Giving the clearest indication yet of his intention to run in the upcoming Presidential elections, former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has said he is ready to take up the challenge when polls are called, possibly towards the end of 2019.
Speaking at a ‘Viyathmaga’ event at Water’s Edge on Saturday,Rajapaksa argued that he advocates ‘Jathikathwaya’ over ‘Jathiwadaya’. According to him, the former is defined as inclusive and egalitarian nationalism while the latter is divisive nationalism. He contended that Sri Lankans need to embrace ‘Jathikathwaya’ to develop the country, pointing out this message needs to be delivered to the masses ahead of a likely Presidential election later this year.
“We know there should be a Presidential election this year. I am ready if you are,” Rajapaksa said to a cheering crowd at the end of his speech. During the short address, Rajapaksa called on professionals to unite to build a common identity that could be embraced by all Sri Lankans.
“I wish a peaceful and prosperous New Year not just for you but for the entire country. This is because many are of the view that the country must be directed to a better path than the one it is on now.
I believe this is the wish of both old and young as well as Sri Lankans from all strata of society. We began ‘Viyathmaga’ to gather all professionals, each and every one of them, because it was felt they are not given recognition by those governing this country.”
“In Sri Lanka, as in many other countries, ‘Jathikathwaya’ and ‘Jathiwadaya’ have been confused as one. This is not the case. If Sri Lanka is to move forward like other countries in the world, then first we must build an identity that is Sri Lankan. This is the expectation of many people in this country. Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or Christians are first and foremost Sri Lankans, and we must reinforce this Sri Lankan identity. All of us want to move forward as Sri Lankans. We have to take this idea to the people,” he added.
Despite Sri Lanka being a low middle income country,Rajapaksa stated that poverty remains a significant challenge, which needs to be addressed with collective focus. He debated that individual rights and social issues were not mutually inclusive but focus on individual rights eclipses the focus on social problems.
“There is an ongoing discourse in Sri Lanka about a new Constitution and different ideas and views are being expressed about this. But rather than thinking of this issue in terms of the danger of a new Constitution dividingthe country, which I don’t think we can have much impact on, we first need to take the masses to a point where all people in this country identify themselves as Sri Lankan. This is a very important year. Professionals have a major responsibility to encourage the people to realise this is a very important year. Even now as much as 60% of this country believes that it is living in poverty. But most of the time, the discussion is on individual rights. Individual rights are needed but why as a society are we not talking about poverty, which is the most important thing? Our politicians do not talk about the right to create equality. The type of democracy that was popularised by the West focuses on individual rights.”
Rajapaksa maintained that creation of one Sri Lankan identity was important and pointed out other Asian leaders had used the same tactic to come to power and used it as part of an ideology to develop their nations.
“Human beings are social animals. They are not individuals. During the first 20 years of our lives, our parents look after us. During that time, we learn about our culture, our history and our country. We cannot remove those elements from our psyche. They have become embedded. But because of other influences, we have focused more on individual rights and this has led us to challenges. However, every leader who has been successful in Asia has done so by taking ‘Jathikathwaya’to the people and using it to achieve their development goals. Our country can only be developed by doing the same.”
Rajapaksa also called on professionals to champion solutions to social problems above individual rights and thereby work to increase awareness among the public for ‘Viyathmaga’ to achieve its goals.
“After completing their education, when Sri Lankans go abroad, that is when they realise what it means to be Sri Lankan. That is why many of them talk about the importance of unity, sometimes more than those who remain at home.
We must understand this and as professionals, identify people’s problems. More than individual rights, identify society’s problems, the country’s problems. It is only by increasing awareness of these problems that we can reach the end we want.”
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and his US Citizenship
Speculation over former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa having handed over documents to renounce his citizenship, allowing him to contest for the Presidential elections, was denied by his spokesman yesterday.
It was alleged that Rajapaksa had handed over the documents to renounce his citizenship during his recent visit to the United States.
However this speculation was denied by his spokesman, Milinda Rajapaksa, who said that information about the former Defence Secretary’s US citizenship is not available in the public domain.
“It’s personal information and has not been made public,” the spokesman said, declining to comment on the matter.
Sources claimed that the US authorities had sent the request to its Mission in Colombo for reference. However, the US Embassy also declined to comment on whether any documents had been received by them.