15 August, 2020

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The New President Should Rise Above Populism To Become A Transformational Leader!

By Mohamed Harees

Lukman Harees

If you fail to honour your people,They will fail to honour you; It is said of a good leader that when the work is done, the aim fulfilled, the people will say, ’We did this ourselves’ ~ Lao Tzu, 604–531 B. C., Founder of Taoism, Tao Te Ching

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former Defence Secretary in the former MR regime became the 7th Executive President. He needs to be congratulated for his unprecedented victory, receiving more than 52% of the nearly 16 million possible votes, defeating his nearest rival Sajith Premadasa by about 10 percentage points. Although analysts attributed populism with the crucial voting bloc: Sinhalese Buddhists as a major contributing factor for his victory, Gota, as he was commonly called ,upon his massive victory promised to be a President for all Sri Lanka’s races and religions and tweeted ‘As we usher in a new journey for Sri Lanka, we must remember that all Sri Lankans are part of this journey’, indicating his resolve to be made his historic victory an inclusive one as much as possible. Sajith who did relatively well in Tamil speaking areas in the North and East in contrast, conceded defeat in a gentlemanly manner. Despite, Gota’s lack of political experience(in parliament or in other representative bodies),  his result oriented track record as a top level military cum civil officer in times of war may have served in part as an “outsider” appeal that ultimately contributed to his success. 

Be it as it may, according to the Election Commission the contest was, however also one of the worst ever for hate speech and misinformation and partiality in terms of media coverage. Therefore, Post- election; the challenge before the new President will be how far he will be able to provide transformational leadership with a national mind-set at a crucial time in the nation’s history, without being a tribal leader, blindly caving into the demands of his populist electorate, which led to his superb feat. History will ultimately judge him with toothcomb precision, how he set about doing this task of healing past wounds and building the broken nation in the Post-21-04 era, with missionary zeal as he promised he would. 

The track record of the new incumbent in this office – Gota, has been largely controversial, ever since he set about to provide leadership, during the regime of his brother MR to end an (‘what was called) unwinnable war at that time. He, along with his brother MR, proved to the amazement of the world long fatigued by the menace of terrorism that it is possible to beat even the most ruthless terrorist organization, provided there is both political and administrative will, by defeating the Tigers. However his credibility suffered immensely among the minorities particularly mainly because of the rights abuse allegations from the final days of the war against the Tigers, and for acting as a patron saint to hate groups like BBS, which launched a well-orchestrated hate campaign against the Muslims during MR regime, which culminated in the Aluthgama anti-Muslim violence. Nevertheless, both Gota and MR have both etched their names in the hearts of the majority Sinhalese as champions of their cause – with a profile which they now expect from a President who is taking over the mantle of office from a crackpot in the person of Sirisena whose political marriage of convenience with Ranil became the laughing stock of the world; let alone the country. Obviously, the strong leader in Gota thus made him the candidate of their choice at a time when there was (driven) fear among them by hate groups that their race is at risk of extinction as once predicted by Angarika Dharmapala. 

The populism which brought Gota to power and the electorate’s preference or demand for a person of Gota’s stature to take over the leadership was not just on account of his track record per se; rather the weak and inefficient Yahapalana leadership of the Sirisena-Ranil duo duly facilitated this too. This was clearly demonstrated in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday tragedy this April, when it was revealed that multitude of intelligence reports were totally ignored at the highest levels of government which would have prevented this tragedy. Further, this government also failed miserably to prosecute any of the so-called Rajapaksa regime bigwigs including MR as well, despite their much publicised promises to such effect, to come to power. Even those who voted for Sajith did so more of as a protest vote against Gotabaya ,with Tamil voters having long indicated a preference against the Rajapaksas, mainly because of the rights abuse allegations from the final days of the war and traditional Muslim vote back being constantly reminded about the hate campaign launched against the Muslims during MR regime . It was a fact however that even during Sirisena-Ranil era, Muslims faced similar attacks and the present rulers themselves like MR, were accused of impunity for racist crimes too. In this context, Gota’s claim for power made sense specially among the majority Sinhalese while there was a growing view that this style of strong leadership properly exercised will also help to curtail all forms of extremism and ensure a climate of security and safety for the minority communities too – the need of the hour.

