In his oration at the Independence Square here on Tuesday to mark Sri Lanka’s 72nd.year of freedom from the British, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa clearly outlined the policies he will pursue in the next five years.
He said that he will build a composite Sri Lanka where every group (including ethnic and religious groups) will enjoy equal rights. But at the same time, he left no one in doubt that these rights will have to be exercised under the over-arching dominance of the majority Sinhala-Buddhists, whose collective rights will have precedence over other’s rights.
That was amply evident at the function itself, when the Lankan national anthem was sung only in Sinhala and not in Sinhala and Tamil as was the case when the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe alliance was in power.
By discontinuing the singing of the national anthem in Tamil along with the Sinhalese version, Gotabaya has once again upheld the primacy and supremacy of Sinhalese over Tamil, the mother tongue of almost 25% of the Lankan population, including Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Origin Tamils and Muslims.
By doing so, Gotabaya again underlined the fact that he was elected by the majority Sinhalese and not the Tamils and the Muslims.
Mano Ganeshan, leader of Indian Origin Tamil party the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) and a former cabinet minister of National Languages, said that the refusal to have the anthem sung in Tamil was tantamount to given a fillip to separatist feelings among the Tamils who had fought a 30 year bloody but unsuccessful war to establish an independent Tamil Eelam. Ganeshan expressed the apprehension that Tamil separatists “may have the last laugh”.
He added that he boycotted the function, though invited, and would stay away from Presidential dinner in the evening.
By stating in the very first sentence of his speech that “Sri Lanka is a Unitary State”, President Gotabaya once again emphatically rejected the Tamils’ 71-year demand for a Federal State, with significant autonomy for the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces. Knowing that this would be Gotabaya’s line, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) boycotted the function.
However, the assurance of equality of opportunity and the grant of religious freedom could win over the alienated Muslims. Unlike the Tamils, the Muslims are not into language and political rights but into religious and economic rights and security.
Gota’s Political Recipe
Developing his theory that freedom and equality are essentially socio-economic in nature and are not rooted in regional, religious or ethnic identities, the President said: “All citizens within a Unitary State should have equal rights. Even today, there is a large gap between the haves and have-nots in our society. The facilities that are available in our urban centers are lacking in rural areas. Education facilities are not equal in all areas. Healthcare facilities are not equally dispersed. Job opportunities have not spread to all regions. These inequalities are not due to racial or religious reasons.”
Following this assertion, Gotabaya assured that within a Unitary State every citizen living in Sri Lanka will have the right to live freely and securely. “We will always ensure their right to think freely, hold independent opinions, and express themselves without any hindrance. We will always respect the right of any citizen to follow the religion of his or her choice. Every citizen has the right of free association and of free assembly. We will always defend the right of every Sri Lankan citizen to participate in the political and governance processes through his or her elected representatives. We consider all these as rights of human beings that no one can challenge,” he said.
Although elected mainly by the Sinhalese, Gotabaya reiterated his pledge that he would function as the leader of all communities in Sri Lanka.
“In a democracy, when the leader is elected following a legitimate process, he becomes the President of all the people of the country. During his term of office, he must serve the entire Sri Lankan people. He is not bound to serve only the interests of the people who voted for him.”
“I have the vision that I must serve as the leader of the country looking after all citizens rather than serve as a political leader concerned only about a particular community. As the President today, I represent the entire Sri Lankan nation irrespective of ethnicity, religion, party affiliation or other differences,” the President said.
Not surprisingly, the President did not mention the term “reconciliation” because in the lexicon of Sinhala nationalists, reconciliation is a bad word. This is so mainly because it is promoted by the interfering and bullying Western governments and the UN.
President Gotabaya’s sartorial preference showed him to be what he is, namely, a nationalistic-military leader. He was in his customary white attire but had his military medals displayed on his chest.
His government’s new foreign policy of looking to countries outside the Western alliance. This was evident with the Commander of the Russian Land Forces Gen.Oleg Sakykov being present as a “a special distinguished guest”.
Gotabaya listed his plan to rationalize the Lankan administration to rid it of anomalies, confusion and the burdens it foists on the citizen. .
“Those rules and regulations that have been enacted without adequate study and coordination have led to the public facing considerable harassment and inconvenience. This has led to various irregularities and corruption. Losses to the public in terms of time, resources and livelihood opportunities are enormous.”
“We must re-examine the need to obtain licenses for things that affect the day-to-day lives of the people. We must refrain from imposing unnecessary restrictions on the majority of the people; instead we must swiftly enforce the law against the minority who transgress it. We must give our people the opportunity and real freedom to live law abiding, disciplined and virtuous lives.”
“Outdated laws, regulations, taxes and charges that prevent people from freely undertaking self-employment, traditional industries or businesses need to be revised swiftly. We will work towards removing unnecessary restrictions imposed on the public to better ensure their right to live freely,” the President said.
Anomalies In Power Distribution
Indicating a plan to re-work the devolution system as envisaged in the India-inspired 13 th.Amendment of the 1980s, the President said that “there needs to be a clear consensus on the responsibilities of the central government and decentralized authorities in the devolution of power.”
Referring to the frequent clashes between the directly elected Executive President and other organs of the State, which plagued the previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime, Gotabaya said that “maintaining the balance of power between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary is very important in this regard.”
On the lack of coordination between civil and military institutions which had led to arrests of junior and senior security forces personnel, the President said: “The responsibilities of the civilian and military establishments need to be clearly understood.”
Since it was a desperate search for a candidate who would ensure national security against extremism which brought him to power Gotabaya said: “ We will not allow extremist organizations that pave the way for terrorism to further function in the country.”
Seeks Free Hand
Seeking a free hand to pursue his policies as mandated in the November 16, 2029 election, Gotabaya said: “I do not envisage public officials, lawmakers or the judiciary to impede my implementing this commitment.”