The deadly contrast: Mahinda vs Gota
Posted on August 6th, 2018

By Ranga Jayasuriya Courtesy The Daily Mirror

Sri Lanka would go to a presidential election sometime during the next year as the presidency enters the final year of its five year term in January 2019. The prospect of a new Constitution, which may also require the approval in a referendum is diminishing. And even the constituent partners of the government are divided over the rationale of abolishing the executive presidency. A presidential election plus a general election should the president decide to dissolve Parliament after four and a half years into its term – is the most likely outcome. And it would also be a three way race, that pits Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, President Maithripala Sirisena, who has now gone back on his earlier commitment to not to seek a second term, and the Joint Opposition candidate, most likely Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The candidacy of Wickremesinghe and Sirisena would see anti-Rajapaksa voters divided and as the recent local government elections vindicated, the winner of this rivalry would be the Joint Opposition.

Gotabaya plays his presidential ambitions close to his chest, yet, despite the quirky calls for Chamal Rajapaksa or Dinesh Gunawardene as a potential presidential candidate, even those who make such claims know in deep down their hearts, that those gentlemen are yesterday’s garbage, who neither inspire voters , nor have political courage for decisive policy.

In contrast, Gota is an autocrat first, and if ever, is a populist by pretense . For those like Gota, electoral legitimacy matters only until they achieve political power

In contrast, to give the devil his due, Gota is different. Being a Rajapaksa adds up to his electoral appeal. But, a good part of his image is built on not being a politician, though younger Rajapaksa was more powerful, and lethally so, than any politician during the presidency of his brother.

Gota speaks as if he has rendered himself unto his elder brother. If former President Mahinda Rajapaksa asks me to contest and to carry forward the ex-president’s mission, I would”, he asserts. However, even MR knows Gota, who is unpredictable and a law unto himself is a dangerous choice. When he was the president, he used to tell the media, don’t criticize Gota, criticize me.” Those who count on Gota to be the reincarnation of MR may be committing a costly miscalculation. Gota is not MR.

Consider the contrast of their personalities   

Local and foreign political pundits tend to describe MR as authoritarian. Yes , he was, however, the operative word of Rajapaksa’s political character is that above all, he was and is a populist. Absolutism of his rule was subjective and was a predictable outcome of his populist legitimacy. In other words, MR was a populist first, and authoritarian later.

In contrast, Gota is an autocrat first, and if ever, is a populist by pretense . For those like Gota, electoral legitimacy matters only until they achieve political power. Once there, rather than playing by the rules, they are more likely to rewrite them and to rely on the arbitrary force of the state’s coercive organs. The Rajapaksa administration’s resort to white-vans and extra-judicial killings of prison inmates to address the law and order problem, at the expense of the very rule of law it was entrusted with to defend, was primarily a product of Gota’s personal preference.

Those who terrorized the public with bed time stories of Idi Amin, during Sarath Fonseka’s presidential campaign now has a real prospect to worry about.

MR was a populist to the extent that he was so cocksure that he would win the popular vote, that he disregarded opposition from his advisors to call snap elections one and half years before the end of his presidential term. When he lost, he left power gracefully, perhaps because, he knew he would make a comeback. Gota may not. Electoral mandate would not matter much in a Gota presidency. There will be other layers of state power through which he derives legitimacy and obedience. If MR was a Hugo Chavez,Gota is more likely to become an Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,Egypt’s Army chief-turned President, who exploited popular grievance to capture power and then made an ass out of the country’s nascent democracy.

MR was a populist to the extent that he was so sure that he would win the popular vote, that he disregarded opposition from his advisors to call snap elections 18 months before the end of his presidential term

Nonetheless, MR’s populism had its constraints. The economic windfall at the end of the war provided him with time, space, and sufficient legitimacy to address the structural problems of the economy. MR squandered that opportunity because he valued his political calculations over the long term viability of the economy. When the post- war bonanza fizzled away, economic troubles, hitherto suppressed and unattended, magnified. His government spent US $ 2.5 billion to defend the value of an over-priced rupee. By the last year of his government (2014), exports as a share of the GDP halved from their 2000 value (33%). The Electricity board and Petroleum Cooperation accumulated looming losses due to unaffordable subsidies. National carrier was ran to the ground. He left a right royal mess for his successor to clean up.

Perhaps, Gota might have been more proactive. As much as he was willing to send Police STF to evict slum dwellers, he was also not inclined to feed the people with subsidized sprats and lentils. Some of the much talked about feats of the Rajapaksa administration such as Colombo beautification was made possible due to Gota’s cold-hearted determination.

Nonetheless, MR’s populism had its constraints. The economic windfall at the end of the war provided him with time, space, and sufficient legitimacy to address the structural problems of the economy

However, there is a glitch. Even the dictators need a group of competent advisors to run the economic policy. Pinochet had ‘Chicago boys’, young economists trained in the University of Chicago; pro-American autocrats in East Asia had their American advisors. Who has Gota got? Majority of the so- called intelligentsia in  ‘Viyath Maga’ are no name nobodies, who are more at ease in parroting long lost economic theories of a middle path, which has proved to be a road to nowhere. They imbibe a nostalgia for the 1956, a populist misadventure that deprived the country of its hitherto held competitive advantage, leading us to the depravity of sending our women to toil in the Middle East. There is also a sense of strong opposition from his backers towards free trade agreements. Though such opposition is shrouded in the concerns for saving local jobs, the untold desire is to maintain the rotten status quo that favours a few under-performing industries at the expense of the future of a nation.

