29 November, 2021

Blog

Why Gota’s Presidency Went Off The Rails

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Gotabaya Rajapaksa could have been a very much better President but he chose otherwise or let others choose wrongly for him.

The choice of Gotabaya as candidate and the wrong choices he made as candidate and President were assisted by those in the Yahapalanaya government who adopted wildly unwise policies.

The choice of Gotabaya as candidate was pretty much decided by the Yahapalanaya UNP. The 19th amendment could have been worded differently, to rule out a third CONSECUTIVE term, but it wasn’t. Instead, a third term was simply ruled out. This ruled out the kind of comeback that many leaders have made, from de Gaulle to Bachelet and next year, hopefully, Lula.

Imprudently regarding Mahinda as the main enemy though Gotabaya had revealed his dark side during the second term of MR, the UNP counted on GR failing to renounce his US citizenship and/or the special relationship that the UNP thought it had with Washington DC. (It did not reckon with GR’s own connections with Trump’s America.)

The result was that the far more moderate Mahinda could not run. Insofar as the Rajapaksas, like any other South Asian political clan, would keep it in the family, that meant one of Mahinda’s siblings would be the candidate.

Realpolitik

Given that Yahapalanaya had won, not by convincing a majority of the majority Sinhalese, but by basing itself on a majority of the minority voters plus a minority of the majority voters, the Rajapaksas needed to pick someone who could induce sufficient Sinhala swing as to countervail and overwhelm the electoral effect of the combined minority voters. That someone would have to swing the Sinhala vote so massively as to eliminate even the dissident Sinhala vote that went with Maithripala Sirisena.

Though Chamal Rajapaksa was considered by Mahinda, he opted out, and in any case, he was not as suited for the task at hand as was Gotabaya. Thus, the needle always flickered to GR, and eventually stayed there.

There was one last chance that the Gotabaya candidacy could have been headed-off. That was the Maithripala Sirisena-Mahinda Rajapaksa move of late 2018. Had it held, one of several things would have happened: (a) Sirisena could have run again (b) Chamal or Dinesh may have been agreed upon as candidate (c) GR may have run but with MR and MS holding the reins.

With the failure of the MS-MR stopgap, the GR project was the only option, and it was free and clear of MR’s control. Yelling “wolf” about a “52-day coup” when there wasn’t a soldier in sight, the Colombo neoliberals and all of us besides wound up with a regime studded with serving and retired military officers. Worse: a possible Myanmar outcome stares us in the face.

That was the realpolitik of it. The real problem was not so much in the choice of GR, but in the choice GR himself made.

Gota’s Choice

If I may strike a personal note while reflecting on the Gotabaya presidency? About to turn 65 next month, I felt rather proud to read the following paragraph in these pages from the young writer I regard as the successor to columnist Ajith Samaranayake, namely Uditha Devapriya:

“Paradoxically, the yahapalana government made it possible, not merely for a Rajapaksa restoration, but for the election of the former president’s brother. Parallels with Napoleon Bonaparte and his nephew notwithstanding, there was little that stood in Mr. Gotabaya’s way. He had a world to win and a country to preside over. In November 2019, then, almost every community, including sections of ethnic minorities, gave him support. Even political commentators who had penned diatribes against him raised the possibility of better days ahead. Very few thought otherwise: among them, Dayan Jayatilleka stood out. This was as it should be: no one wanted to back a dead horse, and Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP, for all its history and heritage, seemed like a relic of some distant, dark past.” (Battling the blues – The Island)

There were two models of the Gotabaya candidacy and presidency. One was Mahinda’s. The other was that of the GR groupies, which involved the owner of the local Fox News, GR’s ex-military buddies, the very rich far-right Sri Lankan expatriate Trumpians in LA where GR lived for over a decade, a few ultra-right Buddhist monks and professionals/academics grouped in Viyath Maga and Eliya.

What happened in Sri Lanka at the time was very similar to what happened in the USA, in the Republican Party in 2008 and 2016. The choice of Sarah Palin was forced on Senator John McCain, by the Tea Party movement which was increasingly influential in the Republican party. Sadly, for McCain and happily for the USA and the world, that sank the Republicans and put Obama over the top.

The Tea Party movement didn’t give up, and hence the Trump candidacy. With the ideal opponent, the neoliberal-interventionist Hillary Clinton, Trump won.

