By Jehan Perera –
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa scored an impressive victory at the hotly contested presidential election winning 52.5 percent of the vote when the general expectation was that a second preference count would be necessary as no candidate could get more than 50 percent of the vote. President Rajapaksa’s victory has debunked the theory that victory at a presidential election necessarily requires the support of the ethnic and religious minorities. It has at the same time shown the existence of an acute polarization, and wound, in the body politic that needs healing.
One of the main reasons given for supporting the institution of the executive presidency was that it enabled the minorities to have a say in the election of the president and thereby induce the president to be more sensitive to their interests. But President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election campaign, and the election result itself, demonstrated how appealing to the ethnic majority’s sense of being threatened and of being sidelined could unify the ethnic majority population to vote cohesively. The challenge to the new president would be to heal this division that has grown wider since the Easter Sunday bomb attacks six months ago.
The prioritization of national security in the election campaign of President Rajapaksa had popular support in the context of the Easter Sunday bombing which signified a security failure on the part of the government and its leadership. This attack gave renewed life to the existential fears of the ethnic majority who saw the problem of Islamic extremism, and its violence, as extending beyond the shores of Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa’s election campaign gave reassurance to this sense of insecurity. However, this also enabled the president’s political opponents to evoke fear in the ethnic and religious minorities that this priority to national security would translate into oppression against them.
In this context, President Rajapaksa is to be complimented for his victory speech, where he said he was the president not only of those who voted for him but also those who voted against him, irrespective of which race or religion they belonged to. The election results showed that the ethnic and religious minorities voted for the new president in low proportions. But the fact is that the minorities voted for a presidential candidate who was also from the majority ethnic community, and whose campaign addressed their needs, rather than for a minority candidate.
Ethnic and religious divides is not a new or recent phenomenon nor is it special to Sri Lanka. Like in many other countries such as in Northern Ireland, Serbia and Israel, these divisions go back several hundred years if not more. The Mahavamsa, the great chronicle of Sinhalese history, records as one of its central themes, the protection of Buddhism and the Sinhalese race from Tamil invasions originating from South India. This memory would be re-invoked by the oath taking of President Rajapaksa at the Ruvanvaliseya in Anuradhapura, which is the sacred Buddhist temple built by the hero king of the Sinhalese, Dutugemunu, nearly two thousand years ago, following his defeat of the Tamil king, Elara.
As the Defense Secretary at the time of the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, the oath taking of President Rajapaksa at this sacred religious site has a symbolic resonance with the past which could also be used for the purposes of furthering national reconciliation. The Mahavamsa records that after winning the war, Dutugemunu treated his dead foe’s remains with respect and ordered the building of a tomb which no one should pass except on foot.
One of the urgent tasks for President Rajapaksa would be to shape and implement policies that will give confidence to the ethnic and religious minorities that they will be treated as equal citizens without discrimination and protected accordingly. Many of them, especially Tamils, have a memory of the period of war when national security considerations took priority over other considerations in the face of LTTE attacks and the possibility of terrorism. The post-war period saw organized attacks on Muslims, which the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa failed to prevent or to take action against those who engaged in the violence. Indeed it was believed to have been supportive of some of the Sinhalese extremist groups that behaved violently. During the election campaign these memories were brought to the fore by the election propaganda on both sides of the political divide.
There are two major concerns that the minorities will have that need to be addressed. The first is their fear for their personal security and their security as a community. This is reflected in SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem’s congratulatory message to the new president. He said, “The most urgent priority would be to maintain law and order, respect rule of law and nurture the country’s pluralistic and democratic values.” Apart from their security concerns, the minorities also want the democratic space to further their political rights, which the Tamil people in particular have been doing for the past seven decades since Independence.
The issue of personal and community security will be easier to ensure today than it was in the past. The war is now ten years into the past. During the past five years the people enjoyed a great improvement in their freedom from fear which was partly due to the restraint of former President Maithripala SIrisena and the government, which led to the strengthening of institutions including the police, Human Rights Commission and judiciary. This needs to continue by ensuring that the rule of law functions and the police and judiciary act independently without political interference. These actions at the higher levels can be supplemented by actions at the community level, such as the strengthening of district and local level inter-religious councils, which are supported by the police along with support of the local government officials and community leaders.