This was precisely, why Gota’s campaigning heavily on a platform of national security, based on triumphalism arising from his leadership on defeating the Tigers, capitalizing on public outrage at the current government’s mishandling of intelligence reports warning of Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka stuck a chord in the hearts of the majority Sinhalese. During his campaigns, he inter-alia, vowed to take a tough stance on terrorism as President and to bring stability to Sri Lanka, which became an attractive proposition to the Sri Lankan electorate, which was beginning to wake up from decades of terrorist menace; most recently on Easter Sunday. This, along with the struggling economy were enough to allow another Rajapaksa to rise to power. His campaign was also backed by Sinhala Buddhist monks who have called for greater controls to be placed on the Muslim community, who were asked to unfairly assume collective guilt for the Easter Sunday tragedy apparently carried by a Muslim fringe terror group. In this context, the Modi-style impressive election performance without relying on the traditional minority vote bank thus proved how effective this focussed and well-orchestrated campaign, was at the grass root levels of the Sinhala peasantry.. 

On the other hand, there were widespread fears expressed about his rise to the topmost position of power, in view of his alleged dismal human rights track record as the Defence Secretary in his brother’s government, which then created a climate of fear specially among their political opponents and minorities. It was interesting that he declared his intention to contest in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks. There were also widespread allegations of a crackdown on dissent, with rights activists and journalists subjected to enforced disappearances and oft-mentioned white van disappearance episodes. The curtailment of liberty, democratic rights and freedom of speech, too was commonly experienced during the previous MR regime. 

In this context, his opponents and critics both in Sri Lanka and beyond echo the views of what Dr. Saravanamuttu, the executive director CPA, an HR advocacy group  says, ‘Sri Lankans had elected “a majoritarian, authoritarian government”. Speaking to New York Times, Asanga Welikala, the director of the Edinburgh Center for Constitutional Law and an expert on Sri Lanka, too opined this view thus: ‘Gotabaya Rajapaksa won this election by leveraging the same hard-line approach to national security and “social discipline” that has propelled populists to power around the world. This is a mandate that rejects reform, democratization, civil freedom and broad tolerance of pluralism’.

Talking of populism, in our own backyard, there is a ready example of Narendra Modi obtaining a similar historic mandate. India’s Modi has been a bellwether for global populism. At that election , the results are astounding, and depressingly showed that religious hatred and sectarian politics can be exploited to lure voters. Mirroring what happened in Sri Lanka in this Presidential elections, in India too, while we cannot ignore the epic lies, obfuscation, jingoism and hate that the BJP used against Indian Muslims and Pakistan to win the election which led Modi to power, we also have to acknowledge that the opposition effectively failed (like Sri Lanka) to call Modi’s bluff and expose his failures on every front. Hindu nationalism is a major plank of the BJP, just like Sinhala Buddhist nationalism for those connected to the highest levels of SLPP. Many analysts expected Modi to push a more aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda, and it became a reality when the controversial supreme court decision came up regarding the issue of the construction of a Hindu temple at the site of a destroyed mosque in the city of Ayodhya. 

Anti-minority hate lobby has been doing overtime to drive fear among the largely peaceful Sinhala Buddhist population about the ‘other’ whether Tamils, Muslims and even Sinhala Christians. The social media as well as even religious places have reportedly become a source of hate peddling to infuse hate among the youth and school children too. All these moves led to the populist wave which brought Gota to power. The continuation of this trend could unsettle the minorities who have already faced numerous hate incidents in the Post-war history. It is the duty of the new President to re-assure them and make them feel inclusive. It will be a big challenge however to  change the mindset of people about what sort of country they want to live in and about the strength of diversity to achieve progress rather than being in a theocratic state. 

