By Ahimsa Wickrematunge –
Many people say that this election is a simple choice between democracy and dictatorship. What I see is more personal. I see a young child who grew up in the shadow of an invincible, incredible and beloved father. I see someone whose life was turned upside down the moment their father was murdered in a despicable and cowardly act of terrorism. I see someone who faced the terrifying challenge of trying to inch forward their father’s mission. In so telling the story of how candidate Sajith Premadasa came to be, I cannot escape the feeling that his journey, his anguish and his struggles have closely mirrored my own. The events that shaped Sajith Premadasa into who he is today resonate strongly with me because the same experiences and challenges made me who I am. At this election, one choice is a man forged in the same fires that moulded my own soul.
The alternative is the coward who celebrated my father’s murder on television. Even Prabhakharan did not boast about his senseless slaughter of President Premadasa. But Gotabaya Rajapaksa could not hide his glee when a death squash killed my father. When evidence emerged linking the military to this attack, he did not promise to investigate or protect other journalists. He vowed to shield the perpetrators from justice. Only cowards meet words with bloodshed. In my lifetime, I cannot recall a challenge Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not fled. In the face of countless criminal charges, he has never proved his innocence. Instead, he has always wriggled out through delays and technicalities. When he was in power, those who crossed him were beaten, murdered or forced to flee. During this election campaign, he has avoided debating or confronting his opponents at all costs. When journalists ask tough questions, he looks to others to answer. His every public appearance is carefully scripted and choreographed by the media moguls whose families need him as President so they can escape their own trysts with justice. In times of adversity, he has fled to America, returning to Sri Lanka only when his family safely rolls out the red carpet.
I have never met or spoken to Sajith Premadasa, but even from afar, he seems different. His is not a path of least resistance. He fought his way into Parliament in 2000 and 2001 against all odds, soundly defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa in Hambantota. On January 31, 2003, while he was building his political career as Deputy Health Minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was renouncing Sri Lanka, pledging allegiance to the American flag and living the American dream.
Despite Sajith Premadasa’s role as a minister in this government, which has let down many of us who fought for justice, I have watched him distinguish himself through his deeds, not least of which defending the Constitution against his personal interests during the coup when the Rajapaksas tried to illegally seize power last year. We saw him fight for his party’s presidential nomination and forge a new path. He is not promising results beyond his control, but to get politicians out of the way and let the police and professionals do their job. That is all we can ask. In my mind, a man as candid, fearless and dedicated as him would make a remarkable president.
I am terrified that if Gotabaya Rajapaksa becomes President, many brave police officers, prosecutors, witnesses, judges and journalists who have crossed his path in the line of duty will find themselves on the firing line. Gotabaya Rajapaksa fans flames of extremism that set the country alight, and then promises that only he can put them out. Ten years ago, it was my father who tried to warn the country about him. Tomorrow it could be your father, or sister, or brother, or son or mother, husband or wife who speaks out against him, and becomes the next to die or disappear. The danger in relying on such a man to keep you safe is that no one can keep you safe from him.
I would feel safer under the presidency of a man who suffered horrifically at the hands of terrorists, not one who took a page out of their book and made others suffer for his own personal gain.