Revisiting January 2015
Posted on October 13th, 2019

by Rohana R. Wasala

The following article of mine was published in The Island newspaper and in Lankaweb respectively on January 14 and 15, 2015. I thought the present circumstances warrant a reprint of the same.  If you see any unimportant inconsistencies here in relation to the current ground reality in the political landscape, please remember that this was published just five days after the incumbent president was sworn in, followed by the launching of the Yahapalanaya. The transfer of power that  took place then was very smoothly achieved because the Rajapaksa government allowed the electoral process to take its legitimate course without any hindrance; they did not want to do anything that could have undermined the people’s right to vote. Neither did they postpone elections out of fear of losing them; instead, the government advanced the presidential election by two years (Please see paragraph 3 below.)

Limits of realpolitik and the cost of maithri misdirected

I hail the final result of the free and fair election so efficiently conducted under the outgoing administration as confirmation of the fact that democracy remains still safe and untouched in this country. The coming together of many diverse, formerly well-nigh irreconcilable factions, but which were eventually  bound by a common aim (that of dislodging Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa from power, come what may) demonstrates the great potential that such pan-Sri Lankan unity  has for causing even more positive change in the country without resorting to violence. The change of government, however brought about, could offer unprecedented opportunities for resolving the longstanding national issue. The fact that the UPFA has promised unconditional support for the government to implement its 100-day programme, which could give the people a foretaste of what to expect under a more permanent regime set up after this change, is an encouraging sign for future developments of a positive nature. Things are generally looking up for the new government.

Having said this, however, I must admit that I was among those Sri Lankans who did not actually envisage a regime change engineered through a coup of sorts at this juncture in view of the more important local and global ramifications of the problem. In circumstances that need no elaboration, what actually happened was that the election that the former president held two years ahead of the end of his second term for his own strategic reasons was turned into an uncalled for caesarean section by vested interests. A change of government effected without outside interference would have been better for the health and longevity of the new government and also for the well-being of the country. If the agenda of the  movers and shakers behind this operation agrees with the democratic wish of the non-communalist majority (which includes all ethnic communities) of the population it will definitely be the happiest national occasion for all Sri Lankans since the defeat of terrorism.

The smooth manner in which the transfer of power took place, even in the abnormal circumstances it had to be performed,  reflects the fact that after all Sri Lankan leaders are well schooled in leading the unhampered democratic process that is necessary for the exercise of the people’s right to change governments through the power of the ballot, and that they don’t need outsiders to preach to them or pressure them in this regard. Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa, Mr Maithripala Sirisena and Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe played their complementary roles in a highly commendable manner. In the generally hopeful environment that has emerged, my personal belief is that the government change, while being a clear victory for Rajapaksa haters, has paradoxically the potential of being, in the long term, a blessing in disguise for Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa and his supporters.

However, the short term effect is otherwise: it looks like a tragic fall for Mr Rajapaksa. In a classical Greek tragedy such as Oedipus Rex (King Oedipus) the protagonist (main character) is a noble person, a hero. The drama is built around the fall of this character from fortune to adversity due to some negative factor in his situation such as a flaw in his reasoning, hubris or overweening pride in his own abilities, and an inherent condition in the society, which prevents him from reaching some noble goal that he aspires to realize.  Mr Rajapaksa’s tragic flaw  was his voluntary or involuntary vulnerability to charges of rampant corruption and nepotism or family bandyism (something from which, unfortunately, his successor is not immune). Of course, no politician in power is completely safe from charges of corruption, but that doesn’t mean that every politician is corrupt. The voters knew this from the beginning, but expected him, at the earliest instance available, to put an end to his vulnerability to such charges by doing something proactive about it. After patiently turning a blind eye to it for as long as they possibly could for the sake of the country, many strong Mahinda supporters thought enough is enough and helped his ouster even at some temporary  risk to the country. The opposition ranks arrayed against him, swollen by defectors from his own governing alliance, almost exclusively focused on these charges and his alleged susceptibility (as rumoured) to an authoritarian style of interaction with his colleagues in the government; they played down his successful performance in more important areas such as national security and the equitable development of all parts of the country including particularly the northern and the eastern provinces which had faced the brunt of the civil war, which aspect of his presence was actually the basis of his popularity. This relentless insistence by his critics on  (probably strategically exaggerated) charges of corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism, etc.,  had its desired effect especially among social media savvy young people (say those between 18 and 35) who seemed to adopt a clearly more no-nonsense attitude towards those corruption allegations than an older generation of voters who were ready to temporarily overlook these in support of the war-winning leader now embarked on a massive development drive. The majority of the older supporters of Mr Rajapaksa trusted him to focus on the need to eliminate the grounds for such accusations to be made against him when more pressing matters would be sufficiently settled. But there is no doubt in my mind that they wholeheartedly approve of the hardnosed attitude of the younger generations of voters towards power seeking politicians (such as what is the norm in Australian parliamentary politics, where the unalterable implicit warning to all politicians is ‘deliver or depart’: Former federal prime minister Mrs Julia Gillard had to go because of the carbon tax problem, and now  the writing is said to be on the wall for her successor Mr Tony Abbott on similar grounds). That trend should be encouraged by all means for the good of the country.