With regard to the two issues of political rights and justice for past violations the new president will need more time for consultations to develop the solutions that are acceptable to both the ethnic and religious majority and minority. The inability of the present government to resolve these problems was primarily due to its inability to take the ethnic and religious majority along with it, which ultimately led to its defeat at the presidential election. With his overwhelming support from the ethnic majority, President Rajapaksa is well positioned to make a difference this time.
President Rajapaksa’s first pronouncements have been reassuring to the country at large. He asked his supporters to celebrate the victory peacefully. Violence is not only physical. There is currently a spate of very negative comments especially on social media against the ethnic and religious minorities who did not vote for him. This may be by his overenthusiastic supporters. Some of these comments fall into the category of hate speech. President Rajapaksa needs to call for an end to this as one of his first steps in reassuring the ethnic and religious minorities and in reuniting the divided polity.
In addition, President Rajapaksa has requested government officers to only place the seal of the republic on the walls of their offices and not his photograph. This is a new tradition, followed in developed countries, but not in Sri Lanka until now. It gives a symbolic indication of the modernizing vision of the new president, which is to draw a distinction between the state and government. The challenge will be to implement this rules-based and professional approach to all levels of the polity.
Saman / November 19, 2019
Wait and see how it goes.
Sinhala politicians and leaders have two characters.
When they are not in power they are very kind and generous.
When they are in power they are completely contrary to written above.
Gotabaya is not a God or divine being.
Shamil / November 19, 2019
Jehan: The Anuradhapura inauguration indicates the end of the US MCC Colombo- Tincomalee Corridor fantasy. Hat’s off to Gota for that!
Hope Gota will ensure a proper inquiry on the Easter Carnage come out with the Truth about the foreign hands behind the Easter Sunday carnage that was claimed by US-Saudi owned ISIS and AL Bagdadi
Now he must make national unity a priority and reach out to Tamil and Muslim minorities to ensure that the US does not succeed in its project to Talibanize Sri Lanka and cause a Buddhist-Mulsim war, so that SOFA and US military bases can be setup in Sri Lanka to fight the American dirty wars against China and Iran in the Indian Ocean. US is busy de-stablizing so many countries in the world and has become a Rogue State because it is no longer a Superpower and Asia leads the world now.
Raj N / November 20, 2019
This could well apply to Tamil-speaking politicians as well!
jayt / November 21, 2019
Since all of them are not Sinhalese, It not secret to have two characters. There were only two Sinhalese Buddhist were president for short period. And of cause, Pramadasa who were serving longest.
In the future, there will not be any more Sinhalese Buddhists presedent. All will be Chinese and Tamil or Christian with Sinhalese names “like president Rajapaksa’s Family”.
Sinhalese Buddhists are not educated rule a country even they got independent long time ago.
Since British gave independent, Sri lanka ruled be non Sinhalese Buddhists with foreign background
Also, Sinhalese Buddhists are jealousy against one another and do not trust each other. That is why they had to depend on colonialists to bring in Chinese and Tamil and appoint them to run Sinhalese Buddhists
(You are a Tamil or Sinhalese low cast spy hiding in this website or You are a Jew hiding in this website.
K.A. Sumanasekera / November 19, 2019
What Political Rights..Nandasean would have got done by the Tamil Muslim Votes alone, if not for that 1 Million patriotic Sinhala people.
Did our Armed Forces start the LTTE Terrorist War?.
Our long suffering Dalits even ignored free Menstrual Pads, Free Mid day meals, Free Uniforms , Free Houses and even Free Samurdhi offer to save the country from Partition.
And develop its Economy so they can have Jobs,
And their future generations at least can have a decent Standard of Living .
I am sure the 7 Million voters are more interested in those needs than Vellala Politicians’ Eelaam Dream and Punishing the poor Soldiers who saved the nation from Tamil Terrorists.. .
Besides the Vellala Party bosses refused reconciliation talks when the County was peaceful and the Economy was Booming.
Even this time , Vellala Party Bosses didn’t corporate with Nandasena , when Nandasen met the Vellala Party Reps before the Election.
That is what President Nandasena said at the Inauguration..
