28 May, 2024


Collapse Of The Rajapaksa Regime: Some Lessons

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

If there is any overall lesson from the Rajapaksa collapse, that is ‘not to abuse power or position.’ Although this lesson is loud and clear for anyone in politics, it is difficult to believe that they would readily follow, unless strict rules are in place. That is unfortunately the present nature of politics and power. What is reassuring is the promise, in the 100 Days Diary, to introduce a ‘Code of Conduct for All People’s Representatives.’ The date given for its introduction is 22 January. Even with some delay, if this is introduced, it would be immensely useful for good governance in the country.

There are some rules already in our statute books which are breached than followed. For example, the declaration of assets and liabilities is a must not only for political representatives but also for certain categories of public servants and others (newspaper editors) since 1975. But this has hardly been the practice. Even when the assets are declared, there is no proper mechanism to verify them. Most of the declarations are supposed to be bogus.

The proposed code of conduct is looser than statutes. Therefore, when the ‘Code of Conduct’ is introduced, there should be a proper mechanism to monitor and implement the provisions.

The Sandcastle

After the elections, Rajapaksa regime soon collapsed like a sandcastle. Although there was an attempt (midnight coup) to hold on to power, that didn’t fortunately materialize. It revealed its artificial nature. It was so powerful, yet fragile. Only a small wave of democracy demolished it. That wave was hard to come by because of some barriers both of structural and ideological nature ingrained particularly in the South. In this respect, this time, the minority communities did play a positive role, helping in overcoming the barriers. That should be frankly acknowledged and acted upon.

Where did we have the almighty Hero this time? In the South. Almighty Hero was already gone in the North in Nandikadal. That was five years ago.

One of my former colleagues, Prof. M. O. A. De Soyza (University of Peradeniya) has vividly revealed the constructed image of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the following manner, writing to the Sunday Divaina recently (18 January 20105). That is the best description I have seen so far.

“Until around 2010, people considered him to be a devoted political leader who looked after their welfare. He was especially revered for defeating LTTE terrorism. However, thereafter, he was transformed into a different persona or a God King. It was the media and those stooges who surrounded him that constructed the transformation. Many songs were sung, calling him a Great King (Maha Rajanani). Security forces protected him, caging him in a surreal world. Many artists joined the fray. Even some found his ancestral connections to Lord Buddha! He was praised as ‘this root’ or ‘that root leader’ (moola nayake). All these nonsense seeped into his mind. He was elated. He was converted into a different personality.

Astrologers, newspaper editors and some Buddhist monks who were watching this transformation (vipariyasaya) started to say that he should rule the country for 50 more years. They opined that only Rajapaksas should rule.”

Soyza further argued that Rajapaksa’s bid for the Third Term (2015) was to keep the Presidency until Namal Rajapaksa becomes qualified at the age of 35 in 2021. That was well known. It is no surprise that Namal defended the ‘dynastic rule’ of Rajapaksas giving an interview to the NDTV on 17th January.    

Mahinda Jaffna Jan 2015It was this dynastic project that became demolished on the 8th of January, so peacefully and constructively. It should not be allowed to come back. However, in preventing a resurrection of the Rajapaksa ghost, no one should take the law into one’s own hands or indulge in dirty tactics that the Rajapaksas used to indulge in dealing with their opponents.

In this respect, it is disturbing to note yesterday’s reported police raid on Rajapaksas’ Carlton Residence in Tangalle in search of a Lamborghini sports car. Lamborghini is not the major issue in Rajapaksa atrocities. Even a car was not found. The police or the Magistrate should have used more discretion before acting upon unsubstantiated information. These kind of actions could easily be called political harassment which could create unnecessary sympathy for the ousted regime.

Although, Rajapaksa was defeated convincingly, there are people who still argue that he won the ‘majority of the majority’ in the South. The argument is based on partial reading of the election results. There were undoubtedly constructed barriers, some structural and others ideological, to prevent the sandcastle being swept away by the democratic waves. Let me give two examples.