At the end, running a country is far more complicated than evicting squatters in Kompannavediya. If the panacea for the efficient governance is enlarging the role of military in public life, Pakistan could now have been an economic miracle. Gota’s hype does not provide solutions to complex problems that Sri Lanka is currently faced with. Still, more than anything else, the current government’s failure to provide a strong leadership continues to provide currency to that farce.


5 Responses to “The deadly contrast: Mahinda vs Gota”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Not so.

    Sins of others have been wrongfully charged to Gotabaya. He is no dictator, a violent person or fraud. In fact, Gotabaya has shown he is way above the Rajapaksa family. He was never driven by nepotism. He didn’t appoint any relative to any post. He picked talent. He is not tained by political experience (lies, deception, false pretext, fraud, corruption, etc.).

    Truth to be told as it is, post-war Mahinda was a total disaster. His party won 64% of the vote in April 2010 but within less than 5 years his popularity collapsed to just 47%. This makes him the leader with the fastest drop in popularity. Mahinda is also the only incumbent president to lose a presidential election. However, the 47% doesn’t really refelct the gravity of his defeat. It was achieved with enormous use of public funds during an extremely expensive election campaign that featured Bollywood actors, an army of social media campaigners headed by BJP’s social media advisor, an ugly and massive display of billboards and posters, free gold coin donations, etc. If not for these, Mahinda would not have received even 40%.

    Gotabaya is different. Mahinda won all elections since 2007 thanks only to Gotabaya. I agree there is a huge difference between them but Gotabaya is on the right side of the divide.

    Readers must carefully discern this difference without being driven by personal attachments. I don’t see any other Rajapaksa leading the nation.

  2. Hiranthe Says:

    I totally agree with Dilrook.

    I don’t agree with the writer that Gota will be similar to military leaders who ruled Pakistan, in the event he was given the power. If it was Denzil Kobbakaduwa or Fonseka, you can call them as military men but Gota has gone beyond that classification. He was a civilian for over a decade and was even working as an ordinary folk where he mastered his ability on other things such as planning and executing for achieving targets in the civilian industry.

    By observing what he achieved during the war and afterwards, we can establish easily that he did not achieve anything by chance. A great amount of planning went before the action whether it was the winning of the deadly war against a West supported Terror group or beautification and delivering a cleaner capital for this Island against the underworld and probably the local politicians will.

    Colombo was the gateway to outside world of Sri Lanka with the only international airport and harbour located within it and simply the “brand” which represent the whole country. This successful project changed the image of the country.
    I strongly feel that Gota wants to get rid of the 13A because he see its danger to Mother Lanka in the long run but MR did not listen to him. We had a great opportunity just after the war to do so but due to MR being a politician who depends on grass root level supporters who currently gathered around Provincial councillors, it did not happen.

    Even though Gota wants to get rid of it, he cannot declare it now since he needs an organised support. His joining the Pohottuwa event shows that. He is not in a fool’s paradise.

    I am very confident that if Gota comes to power, he will make sure to get rid of the PC system. Then, there is ample time for re-organising the structure around a smaller unit administrations similar to what we had before JR’s time or a Grama Rajya model. This will eliminate any future Ealam possibility.

    His unpredictability is the key for good things to happen to Mother Lanka and for all the communities. We have to take that risk. He is not a politician who utter rubbish and cheat people. He will be surrounded by professionals to advise him on key things.

    There is no other hope for this Island nation in the vicinity.

  3. Ratanapala Says:

    Gota is the only hope. With Mahinda it will be politics as usual – only politics he knows. The country and the nation is fed up with the same old politics where only the politician is king whichever party is in power and all looking after each other whatever the crime they have committed.

    At the moment Ranil the one who orchestrated the Central Bank Bond Scam is still out and not behind bars because of the soft peddling of the issue by the Joint Opposition headed by Mahinda Rajapakse. An entire nation is paying for the Bond Scam and still Ranil is free to roam the island uttering one lie after another.

    I am sure Gota will enable a differernt style of politics and administering that should be able to draw support from all citizens be they SLFP or UNP, be they Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim – all to unite with one object in mind – to move Sri Lanka forward whilst keeping our cultures and identities intact and with no predation. I believe he is much matured as a political leader – different from early Gota who was prone to get angry. Being angry doesn’t get anybody anywhere. He is on the correct path enlisting the views of the learned and professionals. However he must guard himself from the learned and professionals who are only ‘paper qualified’ with no real life experience. If he can only galvanize the nation and all Sri Lankans abroad, there will be thousands who will come to grab his extended hand.

    What Sri Lanka needs is not popular politics but practical politics within SrI Lanka and outside. Given the right condition and incentive there will be even foreigners who would come to help Sri Lanka. The secret of South Korea taking off is – retired Japanese Professionals who were attracted to come and work for South Korea!

  4. aloy Says:

    Respect Gota as one of the persons responsible for wining the fight against terrorism. Also he is a trained person in some form of technology: he was the Linux administrator in some uni in the US. Linux OS, by the way is the one that runs three quarter of all electronic devices in the world through Android. So, I believe if he is the leader, technology in SL will most probably get a boost. Probably he knows the current trends in the US which is leading the world due to the advancement in that field.

    However, I have reservations about his ability to select people around him correctly, which is a drawback in most of our leaders. Why did he select Duminda as his right hand man for defence?. The whole country knew his credentials. He has to give a reasonable answer, if not the floating voters may reject him.

  5. Christie Says:

    Definitely Gota is not India’s and Indian Parasites choice.

    In 2005 when India backed Mahinda over Ranil it did not take Gota in to the equation.

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