By Hilmy Ahamed –
“Promises of a compassionate era by Sirisena or a bright future by Rajapaksa”
The closure by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), of the sluice-gates of Mavil Aru on July 26, 2006, was a crucial turning point in the Sri Lankan Civil War. By August 2006, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa committed to battle the LTTE to reopen the anicut (sluice gate) of Mavil Aru reservoir, which supply drinking and farming water to more than 15,000 families living south of Mavil Aru. President Mahinda Rajapaksa provided exemplary political leadership to the battling government troops through his sibling Gotabaya Rajapaksa on their war strategy to eliminate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) threats. There is no doubt that the war against the LTTE would not have come to a successful completion if not for the combined team effort of the gallant security forces led by General Sarath Fonseka with unwavering political support from the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration. The contribution of the field commanders of the Sri Lanka Army, Navy and Air force cannot be under estimated. Hon. Maithripala Sirisena, the opposition’s common candidate to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa reveals that he was the acting Minister of Defence during the final battle and the successful completion of the war against LTTE.
Despite all this, May 2009 will go down in world history as the day a small Island nation; Sri Lanka eliminated the scourge of terrorism that lasted during the 30-year-old ethnic conflict. This proud achievement by Sri Lanka did not come at a small cost. The ethnic conflict that grew in to one of the world’s worst internal military conflicts, took the lives of over a hundred thousand people. The LTTE, which was considered to be the deadliest terrorist group in the world was defeated not by just any individual, but by a collective effort of a team that comprised the Political leadership by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the military strategy by the commanders of the Sri Lankan Army, Navy and the Air force led by General Sarath Fonseka who directed the military assault. The diplomatic efforts were undertaken by a team of intellects who dealt with the pressure brought in by the international community. All these groups played a distinctive role in the final battle, and contrary to claims by many, no one individual could take credit for this success.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was reelected for his second term soon after this war victory with a promise of rebuilding a unitary reconciled Sri Lanka. The President’s war-winning General, Sarath Fonseka, who opposed and failed in the presidential race of 2010 was eliminated from any political role by disfranchising and jailing him by the incumbent administration.
Regretfully, with the victor’s mentality overriding all other concerns by not just the government, but by the majority of the Sri Lankans living outside the north and eastern provinces led to further polarization of the Sri Lankan population. The militarization of every aspect of Tamil civilian lives in the Northern province has been a major irritant to the Tamil population. The government initiated development programmes were confined to rebuilding roads, railways and other heavy investment oriented infrastructure with charges of absolute corruption were seen by the local population as not their priority issues. They accused the government of failing to re-build their lives and livelihood and addressing their priority concerns. President Mahinda Rajapaksa failed to reach out to the hearts and minds of the Tamil population.
The Government’s resettlement and rehabilitation programmes undertaken by the presidential siblings, Basil and Gotabaya Rajapaksa were certainly commendable. President Rajapaksa who was reelected in 2010 and managed to establish an almost impossible two third majority in parliament through crossovers failed to address the root causes of the 30-year ethnic war. This could be the biggest drawback of President Rajapaksa in his second term. He lost the opportunity to win over the Tamil population and isolate the Tamil diaspora from political interference in the country.
President Rajapaksa’s gamble to fast track a presidential election with two more years left in his second term has backfired big time. Astrological calculations based on the President’s horoscope pitted against the possible candidates of United National Party’s, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa were considered to be beyond any challenge to the president. With the United National Party’s impressive performance at the Uva provincial elections, confidence levels amongst the party hierarchy and cadres were at the highest since their defeat in 2005. All indications were that the UNP was ready to field its own candidate, Ranil Wickremesinge to challenge President Rajapaksa in his controversial third term. The nephew of the “old fox”, J R Jayawardene had other plans and with the support of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga Bandaranaike sprung the biggest political surprise of the nation by getting Mahinda Rajapaksa’s SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena to defect and challenge President Rajapaksa in his bid for a third term. This probably was the best-kept political secret in the history of Sri Lanka. It is yet to be known whether the inner circle of the UNP knew of this strategy. The roles played by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero and Ven. Athuruliya Rathana Thero, who spearheaded the common candidate strategy, is what would have encouraged Ranil Wickramasinghe to agree to sacrifice his bid for the presidential candidature. Sajith Premadasa’s strategy with support of some business and media entities to push Ranil to contest and lose, failed. This was to ensure that Sajith could stake his claim for the UNP’s leadership once Ranil was defeated.
Maithripala Sirisena with his defection caused complete turmoil in the Rajapaksa strategy for the presidential race. The investments of hundreds of millions made to tarnish the image of Ranil Wickremesinge had to be dumped into the dustbins at temple trees. The Batalanda film, directed by a veteran actor and produced by the government along with millions worth of anti-Ranil propaganda material would probably be shelved forever. The momentum generated by the Sirisena campaign with tacit support of the JVP has caused major concern for the Rajapaksa campaign. The commitment of support by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Tamil National Alliance has denied the Rajapaksa camp of any hope of drawing in substantial minority votes. The continued failure of the president and the defence secretary to address the concerns of the Muslim community with regard to the hate campaign carried out by the Bodu Bala Sena and other extremist Buddhist groups alienated the Muslim voters long before the SLMC decided to defect. The desperate attempt by the government to stick labels of connivance with separatists and LTTE terrorists due to the TNA pledge to support Maithripala seems to have little effect on the Sinhala Buddhist voters. Further, the government cohesion with hard core terrorist criminals like Karuna, Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP (the Adnan Khashoggi of the LTTE), Pillaiyan and Emil Kanthan is presented as an opportunity for peace and the TNA’s pledge of support is being portrayed as an agreement to separate the country.
The biggest ever crossovers in the history of Sri Lankan politics indicate the real threat to President Rajapaksa. The spin-doctors in the Rajapaksa camp have failed to come up with valid arguments to counter the growing support for Maithripala Sirisena. The hackneyed campaign of international conspiracy, NGO strategies, and giving into the separatist ideas of the Tamil National Alliance has failed to attract any consideration amongst the average voter. The role played by Ven. Athuruliya Rathana Thero and Champika Ranawaka of the Jathika Hela Urumaya along with Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero, probably is the main reason for the general public to reject these conspiracy theories. The total reliance on the war victory probably is what could cost President Rajapaksa his third term.
The biggest disappointment of this presidential race is the role played by the left political parties. They have failed to stick to their policies due to the perks and privileges they enjoyed during their last 9 years of ministerial office. Most of these ageing leftist politicians would go down in history as the one who destroyed the left principles in Sri Lankan politics.
The choice for the nation is between a war-winning President with impressive infrastructure development, but has been accused of total abuse of power, corruption at the highest levels and nepotism or a compassionate leadership promised by the opposition that would bring back good governance, rule of law, justice and reconciliation amongst all Sri Lankans irrespective of their religious and cultural persuasions. The statement made by Hon. Faiszer Mustapha during the press conference confirming his defection to the opposition probably would be appropriate to mention as the possible scenario. He said, “President Rajapaksa, who played a vital role in bringing the ethnic war to a successful end was the most appropriate leader for that era. Now, it is time for a new leadership to take the country to the next stage of development and peace, and Maithripala Sirisena is that chosen one”. It is yet to be seen as to the wisdom of Faiszer Mustapha’s statement and the choice of a nation on the 8th of January 2015.