‘Ghost Voters’

When Mahinda Rajapaksa ostensibly won 10 electoral districts in the South, these were not merely on the strength of people’s mandate. For a long time, the SLFP organizers were manipulating the electoral registers, to my information and knowledge, through their appointed Grama Niladari’s and other functionaries. Although Maithripala Sirisena was the General Secretary of the party, Basil Rajapaksa was the National Organizer. Namal Rajapaksa has been intervening in the process in the recent period with his Nil Balakaya. I have dealt with this matter with detailed figures previously in “Possible Distortions in the Presidential Elections” (Colombo Telegraph, 15 January 2015).

First there are questions about the electoral lists. It is difficult to believe that all 73 percent registered voters were genuine when over 26 percent of the population are under 14 years of age. This is without counting the ages of 15, 16 and 17. There are serious suspicions about ‘ghost voters.’ It is possible that names of migrant workers were included in the registers. It is also possible that the underage were registered through the Nil Balakaya. The critics have talked lot about the ‘Deep State.’ It is difficult to imagine that the ‘deep state’ was just sleeping during the Election Day.

Rajapaksa won higher majorities in districts where voter turnouts were around 83 percent. That is too farfetched to my opinion. Many people who were soft on Rajapaksas previously now admit the prevalence of corruption, misuse of power and political manipulation of the regime. But these would not have happened in abstract. Were they not happening during the election? It is difficult to believe that the regime didn’t have any plans for influencing the voter outcome through direct intervention on the Election Day or voting. Because the retention of power was the most important for them. Having realized that their popularity was waning at the provincial council elections they must have intensified their efforts during the presidential elections. The local organizers, particularly at the divisional levels (old electorates), were most interested in these manipulations because they have to show positive results to the party hierarchy for their own benefit.

It has been my count that at least 5 percent of votes were manipulated on the Election Day where the SLFP and the Nil Balakayas had their strongholds. If not for these manipulations, the districts of Anuradhapura, Kalutara, Kegalle and Kurunegala could have been won over by Maithripala Sirisena in addition to the 12 districts that he won at the elections. Therefore, the so-called winning of the ‘majority of the majority’ is tainted by possible election manipulations and malpractices.

I am saying this not only to discount the argument about the ‘majority of the majority’ which is particularly aimed at sowing ethnic distrust, fear and antagonism between communities. Most importantly, the existence of distorted voter registration lists or possible ‘ghost voters’ have a considerable impact in tainting the democratic process through a distorted election process.

Chauvinist Ideology

More than the ‘ghost voters’ and possible distorted voter lists, Rajapaksa regime’s grip on the Southern voters had been based on chauvinist ideology propagated by the regime, the media and several of organizations (BBS in particular) through their networks and activities. Even after the collapse of the regime, and immediately thereafter, there were efforts to spread rumors and create dissent in the country perhaps with the hope that the regime could come back on the basis of military backing. The resurrection of separatism was the intended excuse to be given. Some people were even arrested in this connection.

Two of the main rumors were that ‘the LTTE flag has been hosted in Jaffna’ and ‘stones were thrown at army barracks and/or army personnel in the Northern Province.’

During the campaign, it was propagated that a vote for Sirisena is a vote for separatism. To substantiate this claim, there was a fabricated MOU presented by the former UNP General Secretary, Tissa Attanayake, who previously defected to the Rajapaksa regime. Now he has fled to Singapore. It was irrespective of this vicious campaign that large numbers of people voted for the Swan, the election symbol of Sirisena. The opposition was branded as a tool of an ‘international conspiracy.’ This international conspiracy theory was linked up to the ‘international inquiry on war crimes’ and extremist propaganda by certain sections of the Tamil Diaspora. Mahinda Rajapaksa emotionally vouched that he is ready to go to the ‘Gas Chamber.’ The propaganda was so cheap.

Without going into further details, there is no question that there are deep seated ‘fears and antagonisms’ among all communities, apart from real issues, that opportunist political leaders try to utilize particularly at election times. On the Tamil side, there were efforts to ask the voters to boycott the elections saying that no good would come out of any Sinhalese leader and ‘national issues are not Tamil issues.’ The TNA successfully managed to counter these arguments, and the Tamil voters overwhelmingly participated in the national elections.

The election was a victory for the moderates of all communities, the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims. Let me conclude keeping this article within a readable length for the general and the busy reader.