Those who know US politics would know that the rightwing Republicans were strong in the republican party in California—unusual because the state was so liberal. Those who know Gotabaya Rajapaksa would know that this was precisely the ideological grouping that he and his fellow Sri Lankan expatriates (which include the super-rich and the ex-military) existed in and contributed to, in LA.

That was the type of candidacy and presidential project Gotabaya Rajapaksa chose over the Mahinda perspective for a Gotabaya presidency– that of mainstream, moderate-nationalist, center-left populism which had been the staple of the Rajapaksas and the SLFP for decades.

MR envisaged basic continuity with a new technocratic-nationalist edge provided by the Gotabaya ingredient– the SLFP’s Sinhala Only in 1956, but ‘Lite’. By contrast, Gotabaya’s preference was for an Alt-Right profile and project a la Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, the latter a hero of rightwing Republicans and a personal hero of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Gotabaya’s own presidential project was not safely anchored in the moderate-nationalist, center-left Mahinda constituency and camp. GR’s center of gravity was/is not the rural Sinhala heartland with its peasantry. It was/is the military. His home-base is not Medamulana; it is Saliyapura, the headquarters of his old regiment, the Gajaba.

Thus, his policy agenda and the trajectory of his presidency. The existential choice was his. Or rather, he chose to let his Far-Right militarist caucus mold his candidacy and presidency. Which is the same thing.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    1

    “Gota s presidency went off the rails”.
    .
    Was this not “crystal” clear to even years before the rumours were there that biased media constantly sang the song in favour of his so called vision ? That was not that negative at the time, Polonnaruwa donkey took over.
    .
    The situation is – similar to an untrained surgeon is blessed by his friends and utterly naive colleagues in a serious kind of a heart surgery – patient s family longed at the OP room with all anxities, but outcome ws already preditable.

    • 7
      2

      DJ: US citizens Basil and Goat are Don Juan Dharmapalas of Sri Lanka– now a US and no longer a Portuguese Colony!
      BBS Gniyanasara and the One Country One Law Committee is to distract from this fact!
      You have missed the fact that a US citizen who was a high school drop out presented Sri Lanka;s national budget in Parliament and the opposition did not protest the fact that Goat and Basil Jarapassa ‘s families are US citizens.
      The Sinhala Buddhist LA diaspora, like the Tamil Diaspora , has been weaponized and now works for the Biggest Rogue State in the world, so too do most of the politicians in the parliament of corrupt clowns.

      China is isolated and there is a massive propaganda war against it.
      Have you heard of the new US doctrine Full Spectrum Dominance (FSD), through hybrid cyber martime trade wars and take over of all systems using the Covid and Climate Emergencies narrative for Disaster Capitalism digitalization, surveillance and control of populations with the Covid mask and vaccine mandates?!

      • 6
        1

        Island Lanka ruled by US citizens first families is an advanced experiment in Full Spectrum Dominance (FSD), and Over the Horizon War (OTH), in this age of Big Data, digitalization, surveillance and control of all systems in the knowledge economy…

      • 6
        1

        Low uneducated and untalented take over the leadership of a state where media and stupidity of the people are long living symbiosis. This is a kind of power grab by any means. Passport offices are getting crowded as similar to pettah mannig market where the scale of lawlessness is at its top.This is in the capital of the country where the educated numbers are the highest. No system of controlling customers are set up yet today, though the electeed president who promised to implement user friendy systems replacing prevailing ones to various state entitiies. Nothing is yet delivered. The situation is woresening by hour, now even worst than prior to his election.

    • 2
      1

      “Gota s presidency went off the rails”.

      it never hit the Rails

  • 5
    1

    Dr. Dayan
    The problem is the country was build up with Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism. We cannot differentiate between Mahinda or Gota or Basil? They used maximum Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism for their own family benefits. The regime in 2015 was a disaster to the country because they couldn’t come out of Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism. Opportunism played a major role in the independent country in 1948 and you all are played the same role in destroying this country. Even now you all are not prepared to tell the truth to the people and thinking what post I will get in next government instead of how to bring all communities and all people together to save this country and bring it to a peaceful island.