It is unfortunate that the former president got no chance, or didn’t try to find one, to respond to opposition charges of corruption, and that apparently he didn’t think it necessary to have restricted his preference for co-opting family members into the task of nation building to his three brothers;  and despite his alleged authoritarian way of dealing with his subordinate colleagues, he strangely failed to contain the  abominable behavior of certain unsavory characters around him.  It is said that he was too kindhearted to hurt the feelings of his friends, and he forgave them too often. In the process, he effectively betrayed the trust reposed in him by the people of the country. So it was a case of misdirected maithri (in Buddhism ‘loving kindness’ also literally ‘friendliness’).As a non-partisan journalist, with absolutely no selfish motives to achieve, but only well intentioned towards both Mr Rajapaksa and the country, I wrote two articles entitled Old fossils out, new blood in” and What’s wrong with corruption” in both of  which I called a spade a spade while making some brief comments on, respectively, the inadvisability of nepotism, and the necessity of registering a plausible response to charges of corruption. My purpose was to seriously suggest that something convincing be done to create no conducive environment for such allegations to arise. This was quite  early in Mr Rajapaksa’s second term. These articles, published in The Island respectively on September 11, 2010 and July 29, 2011, are still available in the internet. (Of course, here I am writing as an average citizen of the country.  Much wiser and far more knowledgeable people than me have made similar suggestions.) Perhaps, Mr Rajapaksa neglected to refute charges of corruption because they were totally false and also because they were too numerous to counter individually. He was heard saying that he had more urgent work to do than  waste time on baseless allegations, which in fact would have been accepted by the people as a legitimate response had he cared to meet at least a few typical charges in  some more reliable, well publicized manner, with facts and figures set out for all to see.

No successful politician can avoid realpolitik at times. Moral idealism has sometimes to be sacrificed for dealing with practical realities. But there are limits to realpolitik. His decision to hold elections two years before they were due was a crass miscalculation. He could have instead used the remaining two years of his term to fix the various corruption allegations, and settle issues relating to governance, economic management and reconciliation. If that happened he would have easily won a third term in due course, and saved the country from impending, possibly chaotic, conditions.

Mr Rajapaksa successfully projected his Sinhalese Buddhist image for obvious reasons. But the majority of Sinhalese Buddhist voters are not too dumb to take politicians at face value. This is an age in which more and more educated young people become skeptical about such superstitions as astrology, which is a good thing. He betrayed an exaggerated, quite unbuddhistic  reliance on the predictions of astrologers, auspicious times, occult protection, etc (Buddha rejected astrology as a practice fit for beasts or thiraschina vidya), which also partly contributed to his defeat, by betraying his unwarranted panicky behavior towards the D Day.

Psephologists have made a neat comparison between the two camps in respect of the general voting patterns: a majority of each minority community and a minority of the majority community have voted for Mr Sirisena, while the reverse has happened in the case of Mr Rajapaksa. But the important thing is that both candidates got votes from all the communities. If anyone suggested that Mr Sirisena won only because of minority votes, that would be a serious mistake. Mr Rajapaksa’s losing margin was a mere 449,072 votes, whereas the valid vote cast was over 12,000,000 and his share was 5,768,090 (47.48% to Mr Sirisena’s 51.28%).  The voter turnout was a very healthy 81.52%, which reflects a very high level of public awareness of and active participation in the democratic process. So the rulers are obliged to capitalize on this opportunity to resolve outstanding issues through democratic consensus. The cohesion of the entire electorate on these lines can increase the chances for the formation of a government at the centre that is more amenable to the demands of the minorities.