The victory for moderation is not a reason for complacency or to emulate the old habits of the defeated regime. Any victory could be temporary unless permanent measures are taken. No government should last for more than it is necessary. However, there is a mission for the new government (I would not call it a regime) to pursue and fulfill. No change is pure. The old habits, attitudes and practices might surface unless conscious efforts are taken to overcome them. Old habits die hard! The most important task might be to prevent the Rajapaksa regime coming back in the immediate future and that means at the next parliamentary elections.

Two matters highlighted in this article pertain to the electorate/elections in the South. Although it might be unlikely that the ‘ghost voters’ would play a major role in the next election under the new government, in principle it is necessary to scrutinize or clean the electoral lists for the sake of good democracy and good governance. This might be one task for an Independent Election Commission appointed hopefully soon.

Most important and priority might be to dispel the fears, suspicions and chauvinist feelings among the electorates both in the South and the North. This is a task both for the government and the civil society. This also means moving towards reconciliation keeping in mind that there can be backlashes particularly in the South. There should be an ‘ideological’ effort to dispel fears. Mildly put, the effort should be educational not only for the people, but also for the Media, the police, administrative officers and the military. School teachers could play a major role, if those educators are properly educated! Given the restrictions on time, space and finances for ‘grand seminars’ of the old type, the best means would be to utilize the radio, TV, social media and simply written material (pamphlets and leaflets) for an effective campaign of education for ethnic, religious and social reconciliation in the country. In addition to ethnic type conflicts, it is clear that there are so many other conflicts in society and politics that need to be addressed, reconciled and harmonized. One breeds the other.

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  • 3

    Dr. Laksiri Fernando

    RE:Collapse Of The Rajapaksa Regime: Some Lessons

    “Most important and priority might be to dispel the fears, suspicions and chauvinist feelings among the electorates both in the South and the North. This is a task both for the government and the civil society. This also means moving towards reconciliation keeping in mind that there can be backlashes particularly in the South. “

    Thank you. Good Analysis. I agree with you there was likely fraud with the Grama Niladaris. This is because of the discrepancy in the different electorates.Here is another reason.

    Now Sri Lanka needs Rajapaksa Corruption Exhibitions, to Educate the Masses on MaRa, Mara,


    The 2015 Presidential Election: A view from the village

    by Bradman Weerakoon – on 01/04/2015

    The Pre-election scenario

    For the last eight months I have been living in a village in the Kalutara district. The village is situated about 10 kilometres south of Kalutara the district capital and a kilometer or so east from the sea.. The village economy is based on paddy farming and services with many young men and women commuting for work in Colombo and the neighbouring urban centres. The village is well served by rail and road transport. It is almost entirely Buddhist with temples of all three Nikayas and most people claim to be of the farming community. The village is perhaps typical of the hundreds of self – identified village communities in this south west quadrant of the island.

    The political affiliations of my village population has been more or less unchanged over the years. The five or six old families (the appuhamies) and their numerous relatives are essentially UNP. The middle level of school teachers, government functionaries, garment factory workers and retail shopkeepers are SLFP. The JHU ideology has some traction among this group. The JVP used to be strong among the “depressed “ communities of which there are a few pockets yet, but has lost its salience since memory of their ‘oppression’ at the time they were rising in the late 1980’s is yet persistent.

    What has been a remarkable change recently in political affiliation after the emergence of Maithripala Sirisena as common candidate, has been the shift of the SLFP elements from Mahinda Rajapakse and the UPFA to Maithripala and the SLFP. Since the date the Election was announced until the 25th of December the only canvassing in the village has been for Maithripala. The highlight of the canvassing effort was a joint UNP/SLFP 30 member large group distributing the common candidates manifesto and 100 day programme. It is noteworthy that the group was composed of the principals of the five schools in the neighbourhood and pradeshiya level political figures. There has been no canvassing by groups supporting Mahinda for President so far. If this village is representative of the low-country Sinhala Buddhist constituency the shift in ‘loyalties’ could presage a major swing in this sector of the Sinhala-buddhist hinterland. But of course there are yet a few days more of campaigning to go.

