By Shamindra Ferdinando
About a year before violent protests erupted outside the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Mirihana residence, over the crippling shortages of essential services and supplies, possibly exacerbated by some hidden hands, like the way Aragalaya was mainly bank rolled from abroad, or the mysterious forces who torched several dozen private homes of the then government politicians across the country, in a very systemic manner, on the night of May 09, the seventh executive President said that the people would decide whether he contest the next presidential election.
President Rajapaksa was addressing a gama samaga pilisandara programme at Yombuweltenna, Walapone, where he declared that only 14 months had been completed of his 60-month term. The President said that as he had plenty of time no one should be concerned about him not contesting again.
The then Senior Presidential Advisor, Lalith Weeratunga, sat on the President’s right. A confident Gotabaya Rajapaksa wore a light purple t-shirt, black trousers and a facemask as Covid-19 was raging. Referring to the last presidential election, in Nov 2019, Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared that the next time, too, the public would decide the outcome. It was not to be.
President Rajapaksa launched the gama samaga pilisandara programme on Sept 25, 2020, in the Badulla district. Yombuweltenna was the venue for the 15th programme in President Rajapaksa’s ambitious political project, meant to consolidate the electorate by going to the people at the grassroots. It was not to be.
Having won the presidency comfortably, just over a year earlier, President Rajapaksa was on a powder keg as a result of the rapidly deteriorating financial situation, primarily caused by the unprecedented pandemic in living memory, and some foolhardy and hasty decisions. Slashing of taxes, running into billions, after the presidential election, to give an impetus to the private sector to make the economy roar, drying up of Lankan worker remittances, for the first time, and the failure on the part of the government to initiate talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an urgently needed loan facility, had caused irreparable damage. Had President Rajapaksa realized the implications of that disputed decision, he could have avoided the humiliating exit from the Presidency. It was not to be.
About five weeks after the Walapane programme, President Rajapaksa imposed ban on the importation of fertiliser and agro chemicals. That move was perhaps meant to save USD 300-400 mn annually spent on the importation of fertiliser thereby ease pressure on the Treasury. It was not to be.
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