Nakeeb M Issadeen / November 19, 2019
Main reason why Muslims en block voted against Mr Rajapakse was that they are fearful about those who supported him. They are the same people who orchestrated the anti-Muslim violence in the aftermath of Easter Sunday carnage. Moreover his main slogan was to eliminate ostensible Islamic terrorism in the country.
However, now Muslims in Sri Lanka have sigh of relief after he won. Has he lost in the election these same racist elements would have orchestrated another revengeful attacks against the Muslims for helping to defeat him. After his victory these racist elements are happy and satisfied and therefore, there was no racial outbreak.
Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country where the Sinhala Buddhist leader of the country should look after the interests of the majority community first and resolve their socio economic grievances. Social tensions will rise if the minority communities appear to prosper while the majority community was suffering. However, the leader should maintain the law and order of the country and make sure that the human rights of the minorities are not violated. This is the secret of success in Singapore thanks to the late Prime Minister Lee Quan Yew and his wisdom.
I sincerely believe that Mr Rajapakse has got same wisdom of Lee Quan Yew to ensure racial harmony in the country by uplifting the well being of majority Sinhalese while maintaining the law and order.
jayt / November 21, 2019
My friend why are Sinhalese Buddhists lack intelligent. You cannot expect any body who are not genuine Sinhalese Buddhists to work for majority. Don’t you know history of RW and Rajapkse family. There are nearly 18 million Buddhists, but why can’t they produce enough people to rule the country without these 3 families-Bandaranaykes, RW and Rajapaksas,–all of whom related Tamil, related each other and or set up or brought by colonials.
Jayasuriya / November 23, 2019
Bullshit is oozing out of your mouth, nostrils and ears my dear jayt. You have a problem.
Mallaiyuran / November 19, 2019
Today, Up country Tamils were attacked and their properties are damaged. This will start go up when Jehan PhD’s Dutugemunu start to show his real nature. These has to informed to all Colombo embassies to send to their countries governments.
Zero-Hour / November 19, 2019
we are knowledgeable people than neanderthals voted for Sinhala NAZI GR… if I were to be commenting going through this Heading Only it would be………rewind the tape to Trump 2016 election Victory speech HARD BLOODY COPY-PASTING—please
—“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division. We have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and Independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time.
I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans. And this is so important to me.”
who the hell gave NAZI GR Copyright Authority to paste President trumps 2016 Speech this US Intellectual Property …..
Real Revolutionist / November 19, 2019
As a matter of fact
The beginning reflects he has a vision & the responsibility of the rest must be to support it, not to jeopardize taking personal preference into consideration.
nalmen / November 19, 2019
you are still living in cloud cuckoo land
T.Sathaananthan / November 19, 2019
I am very much impressed by this article as a “constructive feedback” to the President especially, “Violence is not only physical. There is currently a spate of very negative comments especially on social media against the ethnic and religious minorities who did not vote for him. This may be by his overenthusiastic supporters. Some of these comments fall into the category of hate speech. President Rajapaksa needs to call for an end to this as one of his first steps in reassuring the ethnic and religious minorities and in reuniting the divided polity”.
Ganjapani Gorakapola / November 19, 2019
Time to consider retirement, mate.
This victory, coming from purely Sinhala-Buddhist Majority vote sends shivers down the spines of the minorities.
jayt / November 21, 2019
However, nothing miracle will happen. Sinhalese Buddhists have been doing this in the last 70 years. All they did was stealing jobs from other Sinhalese and their leaders were non Sinhalese Buddhists.
And ask a question! why these Tamil tigers- supporting global propagandists celebrating Gota Rajapaksa’s victory? You don’t know why?
jayt / November 21, 2019
because they were promoting him to become president. and there should be a big reason for it. They supported him with a big reason. The reason his family connection to Tamil and Christianity as well as Chinese. All of above are espionage roots
Lankan / November 19, 2019
Another writer who has now all of a sudden chosen to ignore the past deeds of the Rajapakses and their henchman!
Height of naivety?
No interest in the concept of justice?
Just like ill gotten gains benefit no one,
how can the people even enjoy any future development that is tainted by Rajapaksa hands?
Similar to accepting blood money.
I guess Sri Lankans are not that conscientious or honourable to care about that.
