Former Defence Secretary and presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressing the Viyathmaga anniversary celebration
- We must be the change we wish to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi
The strategic direction for Sri Lanka that presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced at the Viyathmaga anniversary celebration is both a breath of fresh air in a stale, directionless economic and social environment, and also an elevation of the need for visionary thinking amongst other candidates and political parties.
Since January 2015, the country has focused on the past, how to get at the Rajapaksa’s for alleged misdemeanours. So far, none have been proven. The coalition, likened to a plough with a Buffalo and a Bull, has been pulling in opposite directions and once the SLFP withdrew from the plough, the UNP has engaged in an impulsive decision making process without giving the drivers of the economy, the private sector in particular, any direction as to where they wish to be even tomorrow, let alone in a few years’ time.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has asked the people to give the government another chance in order to finish “unfinished” business. At the coming Presidential Election, and thereafter the General Election, people could decide on that. The question possibly uppermost in the minds of many, now and at the voting time, might be the question, “Give another chance to do what?”
Leaving aside the incumbent President, who thankfully, does not have constitutional responsibility for managing the economy, the Prime Minister who has that responsibility has never articulated a vision for the country as Gotabaya Rajapaksa did at the Viyathmaga convention.
Whether Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be the president or not, and whether the Rajapaksa clan led by Mahinda Rajapaksa should move back to the echelons of power is a matter for the people. If they do so, one hopes that they have learnt lessons from the past, and they will honour key elements in Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s speech that “everyone will be treated equally before the law of the land, there will be an independent Judiciary and the law enforcement authorities will be allowed to do their duty without political interference”.
As stated earlier, whether one likes, dislikes, hates or fears Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his articulation of a vision for Sri Lanka has to be commended. The future generations of the country should be encouraged not only because of the contents of the speech, but also because he elevated the discussion to a new level. If other candidates do not rise above the platform that has now been elevated as a consequence of this visionary speech, and they resort to the old game of mud throwing and turning their heads to the past, they should not be considered for the presidency of the country, and should not be considered for forming the next government.
The discussion should now shift to the future, and what the country could do to address lessons learnt from the past. It should shift to how leaders who makes promises, could be held accountable to their promises.
Past performances as individuals who have proven that they deliver what they promise, would be one guide about their capability to honour promises. That should not be the only criteria. The team they will pick and whether the team has questionable individuals within the team, will be an important consideration. If a candidate is beholden to various individuals and groups for his or her candidacy, and their pound of flesh, should the candidate win the election, could be one of the biggest factors that would impede any candidate from honouring promises and doing the right thing by the country. To an extent, such demands will be inevitable and not uncommon in any form of governance model, whether it is in a democratic one or otherwise. Power centres and kingmakers do exist.
However, it is the voter who could decide the extent to which such individuals or groups could influence the candidate. Any candidate who is backed by ultra nationalist, or ultra-ethnic or ultra-religious groups will not be able to travel the middle line, and will not have the flexibility to govern for all the people. The character and the quality of leadership of a candidate will be proven if he or she rejects the support of such groups at the outset, even at the cost of not being elected. The voter could decide who has had the guts to reject such extreme groups.
The last four years has taken the country backwards in terms of a strategic and visionary leadership. The political infighting between the two centres of power, the presidency and the prime ministership has caused many to lose faith in democracy and what it produces as leaders and law makers.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s speech and his articulation of a futuristic vision for the country has to be viewed from this context. His speech was above the usual political swill. He made references to all the major sectors of the economy, education, health, family welfare, women’s rights and how the country could get up from its unguided slumber into the emerging technological world.
Considering that Sri Lanka has produced a vast talent pool of professionals, academics, specialists in a variety of sectors, and many of them serving in other countries and not in Sri Lanka, and in many international bodies, it shows that Sri Lankans are intelligent, capable and able to move with the best in the world. What they have not seen are opportunities in their own country, and periodic violence arising mainly due to the culture of looking behind rather than looking ahead and the instability and uncertainty arising from such a cultural outlook.
It should now be the hope of all that all other candidates, and potential candidates, go even higher than the elevated platform that Gotabaya Rajapaksa has taken the country to, and they motivate the country to go forward, with its cultural positives, not with its cultural baggage that has chained it to the past.
The next president of Sri Lanka must demonstrate leadership qualities of honesty and Integrity, should be able to inspire others, demonstrate commitment with passion, should be a good communicator, have decision making capabilities, demonstrate accountability, have confidence in others and be able to delegate and empower and be creative and innovative. He or she must secure the country from internal and external threats and have the political nuance to pre-empt such threats as well. One person may or may not have all these skills to an equal degree, and that is where the team that any candidate produces becomes important. The voters should consider the team that backs their future president, and not just the individual. We should not have a brain drain due to the lack of a vision for the country and neither should we have a draining of brains due to lack lustre, self-serving, directionless and visionless leaders leading the country, and discredited politicians trying to decide on policy. We need a new breed of political leaders and politicians, not the riff raff that pose as leaders and politicians today.
The writer could be reached via email at [email protected]