Many Sri Lankans want a strongman leader, and that favours Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Posted on August 10th, 2019

Courtesy London South East

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lankans, angered by the government’s inability to prevent the Easter Sunday terror attacks that killed more than 250 people, want a strongman back in power who can guarantee their safety and bring back economic growth.

Many are rooting for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who despite fighting allegations of war crimes, is expected to be announced as the presidential candidate of the opposition nationalist Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, as early as Sunday.

The Rajapaksa brothers, Gotabaya and Mahinda, were credited with bringing peace to Sri Lanka in 2009 by defeating the Tamil Tigers in a brutal end to the 26-year-long civil war between the Sinhalese Buddhist majority and minority Tamil groups. Gotabaya was the defence secretary at the time and Mahinda the nation’s president.

“The people have requested a leader who can ensure their security,” Basil Rajapaksa, founder of the SLPP and youngest brother of Gotabaya and Mahinda told reporters on Thursday.

Gotabaya is facing lawsuits in the United States for instigating and authorising the extrajudicial killing of a journalist and of war crimes against the Tamils during his time as defence secretary.

He has denied the allegations and said the lawsuits, brought by torture survivors and the daughter of the slain journalist, were timed to thwart his possible presidential run. A final date for the presidential elections has not been decided but must be held before Dec 9.

IGNORED WARNINGS

Sri Lanka’s constitution is modelled on the French system of government where the president has executive powers while the prime minister heads the parliament.

The current government is headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, the leader of centre-left Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) while Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is from the centre-right United National Party (UNP), which has a majority in the parliament.

Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, who have been at loggerheads since last October, have blamed one another for ignoring warnings from India and failing to stop the attacks. Calls for a nationalist leader like Gotabaya, who has strong support from within Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese Buddhist community, echo similar choices made by voters in other Asian nations including India and Bangladesh.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was elected for a second term in May in a landslide victory, rallied his Hindu nationalist base and turned the campaign into a fight for national security and an aggressive stance against Pakistan.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who won a third straight term in an election last December, has been criticised for suppressing dissent and jailing critics.

ECHOES OF DUTERTE

Reuters spoke to about 60 people, many of whom were victims of the terror attacks or affected by communal violence over the past year, and while some plan to abstain from voting, many of those who will vote say they want a more authoritarian figure.

Many Sri Lankan Catholics will not vote for Sirisena if he stands, said a senior Sri Lankan priest.

He is looking at Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs as an example of the kind of behaviour that is required despite evidence that it involved extrajudicial killings by police.

“A third world country like us needs a tough leader like Duterte – he is doing whatever is needed to rid his country of evils,” said the priest who did not wanted to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

“Gotabaya is accused of crimes but he is tough and that is what we need right now to bring back some order,” he said.

The Catholic Church did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

MINORITIES DIVIDED

A country of 21 million, Sri Lanka has been a tinder box of sectarian and ethnic tensions, first between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist population and Tamil groups, and in recent years between the Sinhalese Buddhists and the Muslim minority.

While most Tamils are unlikely to vote for Gotabaya, the Muslim community may be divided.

S.H.M. Thameem, a government employee who is a Muslim, said he will vote for Gotabaya because the current government has failed to deliver.

“When there were anti-Muslim riots when he was the defence secretary, they were controlled within a day or two but Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have failed to control it. That adversely impacted the Muslim businesses and overall economy,” said Thameem who lives in the north-central district of Anuradhapura.

J.M. Faleel, a Muslim autorickshaw driver in Colombo feels differently.

“We need a dictator, but I will not vote for Gotabaya as he is partially responsible for most of the suffering we see today,” said Faleel, referring to anti-Muslim riots and alleged abuses against the Tamils.

Keheliya Rambukwella, a spokesman for SLPP, said Gotabaya was out of the country when the worst violence against Muslims took place.

“But still he was able to prevent it within a day. This government could not control the spreading of anti-Muslim riots for a week last,” he told Reuters.

The lawsuit allegations in the United States may not hurt Gotabaya’s chances of winning because he has the overwhelming support of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, said Kusal Perera, a political columnist in Sri Lanka.

“This election will be decided by the large majority of Sinhalese Buddhists who believe they need a hardline president to put things right. The Tamils and Muslims will be left out in deciding the president,” said Perera.

2 Responses to “Many Sri Lankans want a strongman leader, and that favours Gotabaya Rajapaksa”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Sri Lanka is ON TRACK to be GREAT AGAIN!

    Pohottuwa Convention accepts Mahinda Rajapaksa as Party Leader and Gothabhaya Rajapaksa as Candidate for President!

    JAYAWEWA! JAYAWEWA! JAYEN JAYAWEWA!

    Ratna Deepa, Janma Bhumi
    Lanka Deepa Vijaya Bhumi
    Mey Apey Udaaru Wu
    Maathru Bhumiyayi!
    Maathru Bhumiyayi!

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Lack of a mechanism to regulate non-profits’ funds is a problem – Minister

    Aug 11, Colombo: Minister of Internal and Home Affairs and Provincial Councils and Local Government, Vajira Abeywardena says that the lack of a mechanism to look into non-profit organizations registered to bring money to the country is a serious problem.

    He was speaking at the Government Agents’ Conference held at the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA) in Colombo.

    Currently there are over 3000 trusts registered as non-profit institutes and organizations in Sri Lanka. These organizations are run according to the ordinances that have existed since the time our country was known as Ceylon. These ordinances are not suitable for today.”

    “According to the present law, such a trust can be registered in a Government Agent’s office. These trusts are registered and they bring various types of money into the country. There is no follow up mechanism to investigate these organizations. This is already a problem for the country,” the Minister pointed out.

    “The Government and the countries that have been giving aid and loans to our country have inquired about this since 2012. But we have not given any answers. The government should answer this.”

    The Minister said there should be a regulation to monitor these nonprofit organizations, otherwise obtaining financial aid for the country will be a problem.

    He added that the current financial system does not match with the existing law on the Trusts. Minister Vajira Abeywardena said the government has paid attention to the issue and prepared the necessary documents in this regard. Therefore, the Government Agents should look into the registration of trusts at district-level and obtain the necessary information.

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