Sri Lankans truly are something else!
kebab / November 19, 2019
This guy is advising all and sundry. ‘You are the president for all ..” As if GR didn’t know that.
We keep keep producing arm chair pundits but very few doers
Eagle Eye / November 19, 2019
The main obstacle to harmony between Sinhalayo and Demala people is racist Wellala elite politicians whose survival depends on depicting Sinhalayo as the enemy of Demala people.
President Gotabhaya Rajapakse should sideline these Wellala elite politicians and address the problems of low caste Demala people who are about 70%. The top priority of these ordinary folks is development that will create job opportunities for them but the top priority of elite Wellala politicians is creating a Federal System so that they can continue to keep the low caste Demala people oppressed.
Scrap ‘Thesawalamei’ and give land to Daliths.
Raj-UK / November 19, 2019
The election result indicates a deep division in the country. The winning candidate did not get the minority vote & the losing candidate, despite being a Sinhala Buddhist as well, got only the minority vote, very much rejected by his own people. The message is clear, SL is a Sinhala Buddhist country, other ethnic minorities & religions will be ‘tolerated’ as long as they tow the line. Everything else is secondary.
National & religious sentiment are vote winners & SWRD played that card well before Trump (‘America first’) & the rest of the world. The fact, that SP, riding on his old man’s wave of popularity as the man of the people, & his pledge to introduce a welfare state did not convince the masses as the better option than keeping the minorities at bay, perceived as ensuring national security by a ‘strong leader’, underpins the racist thinking of the Sinhala majority.
The JVP candidate, AKD is articulate, yet, despite the socialist ideology, failed dismally as an alternate force to many who were disgruntled with the main parties. The death of the SLFP, the family party (largely thanks to incompetent Sirisena) is now replaced with the birth of another family party, the Pohotutuwa (breakaway party). Previously, the 2 main parties formed an alliance & nominated Sirsena, an uneducated & totally unsuitable yob, because of his apparent appeal to the village voter but it was a disaster & paved the way for the second coming of the Pohottuwa & Rajapakse regime.
At the end of the day, it can be concluded that, primarily, the winner needs the backing of a leading party but irrespective of the capability & integrity of the candidate, the winner is selected by the masses as the person who would deliver according to what is considered the pressing issue at the time, how ever hypothetical it may be. There is no possibility for an outsider, perhaps, like Nagananda Kodithwakku, however capable & sincere he (or she) maybe, ever becoming President without the blessings of the leading parties but they have their own selection process. Nepotism begins here..
Eagle Eye / November 19, 2019
“The message is clear, SL is a Sinhala Buddhist country, other ethnic minorities & religions will be ‘tolerated’ as long as they tow the line. Everything else is secondary.”
At the time ‘Para’ Portuguese landed in this country, Sinhale was a Sinhala Buddhist country with 98% Sinhala Buddhists. ‘Para’ Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial parasites changed the ethnic composition by bringing slaves from Hindusthan to work in their plantations. Native Sinhalayo are not responsible for the actions of colonial parasites. Sinhale (Sri Lanka) was a Sinhala Buddhist country and it will remain so. If the descendants of Darvidians and Malabars from Hindusthan have a problem in accepting that they should complain to the colonial parasites who brought their ancestors to this country illegally.
If ‘Para’ ethnic minorities want to terrorize Native Sinhalayo, they will go nowhere.
Raj-UK / November 20, 2019
It is said that we are descendants of an exiled Indian prince & his entourage who settled down in SL & married from the local tribes. Colonial rulers brought cheap labour from neighbouring countries, since then, their descendants have been living here, just as Africans brought to US & UK as slaves originally. The descendants of such people are now citizens of those countries. For these people, despite their ethnicity, the country of their birth is their country. In a democratic society, every citizen has the right to same opportunities & freedom. We have no choice in selecting our ethnicity but we can choose our faith we are born in to if we so wish because religion is a personal belief. There is nothing to indicate people of different ethnicity or religious beliefs cannot live in harmony. It is the politicians & those with vested interests who stir up religious & ethnic emotions for their own advantage.