Transformation is not quick-fixes to difficult problems. Transformation creates something never seen before. Transformational leaders bring something new into being. Such leaders have the ability to connect with the hopes and dreams of people and make them real. Transformational leaders embrace inevitable conflict in their fight for justice and fairness. They are willing to make enemies. They do not shun conflict; they confront it, exploit it, and ultimately embody it. Because transformation is from something familiar to something new, transformational leaders often do not have experience in what they advocate. One of Mandela’s greatest legacies is starting the national healing process from the moment he was released. He set an example of reconciliation and vision for his countrymen and then let them know he expected them to live up to it. Most of the candidates are not transformational leaders. Some are reformers: people who want to improve on existing programs and approaches. Unfortunately, governments in Sri Lanka have had transactional and populist leaders without a vision and personal ruler ship, for most part. The transactional leader turns his entire state into a machine for his own profit and that of a few friends.The ‘will’ of the people and ultimate sovereignty of the people have thus become a myth. Post war Sri Lanka is experiencing rising levels of authoritarianism, denigration of the rule of law, alarming levels of nepotism, cronyism, politically motivated religious violence and disturbing levels of human and financial corruption. Sri Lanka needs a transformation.

The Sri Lankan electorate has now made their overwhelming choice to have a leader of Gota’s stature to put things right. Democracy demands that the majority must be respected. It is imperative that grievances which created the populism wave to power be looked into to make redress. But, overall, there should be revolutionary change in how politics works in this country. No longer should the corrupts, cheats and those with criminal track records be entertained. Parliamentary system should be cleaned up. Gota should therefore rise above his ‘Rajapakse mixed credentials (heroes to some and a corrupt/tyrant/racist to others) cum identity’ and prove that he is more of a transformational leader than a populist. Viyathmaga should not be another fad like ‘Yahapalana’. He should move from personality based politics to policy based politics; from nepotism and corrupt politics to a meritocracy as he promised. He should leave behind his autocratic leanings and facilitate and encourage free discussion and criticism. He should be a leader for all communities rather than play to the gallery. He should tread carefully about religious and cultural sensitivities and not just be blindly guided by those in robes. Only such a leader can provide hope to Sri Lanka which is sadly on its’ way to become a racist and a failed state in the eyes of the world. Only such a leader can provide social justice and empower communities so that they will be partners in progress, and overcome poverty without depending on State hand-outs or benefits. 

Many leaders missed golden opportunities of leaving behind a legacy of a revitalized, united Sri Lanka. Gota cannot afford to miss this last opportunity to create an inclusive and a progressive Sri Lanka where all communities will feel safe as equal citizens. It however falls on the shoulders of public activism to hold the rulers to account. The intellectual wave created by NPP should be boosted and NPP intellectual base should not get discouraged by the dismal results, as transforming people’s thinking takes time. This wave of transformation and intellectual activism is the need of the hour.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    6

    Good one.
    \
    Muslims vote as a block against the man, and then make demands from him.
    \
    First learn that democracy means one man-one vote and not voting according to orders given on Friday devil worship.
    \
    Go jump in the Kalmune bay thambi. We are alright.

  • 2
    4

    BIG FAT HOPES

    • 3
      5

      How can a wolf in sheep become transtional leader ?:
      .
      This man belongs to a prison, but stupid majority is misled by the two media instititions for their selfish gains.
      .
      1) Derana TV only focuses on their pocket filling tactics no matter any misleading headlines would have been their day today news. We wish those Dilka Samanmali or Chathura alwis be punished by god, …. for the high crimes they have been commintting.
      Media mafia is at its height in srilanka since the gg rule gave them over freedom.
      :
      2). Hiru TV, a channel to have been formed by the drug money with the mediation of Rajakashes, work diehard to get their brother from the prison free.
      :
      If Gota would release him from the prison, over hundreds of sinhalayas should committ suicide for that crime.
      My wish is these men of Rajakshes be exploded by any nature cause… sooner than later, for their abusive culture sowed in this country today.