    • 4
      7

      Ajith,
      “…instead of how to bring all communities and all people together to save this country and bring it to a peaceful island.”
      —-
      After Sinhale/Ceylon gained independence from British rule, Sinhala leaders wanted to bring all communities together and have a peaceful country. For that they formed United National Party (UNP). That dream was shattered by racist separatist Tamil politicians who did not want indigenous Sinhala community and Tamil community living in harmony in this country and used racism to keep the two communities apart for their political survival. SJV Chelvanayakam who formed Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (toned down as Federal Party in English) in 1949 which had as its hidden agenda the establishment of a separate state is responsible for disunity between Sinhala and Tamil communities since independence. V-Tamils who promoted separatism were the most privileged community in Sinhale/Ceylon at the time this country gained independence.

      Now Vigneshwaran is following the footsteps of Chelvanayakam and destroying the possibility to have racial harmony by saying ‘Sinhalayo are not welcome in the North’, ‘Cannot build temples and Buddha statues in the North’ and taking legal action to stop renovation of temples in the North. Vigneshwaran has forgotten that Tamils in the NE are occupying land belong to Sinhale.

  • 2
    4

    Sri Lanka is an island, not a nation. Never was one.

    At least now the island must be divided into 3 mono ethnic nations and people must be relocated to their respective nation.

    Unless that is done, no one can save SL.

    The problems of the island is bigger than all politicians.

    Unfortunately some are too greedy to have the entire island and want Colombo and Jaffna both. Unfortunate. That is why all these problems. Give up one or made to give up one.

    • 4
      8

      GATAM
      “Sri Lanka is an island, not a nation. Never was one.”
      —-
      Sinhale was the island of Sinhala nation before colonial rulers changed the demographic composition bringing millions of foreigners and running away after leaving them in this country.

      • 2
        3

        EE,
        .
        Until you change your medicine, it will take you ages to see it the little.. Get well soon.

      • 2
        3

        The past is past. Today the island is multi-ethnic divided ethnically into TNA/ACTC/TMVP/CWC, SLMC/ACMC/MULF, SLPP/JVP/SJB.

        We can’t go back to the past even if we believe what you say.

        So the only solution is 1 island 3 nations.

  • 3
    1

    Author, in other words, wishes that GR should not have been elected as President in the first place and implicitly states that Mahinda would have been a better choice. What basically ails any Presidency? It is those who cocoon the President. True! Mahinda had an uncanny knack of warding off some of them but at the same time offered positions to others to make hay while the sun shines as rewards, like Kings in historic times giving “Nindagams”. The real issue is we have a President directly elected by the people who can at times defy the majority of members of the Parliament. Furthermore, he can buy a majority. We have to think in terms of a government headed by the majority leader of the house and the governance cum in charge of state machinery in the hands of a President who is non-political, directly elected by the people. Nevertheless, then, the racketeers will surround the Prime Minister, but it would not be that disastrous like racketeers surrounding an executive President. The ballad of the racketeers is “Politicians come, and politicians go but we the racketeers go on forever”.

    • 2
      2

      It’s not the presidency. It’s the nation. Things were not better before 1977 either. It’s the nation.

      People have always been disunited on all national issues. The island cannot move forward like this.

      It must be split into 3 mono ethnic nations.

      • 0
        0

        There are practical difficulties in splitting land according to ethnicity. Many concede that comparatively things were OK from 1948 to 1972. 1972 to 1977 was basically a single voice of the Prime Minister not really subject to checks. The President was virtually a rubber stamp of the PM though an honorable one as a person. Disunity! Yes it is. Serious ones even among the same ethnicity and even among the same religion. Of course the unscrupulous will never build united nation. Divide and rule.

  • 2
    0

    DJ seems to eventually accept the fact current is a military regime but confused whether the plan was in place before or after elections. If you add Easter Mayhem to this puzzle it’s clear voting public were desperste to accept military than traditional political governance. Didn’t Thero call for one ??? ( Hitler). Rest of DJ,s comparison with tèa party and Lula are just Comedy. A bunch of family crooks outdoing another set of crooks is not worth of any comparison. DJ is trying to come up with some political theory to earn respect.

  • 2
    0

    Gota and Mahinda both looking desperate and their regime has already gone off the rails , not knowing how to prolong the next three years. Further, with the growing opposition not only from the majority of ordinary people who voted them to power but, also from opposition parties, trade unions from both public and private sectors, and moreover from educated Buddhist and other religious clergies who are directly attacking them. Politicians could cheat a view people for some time, but not all people a long time.

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