Sri Lanka A Che­quered Le­gacy

A look at Mahinda Ra­japaksa’s 10-year rule in Sri Lanka and the end.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Huza­ima Bukhari & Dr. Ikra­mul Haq

Was Ra­japaksa a demo­cratic or au­thor­i­tar­ian ruler?

Over the past years, Sri Lanka has un­der­gone im­mense po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, the roots of which can be traced back to the 1920s when the Bri­tish Gover­nor, Wil­liam Man­ning re­formed the orig­i­nal leg­isla­tive coun­cil to in­tro­duce the con­cept of “communal rep­re­sen­ta­tion” on the ba­sis of eth­nic­ity. Cey­lon, as it was known then, com­prised Sin­halese, Tamils and the Burghers. The first elec­tion re­sulted in thir­teen Sin­halese

Be­fore tak­ing a cur­sory look at his poli­cies that might help to un­der­stand why Ra­japaksa was de­feated in Jan­uary 2015, it would not be out of place to say that South Asian coun­tries suf­fer from the malaise of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers hav­ing more or less sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics that are in no way en­vi­able.

and three Tamils win­ning. This made the Tamils con­scious of their mi­nor­ity sta­tus, awak­en­ing a sense of Tamil na­tion­al­ism. Po­lit­i­cal in­ex­pe­di­ency, af­ter at­tain­ing in­de­pen­dence in 1948, acted as a cat­a­lyst that even­tu­ally cul­mi­nated in the decades- long civil war which, be­tween 1982 and 2009, took its toll of al­most 80,000 to 100,000 lives, tor­mented even a greater num­ber of in­no­cent peo­ple in­clud­ing chil­dren and stripped the peace from this pic­turesque coun­try. Many would ac­cede that, in ret­ro­spect, if cer­tain mis­takes had not been com­mit­ted, Sri Lanka would have in­deed been a pros­per­ous par­adise on earth, though it is still des­tined to be that.

In ad­di­tion to the eth­nic com­po­si­tion of the is­land, there are also di­vi­sions on re­li­gious grounds with a pre­dom­i­nant Bud­dhist pop­u­la­tion com­pris­ing al­most 70%, Hin­dus 13%, Mus­lims 10%, Chris­tians 7% and oth­ers around 0.04%. This puts fur­ther pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment to adopt poli­cies that are not based on dis­crim­i­na­tion and pro­vide ev­ery­one ad­e­quate op­por­tu­nity to ed­u­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment and po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. This avoids con­flicts and es­tab­lishes feel­ings of brotherhood among di­verse mem­bers of the public.

It is nec­es­sary to an­a­lyse if this is ex­actly what was done dur­ing twice­elected Mahinda Ra­japaksa’s 10- year rule or was he, like his pre­de­ces­sors, in­stru­men­tal in miss­ing im­por­tant buses, thus be­com­ing a great dis­ap­point­ment to the Sri Lankans. A lot of hope had been pinned on this sea­soned politi­cian who made his po­lit­i­cal de­but at the ten­der age of 24 and who went through a lot of up­heavals be­fore tak­ing on the re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­com­ing the sixth pres­i­dent of the Demo­cratic So­cial­ist Repub­lic.

Be­fore tak­ing a cur­sory look at his poli­cies that might help to un­der­stand why Ra­japaksa was de­feated in Jan­uary 2015, it would not be out of place to say that South Asian coun­tries suf­fer from the malaise of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers hav­ing more or less sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics that are in no way en­vi­able. Mahinda Ra­japaksa did not prove to be any dif­fer­ent as can be ob­served from the fol­low­ing list of the prin­ci­pal al­le­ga­tions that caused his down­fall: • Cur­tail­ing me­dia free­dom, bring­ing Sri Lanka to al­most 158th po­si­tion in the world’s press free­dom in­dex. Killing of about 40,000 peo­ple in the fi­nal weeks of fight­ing be­tween Tamil Tigers and the gov­ern­ment forces, ac­cord­ing to a re­port com­piled by a United Na­tions ap­pointed panel of ex­perts and pub­lished in April 2011 by Ban Ki Moon plus other atroc­i­ties in­flicted on fe­male Tamil fighters and other civil­ians. • In­volve­ment in mas­sive cor­rup­tion in mega projects in col­lab­o­ra­tion with other coun­tries, forc­ing Sri Lanka to lose mil­lions and earn­ing for the coun­try a very low rank­ing in the Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional Cor­rup­tion In­dex. Forg­ing an al­liance with Sin­halese na­tion­al­ist, Janatha Vimuk­thi Per­a­muna (JVP), who had strongly op­posed the 2002 peace process, terming it as trea­sonous. In do­ing so, Mahinda Ra­japaksa tore away the mask of be­ing a true peo­ple’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive as he gave the mil­i­tary greater pow­ers against the LTTE and re­fused to de­volve power to the Tamil peo­ple. He thus proved him­self as a man of war rather than peace. In fact, he sowed the seeds of ha­tred among the mi­nori­ties that ac­cel­er­ated his oust­ing. • Use of mil­i­tary air­craft by Mahinda Ra­japaksa and his fam­ily mem­bers dur­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paigns, caus­ing a heavy drain on the public ex­che­quer. Al­le­ga­tion of an at­tempted coup to seize polling count­ing cen­tres on re­al­is­ing de­feat dur­ing the fi­nal mo­ments prior to an­nounce­ment of pres­i­den­tial elec­tion re­sults. • In­volve­ment in money laun­der­ing and park­ing bil­lions of dol­lars off­shore through the aus­pices of the for­mer gover­nor of the Cen­tral Bank of Sri Lanka. • In­dul­gence in nepo­tism by al­low­ing a free hand to fam­ily mem­bers to ex­ploit public funds and power. On as­sum­ing power on 16 Jan­uary 2015, the Sirisena Gov­ern­ment re­solved to in­ves­ti­gate some of the al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion, es­pe­cially in deals with China, re­gard­ing mega projects. Some of Mahinda Ra­japaksa’s close aides and hench­men are also in the process of fil­ing cor­rup­tion charges against him and his broth­ers, de­mand­ing probe for abuse of power. The new gov­ern­ment has also sought as­sis­tance from the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund and the World Bank to lo­cate hid­den wealth while the gov­ern­ments of Sey­chelles and In­dia have ex­tended their sup­port while search­ing for funds de­posited abroad. The anti- cor­rup­tion unit formed for this pur­pose is be­ing led by Prime Min­is­ter Ranil Wick­remesinghe.

There are a few op­por­tu­ni­ties for men in power to do some­thing con­crete for their coun­try to es­tab­lish lon­glast­ing peace and as­sure pros­per­ity for its peo­ple, no mat­ter which eth­nic or re­li­gious group they be­long to. In­stead of re­main­ing fo­cused on this aim, our South Asian lead­ers tend to veer to­wards their vested in­ter­est and self- ag­gran­dize­ment. The ruth­less­ness with which they play havoc with the lives and prop­er­ties of their peo­ple can never earn them re­spect or ad­mi­ra­tion. In­stead, they are des­tined to be hu­mil­i­ated and thrown out of power, as was the fate of Mahinda Ra­japaksa. This holds a warn­ing for all politi­cians uni­ver­sally, but es­pe­cially for coun­tries where au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism prevails in the name of democ­racy.

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