  • 10
    2

    Gota was a minority brown/black in a white supreme America for a very long period and was treated well with family being allowed to live well, own property and remain as comfortable citizens. Having felt that pulse, we have no doubt that he will treat the minorities of Sri Lankan citizenship with care, honor and respect that every citizen holds onto as a birthright. If all citizens believe and behave that this is their country and refuse discrimination of any sorts for life, liberty and freedom of worship, not trying to manipulate other people’s belief systems over which they have no rights, this land’s people can live in reconciliation. No civilized society member has a right to point a finger at another’s beliefs which contributes to afterlife. No SL citizen or any religious fanatic should be allowed to snuff out life of one with a different belief system.

    • 10
      1

      Migrants from africa, asia and south america all benefit from the pro minority policies of western nations. And many of them then support racist anti-minority dictatorships back in their lands of origin.
      Most will never look in the mirror and see their own hypocrisy

      • 5
        0

        Totally true 👏

    • 6
      0

      If some religious or cultural practices are discriminate to women then we must alter those even if we are not part of that sect, our constitution guaranteed equal rights for women can’t let some beard zealots to subjugate them.

      • 0
        0

        VADC ,

        The Constitutional rights of citizen is above the religious beliefs that discriminate, based on religion.

        So,women abuse, child abuse etc. based on religious traditions should be prohibited.

        So, Muslim school girls will not be forcibly married off, to horny old men, and Sinhala children should not be forcibly made to be 7-year Samaneras, child monks, to be abused by horny senior monks.

  • 1
    0

    You seem to be writing just to keep in touch with us. Good luck!

  • 4
    4

    It should be noted that ethnic, religious & cast differences hadn’t been a subject matter in the political platform of 3 main contenders in the presidential poll.

    It was the minority political leaders that encouraged their voters to cast vote only to Sajith, creating a hobgoblin image of Gota in their mind set.

    In a country where the majority is about 75% of the population, it’s true that the majority impact is high.

  • 0
    5

    I m sorry but I am seriously disappointed on this Article….it Clearly Lacks PUNCH….OK
    — like has anyone experienced CT access disruption today[18 NOV-2019] I clearly did….but shockingly enough nobody seems to be chatting about it….

    which leads to is CT TURNING down their TONE against GR…fear of being blocked by TRCSL……I think Yes..and this article is kind like that surely Mohamed…is more than a Hard-Core fearless Editor when it comes to Controversial subjects but in here he clearly attempts to Stay under the radar…or should we say keep CT under the Radar…let’s face it Comments are just getting Fierce to Boiling Point here and CT so CT should try and are trying to COOL thing down a bit ….give some space for GR…..

    • 6
      0

      I can see your disappointment. But this article is not whitewashing him . but lays down the challenges before him to play a transformational role rather than being a populist and cave in to supremacist demands. we cannot show the red card to Gota at every point. We must give him some space to realize. Let us watch the space whether he will realize the gravity of the role before him and make amends. The reality that he has received a huge mandate and we cannot dismiss this. Let us wait to be fair

  • 0
    5

    I wonder whether Lukman Harees would have written the same article if Sajith the National candidate had won. Only good thing is Minorities all ganged up to prove that Sinhala people have to think the same way, If discrmination and oppression from minorities are to over come.

  • 2
    5

    The results demand Lukman and their ilk to be more introspective. They challenged the nation. TNA ran the gauntlet. Badurdeen threatened. It elicited a response they never expected. Gota had to acknowledge it in his inaugural speech. When the minorities decided to corner Gota, I mentioned that it would not be a wise move. It is important minorities genuinely extend cooperation to Gota and become partners. This would be a difficult task especially due to the kind of bridge burning the minorities resorted to in recent times. Nevertheless it is a must. The natives will be watching this space.