This centripetal tendency will serve to preserve the unitary status of the country, averting separatism. The task of achieving the right balance between the minority and majority interests that will enable the birth of a new country where the different communities can live in harmony as one nation without minorities clamouring for separation will call for political skills of the highest order. Whether Mr Sirisena is equal to the task will soon be tested. Mr Rajapaksa’s less hurried plan of achieving reconciliation by winning the hearts and minds of the minorities through comprehensive development has virtually been aborted. The sad reality is that he squandered the chances he had to address these issues in a more robust manner than he actually did. Probably a bit of hubris was a contributory factor, too. But he is still in a position to influence events, because he hasn’t still significantly lost his stature and popularity among the masses who are mindful of the many plus points of his leadership. As many people who still admire him say, it was the system that was defeated, not Mr Rajapaksa himself.

8 Responses to “Revisiting January 2015”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    I was not one lost sight of the forest by focusing on the trees. I did not abandon President Mahinda Rajapaksa, mindful of his stupendous leadership, courage and achievements in protecting our long suffering People and Reintegrating our Motherland against all odds.

    I was well aware of the numerous ENEMIES arrayed against him and the Patriots of Lanka, who would resort to any artificemost foul to topple that great man, the protector of the VAST MAJORITY of our citizens, from power to achieve their personal and treacherous aims.

    To my utter dismay, a small fraction of those who benefited mightily from his leadership, turned against him BRAINWASHED by the incessant chants of “Corruption, Corruption, and More Corruption’, that have since been DISCREDITED, and UNPROVABLE!

    We, the Sri Lankan people, afficlited by a shortest-of-terms memory defect, destroyed our own future by electing the Yamapalanaya to power.

    The allegations against the former Mahinda Rajapaksa regime PALE INTO INSIGNIFICANCE in COMPARISON to the outright CRIMES and TREACHEROUS ACTS of the Yamapalanaya. Due to our own GULLIBLE FOOLISHNESS we lost HEADWAY in the Nations March towards becoming the New Wonder of Asia!

    Now we are AGAIN POISED on the THRESHOLD of a National RENEWAL through National Elections that would allow us to RESTORE the course of our country’s PROGRESS and DEVELOPMENT towards that SHINING GOAL we ABORTED on Jan 8, 2015, of FREEING ourselves from the Third World poverty an JOINING the prosperous FIRST WORLD within the NEXT 10 years!

    In MOVING towards that SHINING GOAL WE MUST FIRMLY RESOLVE to NEVER AGAIN act as FOOLISHLY as we did on Jan 8, 2015 when we gave birth to the DESPICABLE TREACHEROUS Yamapalanaya to our great pain and sorrow!

  2. Dilrook Says:

    Well, the previous regime’s honest plan to “win hearts and minds of Tamil and Muslim people” failed very badly.

    Interestingly, the UNP government seems to have won hearts and minds of Tamil and Muslim people effortlessly. They did absolutely nothing to earn it!

    This fact must be undersood.

    Do not impose a reconciliation/development model on minorities. Just ask them what they want. UNP succeeded without spending much in this regard but Rajapaksas failed.

    Ultimately what matters is Sri Lanka winning hearts and minds of Tamil and Muslim people (as long as Sri Lanka follows reconciliation). Towards that end, Sri Lanka must elect a president and a parliament that achieves it. The 2015 regime change did that trick effortlessly!

    I’m not saying I agree with it. (I don’t.) But since Sri Lanka as a nation has taken up reconciliation internally, externally (our commitments to the UN, UNHRC, USA, India) and constitutionally (after 19A the president has a new duty – reconciliation), a president who wins hearts, minds and votes of Tamil and Muslim people must be elected to honor all those commitments and advance the reconciliation plan.

