N.A.De S. Amaratunga
Ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa is undoubtedly the most popular political leader at present, and therefore has the potential of coming back to power. If people want him back in power it cannot be stopped and it should not be stopped. Let the people decide. It should not be decided by the US, China, India or any other external agent. The fact that he had been the president twice should not be a valid reason to deny the people their wish. People are concerned about what has been going on under the present regime. Economy has declined as never before, taxes are high and cost of living is climbing, corruption is rampant, foreign interference has become a threat to our sovereignty and the people can sense the perilous situation the country is in.
They cannot help comparing the previous government and the present and see that they were better off under the former. They cannot have any hope the present government could make amends and get the country out of the mess. They see government high ups making all kinds of promises but that’s all they have done for the last three years, and say they are going to solve all the problems and make this land a heaven on earth in the next one and half years. People cannot be fooled all the time. Can anybody find fault with the people if they want to bring back Mahinda Rajapaksa or somebody else with his blessings? Is there anybody in the UNP or JVP who could solve these problems which are their own making? The majority of people have faith only in Mahinda Rajapaksa. Therefore, what the intelligent people should do is not plot to defeat him, for there is no better alternative, but give him good advise to correct his past mistakes, so that if he comes back to power he will be better than what he was from 2010 to 2015.
Mahinda Rajapaksa must correct his many mistakes for the sake of the country, for if he commits the same mistakes he will be letting down all the people having faith and hope in him. He could have avoided those blunders and done even more for the country during his second term. One major error was his penchant for grandiose mega projects, to enhance his own image which is unbecoming of a good statesman. Further, such projects would not accrue benefits to the poor rural people, and would also increase the debt burden of the people. Mattala airport is a case in point. Instead it would have been sensible to spend that money to enlarge and improve the facilities at the Katunayake Airport, which would have attracted more flights and also provide better facilities for passengers. Mihin Lanka which was another of those image enhancing projects was not needed at that juncture, and proved to be a white elephant.
Another area where Mahinda could have done better was in the development of a national economy. The main industry of our people is agriculture. About 80% of the people live in the villages. If these people are to benefit, the economy must be designed to support agriculture and rural life. The government under Mahinda Rajapaksa could have done much more to develop a village based national economy, aimed at reducing the dependence on foreign loans and the depredations of unbridled capitalism. How the market forces could be controlled and managed for the benefit of poor people could have been learnt from China who was a good friend of the government. Rajapaksa lost in 2015 due to the fact that the benefits of his development projects had not reached the people and the cost of living was rising. Such mistakes should not happen in the future.
Tamils of Indian origin live among Sinhalese people in the plantations area and they are a badly neglected lot, often exploited by politicians. They don’t have satisfactory housing facilities and live in line rooms which had been the situation during the British rule. The previous government could have solved this problem with a fraction of the money it spent on mega projects. These Tamils may or may not vote for Rajapaksa, but they need to be treated as human beings. They contribute substantially to the economy of the country. Recognition of their services to the country would have enhanced Mahinda Rajapaksa’s image more than useless mega projects.
Nepotism was a common practice under Rajapaksa rule. Not that there is no nepotism now but we cannot expect anything good from this government, can we? The previous government appointed the president’s close relatives as ambassadors and chairmen of corporations and such other high posts for which they were hardly qualified. These people could sit on the destiny of others and take decisions which could have an impact on all aspects of life. They could ruin the corporation and thereby ruin the economy. Another huge disaster was the appointment of a MP to oversee the affairs of the Foreign Ministry. The appointee was too big for his breeches and was more powerful than the minister.
Mahinda Rajapaksa turned a blind eye to the corruption that was rampant around him. He did not make any attempt to rope in the bribe takers and control the commission grabbers. The word spread that his government was corrupt. His own brothers were not spared. His opponents went to town with these rumours. There is no smoke without fire, and all these scandals reflect on his leadership too. A good leader cannot afford to ignore bribery and corruption, for finally he would be tarred with the same brush. This is what happened finally, with the so called civil society making corruption their clarion call in the campaign against Rajapaksa. Even the present government which robbed its own bank call him “hora”. When the prime minister, under whose watch the Central Bank functioned when it was robbed, asks in parliament “kavuda hora?” his henchmen shout “Rajapaksa hora”! It became as dirty as that, all because Rajapaksa gave a free hand to the corrupt. Those corrupt people are still around him and could prove to be his ruination in future too.
Rajapaksa’s other weakness was he could not control his offspring, with the result that on occasions they did not do the right thing. One such instance was the motor car races held in the sacred city of Kandy, disregarding the objections of the Chief Monks. This incident left a bad taste in the mouths of most of us and would have caused a loss of votes too. President’s children must not only be well behaved but decent in appearance too. Kinky hair styles may not suit them. Compared to other political sons Rajapaksa’s were good but could have been better.
It was Rajapaksa who started jumbo cabinets. He did that to entice crossovers and enhance his majority. As a result, ministries in terms of subject and responsibility became ludicrous and ministers dime a dozen. What is worse is that this sad state of affairs continues to date on some pretext or other, though the constitution was revised to limit the size of the Cabinet. There was no need for Rajapaksa to increase his majority by hook or by crook. Jumbo cabinets are unscientific, inefficient and a burden on the tax payer. What he could have done instead was to bring in laws to prevent crossovers like in India, which would have stopped MPs threatening to cross over unless they are given what they want.
Being a popular leader commanding the respect of the people he should have had the courage to do what is good for the country, without feeling threatened by his own MPs. It is baffling why Rajapaksa had to put up with nepotism, corrupt practices and misbehaviour, etc., among his MPs and supporters. Of course he needs the support of his MPs to run the government. Obviously he did not want his government to collapse due to crossovers. But more than he needs the loyalty of his MPs, the latter need him to get the votes, Rajapaksa being the charismatic leader who could attract the voters for those MPs. This was proved beyond doubt at the recently concluded LG polls where people voted for an unheard of group at Maharagama, for the only reason they were supported by Mahinda Rajapaksa. He can afford to put his foot down and say no.
The country at this perilous moment in its history is fortunate to have a leader with Rajapaksa’s stature, proven ability, patriotic love for the country, and courage to resist imperialist pressure and above, all people’s wide acceptance and love. One hopes he has learnt his lessons for the sake of the country. Because a popular leader in power could be dangerous for they could disregard morals and forget their duty by the people, and even become dictatorial. The country needs a reformed Mahinda Rajapaksa.