Sri Lanka’s main opposition party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), on Sunday named Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Defense Secretary and younger brother of former Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as its candidate for the Lankan Presidential election due to be held December this year.
This was announced at a public meeting here by SLPP founder and its newly appointed chief, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
According to Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya has been appointed to give Sri Lanka a strong and purposeful government and a government which will safeguard national security which is presently threatened by Islamic terrorism and the possibility of Tamil separatism being revived in the Tamil-majority Northern Province.
The current “Good Governance” regime led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has not walked the talk. The government and the national security apparatus have become dysfunctional, so much so that Islamic terrorists carried out multiple bombings on April 21 despite India’s repeated warnings earlier in the month about the perpetrators and their probable targets.
Constant revision of government policies reflects the unending conflict between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The conflict has hampered economic growth and foreign investment.
In contrast, under the Presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2014) economic growth was rapid, with India building 50,000 houses and laying railways , and China building roads and two harbors. As Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa comprehensively defeated the Tamil Tigers, known as the world’s deadliest terrorist group with 30,000 cadres bearing arms and having a competent navy too. Later, as Urban Development Secretary, Gotabaya rebuilt war-ravaged Colombo and other major towns.
However, the excessive force used in the last phase of the 2006-2009 war in the Tamil-majority Northern province led to charges of war crimes against the Sri Lankan forces and Gotabaya. There are two civil suits against him in the US filed by Lankan expatriates who had lost their kin during the war.
Gotabaya crushed civilian support for the Tamil Tigers through “White Van abductions” and disappearances. The Rajapakas’ bid to control the Muslims through intimidation and a major riot in Aluthgama, led to the alienation of Muslims. Charges of highhandedness and misuse of authority led to the alienation of a significant section of the majority Sinhalese also. All these led to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat in the January 2015 Presidential election, despite his developmental achievements.
However, the successor regime, which promised the earth delivered only peanuts, leading to a call for the return of the Rajapaksas.
Since the 19 th., constitution amendment of 2015 bars Mahinda Rajapaksa from contesting for the Presidency again, Gotabaya has been named the SLPP’s candidate.
Born on June 20, 1949, in Palatuwa in Matara District in South Sri Lanka, Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the fifth of nine siblings. Hailing from a well-known political family, Gotabaya completed his secondarly education at Ananda College, and secured a Master’s Degree in Defense Studies from University of Madras in 1983. He also completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Information Technology at the University of Colombo in 1992.
He joined the Sri Lanka Army straight from school, and rose to the rank of Lt.Colonel. He was awarded army medals Rana Wickrama Padakkama (RWP) and Rana Sura Padakkama (RSP) in 1991. In 1993, he quit the army to take up US citizenship and pursue a career in information technology.
Gotabaya came back to Sri Lanka and took the job of Defense Secretary offered by his brother President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005 to fight the Tamil Tigers to the finish. He achieved the goal with bold and innovative steps backed fully by his brother, President Mahinda Rajapaksa. After the war, Gotabaya took under his wing the department of urban development and transformed Colombo and other major cities.
After the 19th.Amendment (which put a two-term cap on being Lankan President) was enacted by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in 2015, Mahinda Rajapaksa was debarred from contesting the Presidential election. For a substitute, the natural choice was Gotabaya. But then the 19th.Amendment had also barred dual citizens from contesting polls. This forced Gotabaya to relinquish his US citizenship, which he did recently.
But Gotabaya still faces hurdles. There are two civil cases against him in the US filed by Lankan expatriates who accuse him of being responsible for killing their kin during the war. There is an on-going court case in Sri Lanka in which he is accused of misusing government funds to build a memorial for his father, D.A.Rajapaksa.
According to the State-owned Sunday Observer last week, “Purawesi Balaya” Convenor Gamini Viyangoda and Professor Chandragupta Thenuwara had lodged separate complaints with police headquarters demanding an investigation into media reports that cited irregularities in the alleged grant of dual citizenship to Rajapaksa in 2005; his electioneering that year in Sri Lanka as an American citizen; and his presence on the 2005 electoral rolls despite being a dual citizen.
“If he acts with such impunity before gaining power, and then goes on to become President nothing will happen in a lawful manner in the country,” Viyangoda told Sunday Observer.
Chances Of Victory
It cannot be denied that Gotabaya Rajapaksa enjoys the support of Sri Lankan nationalists, Sinhala-Buddhist sub-nationalists and Muslim baiters. He has the support of people who want a functioning and strong government in place of the wayward, non-performing and lacklustre Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime.
But Gotabaya has little or no support among the Tamil and Muslim minority communities, without whose support no Presidential candidate can get 50% plus one vote required to win.
Gotabaya will secure a walkover if the opposition United National Party-led Democratic National Front (UNP-led DNF) fields UNP chief Ranil Wickremesinghe. But if it fields Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, Gotabaya will have a tough time.
Though Sajith is a lacklustre personality with no view on major issues, he is able to relate to the rural hoi polloi and the lower ranks of the UNP. He has no sharp view on the ethnic question or any other issue for that matter. He is therefore not disliked by the Tamils and Muslims or any section of society for that matter. Above all, Sajith is not tainted by any corruption charge or charges of high-handedness.
The UNP-DNF is still to nominate its Presidential candidate torn as it is by a fierce conflict between the party chief Wickremesinghe and the supporters of his deputy, Sajith Premadasa. But indications are that the alliance will pitch for Sajith especially now that the popular Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been put up by the principal opposition party, the SLPP.