    ‘An equal playing field’

    It is a truism that an essential pre–requisite for a “free and fair” election in a democratic country is an ‘even playing field’ for all candidates contesting the election. Regrettably the structure of the Executive Presidential political system and the manner of its functioning in Sri Lanka militates against an even playing field as far as the incumbent Executive President is concerned. For one thing there is the rich array of state resources that is available to the incumbent to use as he chooses. Men, transport and money can be deployed with the distinction between that which is official and that which is political being porous. State media, electronic and print is particularly susceptible to abuse almost without detection or open transgression of the electoral law. Another pervasive structural feature particularly in a traditional society like ours is the perception that an incumbent President (virtually a monarch) has a divine right to his position and should not be dethroned by a mere election. Conversely the challenger is held to be an usurper who is making an unworthy attempt at the throne. The almost total absence of civic education in the school syllabus and top – down teaching methodology contributes to this widespread attitude.

    The Candidates

    Shorn of their official plumage the two candidates MR and MS are contesting for the 75% or so Sinhala Buddhist vote bank. MR as to be expected stresses the achievement of saving the heritage by his defeat of Tamil separatism alias terrorism. Although five years on, this rhetoric yet resonates. MS has no such magic wand and concentrates on waste, corruption and high cost of living. His chief 100 days project of the abolition of the Executive Presidential system has little meaning to the mass of the village who have little knowledge or awareness of liberal democracy. On the other hand his image as the authentic common man from a colony in the NCP appears to find touch with the large crowds that come on their own to his public meetings. On the contrary MR’s meetings and the publicity through State media seem contrived with social media pointing out ‘photo shop’ activity in making these appear larger than they are. Stories of the large number of buses commissioned to carry audiences hither and thither are current in the village as are accounts of unwilling samurdhi beneficiaries being dragooned for nearby meetings. The villagers mind is particularly sensitive to this kind of deceit, fraud being an ever present part of daily life.

    The campaign

    Apart from some house to house canvassing and personal information sharing especially in work groups (offices, garment factories, trains and buses) the rival campaigns have followed the usual form of the large public meeting and sponsored debates through the TV channels. An entertaining interlude was the long awaited debate between four well – known astrologers. Based on their knowledge of the candidates public horoscopes (it was divulged that most individuals have private horoscopes as well) and a stupendous background in the transition of the planets, the four political soothsayers concluded that both candidates had an equal chance – two going for one and two for the other. As the locals would have it a ‘tie / tie’ situation.

    An interesting development suggested by MS of a public debate (perhaps on the lines of the US Presidential debates) was not taken by MR on the basis that the challenger was not worthy of his time. He magnanimously offered a Minister of his Government for any such debate! The public view was that this round was won by MS.

    Cross-overs and Party positions in final week

    While some private media channels attempted to make light of cross-overs, calling them high jumps and somersaults, the lines of demarcation appear clear enough for amateur pollsters to make their predictions of what the final count would be like. The ethnic minorities, the Sri Lanka Tamils and Muslims stand clearly behind MS, the Indian Tanil vote is divided, so too the Sinhala Catholic while the main Sinhala-Budddhist seem divided down the middle. The patriotic Sinhala Buddhist vote appears confused in this election owing to the JHU and JVP (Anura Dissanayake faction) being supportive of MS. In 2009 the Sinhala Buddhist majority were without doubt for MR. Thr JVP (which is influential among the Police and Military -other ranks -) has taken the position that they want MR defeated but have not supported MS. (their reluctance to openly support MS is said to lie in their innate lack of trust in the UNP and the fear that the promise of the abolition of the Executive Presidential system will remain as before merely a promise.)

    The chances of an abuse – free Polling Day

    While the pre-election period has been marred by violence and malpractice of various kinds, the vast majority being perpetrated by the Governing party, Polling day itself in recent elections has been largely free of violence. This may be due to the large number of uniformed police mobilized for duty at crucial points but I think, more due to the pressing need for the governing authorities to display that the election was indeed free and fair. The presence of international observers (at this election from the UN and Commonwealth) act as a powerful incentive for the Government that called the election to ensure that the election was indeed so. Generally Observer teams start their scrutiny of the process too late to observe the number of violent acts (breaking up of rival candidates offices, etc) which have preceded the final “peaceful”election.

