As the holy season of Ramadan winds down former Defence Secretary and Viyath Maga Chairman Gotabaya Rajapaksa last week continued to woo the Muslim community for what observers say is a likely presidnetial bid last week, attending a grand Ifthar ceremony at the Galle Face Hotel Colombo on Friday, organised by loyalists.
The Galle Face Ifthar comes on the heels of the widely publicised Beruwela Ifthar, where the former Defence Secretary was greeted and brought into the hall in procession while Muslim attendees recited prayers.
Friday’s Ifthar was hosted by the ‘National Muslim Collection’, an organisation which counts among its membership Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s lawyer Ali Sabry, Jihan Hameed and Asad Ali, a prominent businessman, all considered to be in the former defence secretary’s inner circle. The Galle Face event was well attended by leading Muslim community business leaders, and members of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka.
Pro-Rajapaksa politicos Danasiri Amaratunga, Dulles Alahapperuma, Udaya Gammanpila, Bandula Gunewardane, Shehan Semasinghe, Tissa Attanayake and even former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s youngest son, Rohitha.
“Super job by organising such a great event Mohamed Ali Sabry and the team. Our future president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the chief guest,” said UPFA local council member Amaratunga in a public post on Facebook following the event.
Invitees were initially approached on the telephone by persons claiming to be calling from Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office, and on behalf of Ali Sabry.
The Ifthar at Beruwela, attended by the former Defence Secretary was organised by Milfer Cafoor, the son in law of Beruwela Urban Council chairman Marjan. Cafoor is a suspect in election violence targeting former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s vehicle during the presidential election campaign in 2015 in Beruwela.
The moves are widely seen as attempts to recapture the Muslim electorate with an eye to future elections, after the Rajapaksa administration’s tactics from 2012-2014 when it offered active patronage to the Bodu Bala Sena and like-minded groups alienated the Muslim community from the regime.
At the Ifthar in Beruwela, Gotabaya Rajapaksa showed no signs of having reflected on the regime’s own tactics, insisting instead that the Muslims had allowed themselves to be misled in the grander conspiracy to topple the Rajapaksa regime.
Interestingly, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also attended a Muslim religious event in Gampaha on Friday, June 8