    Otherwise, Sri Lanka must change the reconciliation model to integration, etc. (My preferred option.)

    Don’t say reconciliation and destroy reconciliation.

    This inconsistency is ruining the little peace we have, the economy and presents Sri Lanka as a failure to the world. It was utterly foolish to take up reconciliation in 2011 just because powerful countries pressed us. We should have rejected it and instead proposed integration. We failed.

    Now all presidential election candidates accept reconaliation and Sri Lanka as a nation is going to live with reconciliation. Therefore the president must be someone who wins hearts, minds and votes of Tamil and Muslim people. Otherwise Sri Lanka fails again.

  3. aloy Says:

    Let me add my two cents worth on your first para.

    I believe it was not a democratic transfer, but a counter coup.

    MR & Co. had planned to takeover militarily had MR lost. But the ordinary soldiers wouldn’t budge. That is why the announcements of results got delayed and hence the second coup took effect.

    Power was transferred to the other party on conditions (and those conditions seemed to have been met until today) and My3 was to be a puppet. However that did not happen and he stood his grounds to a certain extent. Now Gota seems to be a saviour. Let us see what he can play that role. Will he betray the trust thrusted upon him by Mahasanga and restore the powers of President as in JR’s constitution (which has been completely turned upside down by the selfish leaders with the help of minorities without a referendum) using an impartial judiciary democratically or in the worst case burn down the parliament as Hitler did immediately after the election is yet to seen.

    Whatever it is, there is some power protecting this land and Sinhalas will not allow it to be divided. Let the minorities keep that in mind before and after 11/16.

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    The “hearts and minds” of Tamils and Muslims cannot be won by ANYTHING we promise them except abject abandonment of the shared equal rights of ALL people of Sri Lanka.

    Instead, it is the Tamils and Muslims who should abandon their SEPARATYE COMMUNAL ASPIRATIONS and RESOLVE to be satisfied with equal rights shared in COMMON with ALL citizens of SRi Lanka.

    That will happen if we AVOID PANDERING to their SEPARATE ASPIRATIONS and IGNORE their outrageous self-serving demands until they do so.

    Until then, we have to ELECT TO POWER with DESHAPREMI Governments with the necessary ELECTORAL PLURALITY & Government Structure STABLE ENOUGH to resist all internal and external ENEMY ACTION to TOPPLE it from POWER!

    Wake up, Sinhalayeni! That is our ELECTION GOAL today!

  5. aloy Says:

    Correction: “Let us see whether Gota can play that role.” That is what an ordinary Uber drivers or threewheeler drivers have been telling me over the last couple of weeks.

  6. Ananda-USA Says:

    Central Bank Gov Coomaraswamy announced that Economic Growth Rate has now decreased to 1.6%!

    Those who support the Yamapalanaya must be ECSTATIC; they have DRIVEN the Nation into the Ground!

  7. Vaisrawana Says:

    aloy, I am afraid you are wrong to say:

    “I believe it was not a democratic transfer, but a counter coup.

    MR & Co. had planned to takeover militarily had MR lost. But the ordinary soldiers wouldn’t budge. That is why the announcements of results got delayed and hence the second coup took effect.”

    You are asserting this on the sole authority of that despicable liar Mongala S and his followers. Mahinda had nothing to do with the mysterious long break in broadcasting results at that election. It has a more scientific, more rational explanation. Remember the ouster of Rajapaksa was forced by foreign involvement. This is a fact that even the Yahapalanites do not challenge now. If there really was a military coup attempt by MR, do you think Ranil and them would have done nothing about it. Don’t you believe what Dilrukshi W and Suhada G revealed recently?Isn’t it silly to say the coup didn’t succeed because ordinary soldiers didn’t cooperate?

  8. aloy Says:


    Thanks for responding to my above comment. Yes, my assertion may be wrong. However I have no truck with those despicable people you mentioned although I have some respect for Sajiths father, RP. I have never been a UNPier though. At this time what we need is to stabilize this country and I feel Gota is the person to do that; hence my support to him from the beginning. I am happy that he is gathering momentum and most certainly will be the next prez.

    People can always change if they try. King Asoka, Vijaya and Angulimala are examples. I believe it is people with guts are the once who can change the fortunes of any nation.

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