By Helasingha Bandara –
The Rajapaksas were brought back into power by, in other people’s words, a whopping margin. The Rajapaksas are in power be they Gotabaya,Malinda, Chamal, Basil or Namal. This victory was easily predictable although some sections of Sri Lanka society believed that no one could win without the minority vote. The election results have been interpreted by different people in numerous ways. My intention is to analyse the verdict of the people against the suggestion that people have reversed their mandate of the 2015 presidential election. Have they?
In 2015 people decided to teach the Rajapaksas a lesson despite the tangible achievements of the Rajapaksa regime. For the defeat of the LTTE, their contribution was hugely significant. Economic growth came along with numerous other benefits usually attached to peace times. The development of an island wide transport infrastructure was one visible difference that the Rajapaksa regime made. That enabled the rural child to go to a good school and country farmers to seek a relatively fair price for their produce. There were many other progressive steps they had taken.
Mahinda had the best opportunity to be the Mahathir Mohamad of Sri Lanka. He missed the opportunity by being short sighted. His megalomaniacal attitude that made him wanting to establish himself as a king, his unnecessary desire to promote his family, his misbelief that the corrupt elements who surrounded him needed to be protected for his own survival, were some of the errors that caused the people to reject him. People have resurrected Rajapaksas with the hope that they have learnt a lesson. If Rajapaksas believe that people have forgotten their misdeeds and forgiven them forever, such a belief would mislead them to commit the same mistakes. That would be disastrous for the country and for themselves as well. This time the people would send them heading towards political wilderness, never to return again.
This victory was not something spectacular that was achieved on a manifesto of an unprecedented governance system that they have suddenly discovered as the panacea for all evils of Sri Lanka but on some chancing factors.
Ranasingha Premadasa was hated by a minimum of 60,000 Sri Lankan families for his murderous rule. Taken together the victims’ immediate families and the extended families, let’s assume that they have added 10 votes in each family over the past 30 or so years since Premadasa’s death. That is 600000 votes alone. Those families have never forgiven Premadasa and never wish any of his descendants to rule this country ever again.
Sirisena and Ranil coalition was given a mandate for a righteous rule and to create a society that is absent of corruption, nepotism, and other evils and to establish the rule of law while sustaining democracy and its values. In addition, the people expected tangible remedies to uplift their low quality life style, to narrow down the widening gap between the poor and the rich and to eradicate the preferential treatment by allowing privileges only to some. For four and a half years the coalition government was unable to deliver any of the tangible outcomes nor were they able to establish the righteous rule. The UNP was corrupt to the core and was the subject of huge finance scandals. People were fed up with the UNP.
Anura was considered by many as the best candidate among the leading three. However, the JVP was a spent force and had blemishes all along its political path. People did not want to vote for the JVP, nor did they want to vote for the good guy for the fear of the worst guy coming to power.
Anti-Muslim sentiments and Islamophobia that had already taken root in Sri Lanka was fuelled by the Easter Sunday bombing. ‘Needing a saviour’ mentality favoured Gotabaya because of his military background and his involvement in the war against terrorism as the Defence Secretary.
Under those circumstances the victory of Gotabaya was not a miracle. With all those odds against Premadasa and the UNP, they still received 41 % of the total vote. This means that the deciding 10% of the vote cannot be guaranteed for the Rajapaksas forever if they do not understand what really is needed for the country.
Gotabaya has now got a great opportunity to prove to his adversaries that the fears they bore were unfounded, to address the real issues of Sri Lanka, and bring the country to the fore front of the world stage. Sri Lankans were expecting a disciplinarian over decades of post-independence era to address the eroding discipline among its population. Gotabaya can be the answer if he wishes so. A country can only be called developed if it is advance both economically and socially. At present Sri Lankans can hardly be called a civilised nation for their day to day behaviour. Getting the people to understand ethics of life and to live with compassion and sympathy towards others is a necessary condition for creating a civilised society. If Gotabaya is to be successful, he needs to observe the fore-ground and the middle-ground before looking at the distance.