they need in order to bring Sri Lanka back to its track with establishing good governance and rule of law, which will bring much needed Foreign Direct Investments to the country, not just gamblers and cronies. At the Supreme Court we should have credible judges such as the late Mark Fernando.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe during the election campaign said he would not start investigations against his friends and Mahinda Rajapaksa was a friend of his. This is not an affair of friends and foes. This is an affair of establishing good governance which can be done only by punishing the wrongdoers after a proper investigation by a proper authority and not by a kangaroo court which seals chances of any deals in future to punish or not to punish the future wrongdoers.
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and holds a Master of Business Administration degree awarded by the Postgraduate Institute of Management of University of Sri Jayewardenepura.)