    With no Election Commission (as mandated by the 17th Amendment which itself has been amended) and an Election Commissioner chosen by the President the opportunity for bias in the choosing of members from the Public Service for election duties is wide open. However straight the Commissioner might want to be, the opportunity for him selecting persons who conduct the election being those who favour the incumbent President is overwhelming. The well known incidents of uncounted ballot papers in bundles being found after the last 2010 Presidential election is yet in the public mind. Moreover a well documented case of even the Returning Officer (the Government Agent/District Secretary) of the 25 Districts being induced to violate laid down procedures is available from the 2010 Presidential Election. Thanks to Wikileaks we know the astounding account of the Government Agent Ampara mentioning to the then American Ambassador (Ms Butennis) that he along with some of his colleagues had been instructed to, and had sent, the final results of the District count to the “Temple Trees” (the official residence/office of the President) and NOT to the Elections Commissioner (Mr Dissanayake). Small wonder that the Elections Commissioner had at the conclusion of that election and his announcing of the results, actually said on TV that this was an Election in which he could not guarantee the integrity of a single ballot box! The question has been raised as to why then no Election Petition was instituted according to the Law. The sad fact however is that the cards are so poorly stacked against the petitioner under the executive Presidential system that every attempt at a Petition has been lost in the courts.

    With this background what then is the likelihood of similar or more innovative malpractices being initiated to vitiate an authentic count. It is clearly impossible to predict what could happen on the 8th night.

    But one thing may be said with some certitude and that is that the closer the election results look to the main actors in this final act of this national drama – ie the Elections Commissioner, the Returning officers, the Presiding Officer at the polling station and the clerks and the Police on duty, the greater the chance of the procedures being correctly followed on Polling Day. The retribution that will surely fall on the wrong doer if the Opposition candidate wins acts as a more powerful motivation to doing the right thing than lofty exhortations that the public service should and will do its duty.

    • 2

      Dr. Laksiri Fernando

      RE:Collapse Of The Rajapaksa Regime: Some Lessons

      Mahinda was told he would be defeated


      Published on Jan 20, 2015
      Mahinda was told he would be defeated

      • 2

        Dr. Laksiri Fernando

        RE:Collapse Of The Rajapaksa Regime: Some Lessons

        The Rajapaksa Crisis

        The Sri Lankan Crisis like The American Crisis


        The American Crisis is a pamphlet series by 18th century Enlightenment philosopher and author Thomas Paine, originally published from 1776 to 1783 during the American Revolution. Often known as The American Crisis or simply The Crisis, there are sixteen pamphlets in total. Thirteen numbered pamphlets were published between 1776 and 1777, with three additional pamphlets released between 1777 and 1783.[1] Paine signed the pamphlets with the pseudonym, “Common Sense.”

        The pamphlets were contemporaneous with early parts of the American Revolution, during a time when colonists needed inspiring works. They were written in a language that the common man could understand, and represented Paine’s liberal philosophy. Paine’s writings bolstered the morale of the American colonists, appealed to the English people’s consideration of the war with America, clarified the issues at stake in the war, and denounced the advocates of a negotiated peace. The first volume begins with the famous words “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

        “These are the times that try men’s souls, except Sri Lankan Writers souls”

  • 1

    Dr. Fernando,

    I had suspicions about voter fraud and inquired from UNP booth agents about such possibilities and each one of them dismissed it as a remote possibility. They were confident that each voter would have to pass several party agents in the polling location before he/she was even allowed to possess a ballot.

    Your theory assumes this was not an issue. Where exactly would the hora-votes enter the system? I am curious because we MUST eradicate this menace.

    I remember in 2010 Fonseka was supposedly ahead in the upcountry areas and was predicted to be the winner, until the next day! Then we find his campaign was falling short weeks before, and the jilmart story was just a story.

  • 8

    Rajapaksa got too cocky , too impatient and too blatant in their power grab . They are not as slick as the Ghandis in holding onto power.

    Ex-Presidential offspring also too arrogant and exploiting their father’s influence left a very bad taste in peoples’ mouth.

