Speaking to a crowd of supporters standing in the premise of his ancestral home in Medamulana at the time of having arrived immediately after his electoral failure, ex president Mahinda Rajapaksa said that even though people of the country voted for him, he lost in the election because those in the north, east, Colombo, Kandy and Nuwara-Eliya voted against him. His findings were clear that it was country’s minority communities to unseat him. Rajapaksa who clearly as well as simply understood the stakeholders of his electoral defeat unreasonably failed to discover beforehand the reality that influenced these stakeholders to dethrone him.
Demolished LTTE outfit’s chief Veluppillai Prabhakaran placed his faith strongly in military establishment itself to achieve his Tamil nationalistic objective. The Tamil Tigers’ military capability even in conventional confrontation with government armed forces and a popular support they earned from majority Tamils were one reason for his steadfast faith of this. Leader Prabhakaran therefore irrationally downplayed any negotiation or political overtures to find a settlement for Tamil cause even though these practices still remained the reality and integral part of a peaceful solution to Sri Lanka’s prolonged national question. Tigers’ leader, whenever peace talks took place, employed them as an offer to cement his organization’s military might even further instead of terminating conflict. In 2002, while Prabhakaran was engaged in peace talks with Sri Lankan government of Ranil Wickramasinghe, regional situation, geo-politics and contemporary global trend such as war against terrorism were decisively impacting Sri Lanka’s local politics and its decade-old civil war.
These realities whether directly or indirectly required the LTTE as a party of the conflict to adopt some constructive changes and flexibilities in solving ethnic problem. Former LTTE ideologue ‘Annan’ Anton Balasingham who rightly understood this fact consistently demonstrated these realities to ‘Thambi’ Prabhakaan as a need and strategy of the time in addressing their people’s grievances and aspirations. Annan also pleaded Thambi to present LTTE’s position at peace talks in line with these realities. Thambi adamantly dismissed what came from Annan. His latest summarily responses unequivocally showed that Thambi was not ready even to tolerate what Annan said to be realities. Leader Prabhakaran removed Balasingham from very LTTE peace talk delegation and appointed S. P. Thamilchelvan as chief negotiator to pursue talks on LTTE behave. He also effectively inhibited Tamil masses from voting in the presidential election of 2005, which was seen as a strategic blunder that resulted in Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming president.
Probhakaran’s simple ignorance of these realities and politically strategic mistake cost him his life. They destroyed the very existence of his well-equipped armed organization. They produced unintended repercussions in Tamil cause. They also sparked a political climate in which the opportunities to hear Tamil grievances were thin.
Mahinda Rajapaksa who became president as a result of a forced boycott of presidential election on Tamils by LTTE in 2005 emerged as a popular leader of the country in 2010 in post-conflict Sri Lanka. His powerful political leadership was built truly on a complete demolition of LTTE, an absolute war success and a subsequent unwavering support from majority people. Sri Lanka which still experienced a vulnerable ethnic divide and deep-seated mutual mistrust among its ethnic groups required a rebuilding of already deeply damaged ethnic relations in its post-conflict context. This was the reality of post-war Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa adamantly disregarded this post-war reality. Instead of pursuing meaningful initiatives to build an inter-ethnic amity, he invested his time, power and political assets to exacerbate the existing communal disharmony even further.
Mahinda Rajapaksa allowed a rise of radical Buddhist nationalist movements, such as BBS, to effectively advance violent campaigns against Muslims a second largest ethnic minority of the country. Muslims’ economy was destroyed and their lives targeted in the daylight in Aluthgama and Beruwala. Their mosques were desecrated with pork head and blood in Mahiyangana and the decade-old Muslim shrine burnt in Anuradhapura. Muslims were blocked from praying in their mosques by shutting down them in many places. When the victimised Muslim community came to Rajapaksa with legitimate concerns over the unabated attacks on them and sought a prevention of their recurrence, the leader of the country was tacitly blessing such anti-Muslim practices to happen over a couple of hundred times. Rather than bringing culprits before justice to redress victims, he was offering perpetrators a full-fledged immunity unchecked. Instead of halting these events from perennial occurrence, he was portraying them as minor incidents that did not need to be heeded. Instead of doing justice to the victims, Rajapaksa was claiming that it was his regime to have protected Muslims relatively in the history. There were also reports that it was Mahinda Rajapaksa regime to settle people from south in former conflict north in order to redefine the demography of Tamil majority in the areas, which was also another absolute development by Rajapaksa to exacerbate the already sabotaged inter-ethnic relations further.
Today, Rajapaksa lamented that he was defeated by minorities. It was not the case. Rather, he has been backfired by what he did against his people. People who were not given justice for their victimisation have given their verdict rightly to their leader. In the east, Muslims and Tamils rejected Rajapaksa with a margin of 360,000 votes. The margin from Tamils and Muslims in the north stood at 280,000 votes against Rajapaks. In Galle district of his home province, even though Mahinda won all electorates, he could not secure victory in Galle electorate of the district, where Muslims were concentrated in significant number. Rajapaksa enjoyed an absolute victory in all electorates of Kegalle district, but the Muslim-majority Mawanella electorate of the district defeated him. All electorates of Puttalam district chose Mahinda Rajapaksa, although Puttalam electorate of the district in which Muslims lived in sizeable number clearly rejected him. In 2010 presidential election, Rajapaksa won with a margin of around 1.9 million votes against his rival Sarath Fonseka. This time, he lost to Sirisena by a margin of virtually 450,000 votes. In 2015 election, his support has declined by more than 2.3 million votes compared to previous 2010 presidential poll.
Like Prabhakaran, Mahinda Rajapaksa adamantly ignored the realities of post-conflict Sri Lanka. His ignorance cost him his electoral defeat and dashed his dream of remaining life-long president. It was Muslim and Tamil communities to unseat Mahinda Rajapaksa. In his farewell with Presidential secretariat staffs, he himself said this fact twisting his low lip that “Muslims and Tamils (Muslims much) voted against me” and compromised my victory.
*Dr. Salithamby Abdul Rauff, Assistant Professor, teaches at Dhofar University of Sultanate of Oman