Buddhist temples receive donations from foreign sources, for example, Japan, as do Christian churches from Europe & US but it’s up to the govt. to ensure foreign funding is not used for radicalisation & misinformation. Wasn’t the Islamic Uni in the East established during the Rajapakse regime? The fact that the Easter bomb did not serve any purpose, certainly the Muslims did not gain any advantage, but it did put GR in the spotlight which is open to question.
jayt / November 21, 2019
This is the whole reason that I said to President Sirisena government to forget the past and accept Israelis back, and they said No!. But I found when Israelis go and offer support for their parties to come to power, they all love Israel.
ajith / November 19, 2019
Gotabaya is not an independent President. He is governed by Rajapakse family, Mahanayaka Thero’s, and voted by Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalists who believes none other than Buddhist Sinhala cannot live in this island. Mahinda Rajapakse wants that his son Namal should take over the country when he becomes 35. Gotabaya’s family, Basil Rajapakse family still American citizens. If Srilanka is against to America and Gotabaya is against to America how could America process his application as and when Gotabaya wanted. Further, if he wants to bring the independence of rule of law and judiciary there is a necessity to investigate all the murders, abductions, corruptions of the past as well including Lasantha murder, Rajapakse memorial fund and Bonds scam. Will that happen? Never, Never. It means , it is impossible to Srilanka remains a democratic nation and suppression of people’s basic rights become a necessity for Gotabaya. Even if Gota wish to give something to ethnic minorities , he will be thrown out by the same 69 million Sinhala voters.
Abhaya Premawardena / November 20, 2019
This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.
For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2
charles / November 20, 2019
Gota is our new president. He has promised that he will treat all communities equally. It is a two way lane. Gota can’ t do that from his side only. Other communities should join hands with him. Same time Gota is not anti American or Indian. Do not forget he was a American citizen before. But he just do not want other countries involve in SL politics.
Native Vedda / November 20, 2019
“Gota is our new president.”
Congratulations, please keep him to yourself.
People don’t want him as their president, 47.75 % didn’t vote for him.
They will still look for a president with humanity.
Before and after the elections the National Hangman didn’t appeal to the minorities apart from one of his b***s carriers, while he did everything possible to alienate them.
He sworn in at the Ruwanwelisaya stupa which alone symbolically sends a very crude message to “OTHERS”.
” Same time Gota is not anti American or Indian.”
He is an American with American wife. He cannot afford to be anti American as USA still have statutory capital punishment in its armoury. He cannot alienate Hindia as he has too many secrets he shared with the Hindians.
All what he does best is hang the people high if they oppose his inability to tolerate democratic principles and rights.
Well in his address to the people of this island he said he wouldn’t tolerate corruption and nepotism. Well what he does first is he appointed his nephew as his secretary, all those who discredited are back in business, including those who were allegedly involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Let’s wait and see what role Namal, Mahinda, Basil, …………..154, Weerawansa, Gamanpilla, ….. and Duminda de Silva going to play in the destruction of the country, people, democracy, treasury, Buddhism …………
Gota never gave a damn about “OTHERS”.
He won the elections fair and square in order to prove his long standing fascist view the Sinhala leaders must win only with majority of the Sinhala/Buddhist majority vote. A section of the people have voted for him. Who is going to stop the destruction?
nalmen / November 20, 2019
reconciliation is possible only if there is a truly national govt which includes jaffna not colombo tamils and key eastern provice not colombo muslims in important ministries in the central cabinet
giving more powers to the white elephant provincial councils is not the answer
a national govt as outlined above is the only solution
Bensen Berner / November 20, 2019
Gotabhaya is a killer. He has indiscriminately killed Sinhala people (22 bodies in the Matale hospital). innocent Tamils and numerous Muslims. A unique President for the people of Sri Lanka. Bensen
Vanguard / November 21, 2019
Dr. Jehan, great article, we are all hoping for a better future.
dhobys aaryaawa / November 22, 2019
There spews the know it all Jehan of NGO sponsored by USA again.
Do they still listen to his garbage after he lost credibility saying SL could not defeat the Tigers militarily? and now he and KD both pontificated before the drubbing for the handmaidens of USA.
Didn’t he spew some equine excrement here before the election? This was a clear old fashioned drubbing. If it were a Parliamentary election UNP would have been reduced to 4 seats and TNA would have got 16.. Heee heee hee. Await Eelam racists here now. Salaam.