    • 2
      0

      Hela you stupid Fella minorities dont extend Coperation to a CRIMINAL elected by Racists like you. TNA didnt run the Gauntlet it is the World Leaders who are running the Gauntlet by refusing to Congratulate him, Modi rang him to summon him to Delhi and Gotha duly obeyed.

  • 1
    1

    So what are your suggestions for this TRANSFORMATIONAL thing in point form .., Mate?.

    Bathudeen is already waving at Nandasena , It wouldn’t be long before he buys a Maroon Flag..

    I know Kabir Hasheem has resigned.
    Wonder whether Rauf Hakeem, Haleem, and the others who who flocked together after that fateful Easter Sunday and got ALL CLEAR from Dr Ranil’s PSC will follow suit?..

    Most Rev Cardinal is still struggling in his Sermons , because he still does not know what to tell his Flock how such a devastating thing could happen to them when their favourite Leaders were taking care of them in the Government..

    Our Economy is only 1.6 % this year .
    It is already in recession.
    If not addressed it will be certainly Depression next Year.

    Then there are 11 Billion Rupiahs un accounted for in our EPF funds.

    I don’t know how many are waiting in the Previous Prezz’s List to go the Gallows

    Mangala Samraweera has already removed one bit from the Triple Gem and made it Double Gem.And he is still looking after our Treasury.

    I don’t know how many are still inside, from the suspects whom the defeated Ex General picked up after Easter.

    Sooner you give your T List, better it will be for the new President because he seems to have his work cut out already..

  • 1
    2

    You Muslims first correct your bunch – Hakeem, Bathurdeen , Hisbulla who aided and abetted terrorism before preaching to the newly elected President.

    Who knows what he is doing.

    You can try that crap with Ranil – modaya.

    You did not write any thing against the Easter Sunday Bombers now you are comming to teach us?

  • 1
    3

    I would caution everyone to read carefully review all articles by this author. He is a Islamic Taqqia Master. Soon he will sing a totally different song. He will try to endear himself to the Gotaby team and work towards his goals of achieving a Moslem majority Lanka by 2040 which is under way right now. Not by gun but by the sheer number of Moslem births and clandestine attacks on poor Lankans through economic and other means. Gotaby cannot achieve his goals unless he takes the economy away from the hands of fanatic, ISIS devout Moslems, who use every dollar they earn outside and the money they usurp from the Kaffirs to further their goal of establishing the Islamic Republic of Lanka by latest 2050.

    I wish Lanka well and all Kaffirs well. I hope they will resist the Taqqia and not allow them to dow dissent and chaos into the victory won at the ballot box.

    • 1
      0

      Muslim bashing going on as usual . What bl….dy taqiya you are referring to? Just take your medication on time.
      I can’t see any indication of defending or pacify Gota. It is an article which talks of the challenges for the new president
      If he cannot be sensible enough to be a transformational leader and play populism game, then he will reap what he sow.
      Let us give him some space, shall we?

      • 0
        0

        Your ineptitude is in full display. Go read up on Islam and Taqqia you dubitante.

        First time is fine, next time I will call a retard a retard. Moslems of Lanka have plans to overwhelm the non-Moslem Kaffirs and after decades of cold war -economic attacks, impoverishment of Sinhalese and Tamil villagers, usurpation of every asset, building mosque after mosque, they reached the zenith of their arrogance in April with the Easter Sunday massacre. This author is an apologist for all those crimes. Just because you have not followed his previous writing and have probably no wish to do so, try not to be a retard by judging the man by one article. He is a TAQQIA MASTER!! Just continue to read his articles and you will see what I mean.

  • 2
    0

    Lukman Harees

    You are joking arent you. Why do you think he has kept the Defence Portfolio for himself. That is because he can abduct any one who challenges him except the World Leaders who have ignored him in a White Van

    • 0
      0

      you need to keep GR some space without just showing the red card. Let us see whether he is going to be a different Gota as the President . If not, consequences will have to be borne by him internationally as well as locally

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