    Rajapaksa is really a great PR learning lesson for up and coming dynasties and autocrats on how NOT to run an autocracy.

  • 2

    Just tell your mates to stop beating poor Murugans because they worked for the Rajapaksa regime.

    And they are not even Sinhala Buddhists whom you call chauvinists……

    That will the biggest lesson you can teach them.

    • 4

      I am with you Sumane. Have people or politicians learn any lesson? I have my doubts now. Tewarapperuma thuggery showed in TV, I think it is now 4th day. Any news of law and order? Video clearly shows that Mervyn Silva is a better breed than this ugly UNP MP. MS/RW should tell the public within next two days, how law & order worked in this case or why it cannot be applied against this thug…

    • 0

      You are simply a political agitator being unable to digest the election defeat.

      Police makes it very clear that there are not even a dozen of post elections complaints this time, compared to 2010.

  • 1

    I doubt there are any successful autocracies worth emulating. They are inherently flawed and eventually collapse under the weight of their own actions. The Rajapakses were not educated enough to even understand the sentiments on the street!

    They foolishly assumed all the ‘paid’ supporters were for real, and that money can everything all the time. Painful lesson it must be…sin no men?

  • 3

    New era has been dawned in Sri Lanka by electing Mr. Maithreepala Sirisena as a President who was brought up with simple and great inner human qualities by his parents.

    Fortunately Mr. President has selected and invited to take oath Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe as a Prime Minister who never stole any cent as a leader of the Country the history of his Premiership and as a leader of the Opposition.

    This is classic and incomparable characters of these two great leaders.
    We are very proud to say that they are leaders.

    Hope they will guide others, specially those who are not corrupted and those who are young and also those who are well educated to the right path to govern this country.

  • 3

    I repeatedly commented that natural justice will occur once the collective “pin” good merits of the Rajapaksa’s and his cronies dissipate. Some doubted it by commenting back on my comments.

    See what has happened.

    But i have to admit that though I was so optimistic and certain about their fall even I am stunned how quickly they are drowning.

    • 3

      But I agreed with your comments whenever you posted them. I always believed in the high literacy number the folks have claimed compared to those of each of the neigbouring countries. Then I asked myself why people failed to let all these go through their heads and why the young ones stay mum as if they are scared still. Then again I prayed atleast the youth eligible to use their franchise – numbering 0.9mio will surely be against MR politics. They hang on with IT gadgets and their communications via FB had proved to be on the right side whenever whatever was being discussed. So I think it was the cruicial factor to make a distnction between 2010 and 2015. And beleived that MS is a candidate with 47 years in lanken politics. My belief is synergy effect of the mentioned abouve led to MS victory.

      • 2

        It is very simple. 2010 was an exam ( say GCE O/L) about MR’s performance as President from 2005 to 2010. The people voted for him in huge numbers for winning the war. Basically he got an A+ for the exam.

        2015 was another exam (say GCE A/L) and Mahinda kept answering from the O/L syllabus (about the war)
        The people realised his answers were not relevant and gave him a big F (Failure)

        Time for Percy Mahendra Rajapakse to go to a monastery and read up on Dasa Raja Dharma if he wants another go at the exam.

  • 0

    Chawra Ragina proposing to introduce her son (the one who is ashamed to call himself a Sri Lankan ) to reclaim the family throne is obviously in a different class.

    • 0

      No panicks I know them very well and they have no any intention to enter srilanken active politics.

  • 0

    Dr.Laksiri Fernando.

    Well authored again.The description of Mahinda Rajapakse by Prof:De Soyza between the years 2010 to 2015 fits him like a glove! I wish MR WOULD SEE THIS.Perhaps,he will say Save me from my enemies and deliver me from my friends!
    I have heard a story to the effect that after Sir:John was defeated in 1956 and was leading a secluded life he once told SWRD,when you are KING these buggers will fall on your feet and worship you;The moment you fall they go for your throat!

  • 0

    With Media freedom, this article and comments, if in sinhala, should bring out a Nil Balavegaya supporting Grama Sevaka Niladhari to spill the beans re “ghost voters” for the benefit of future Democracy.

    Will the EC sample-test some Electrol List in suspected areas to off-
    set future guidance?

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