GOTABAYA RAJAPAKSA, SEVENTH PRESIDENT OF SRI LANKA Part 1
Posted on November 21st, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected the seventh Executive President of the Republic of Sri Lanka at the election held on 16.11.2019. He won comfortably with 52.25 % of the votes, with his rival trailing behind with 41.99%.  Gotabaya Rajapaksa polled a total of 6,924, 255, out of   13,252,499 votes. Gotabaya won in 7 of 9 provinces and 16 electoral districts.  He also won the postal vote of 17 districts. 

The Presidential election of 2019 was impatiently awaited by those who wanted the Yahapalana government out.  Whenever Yahapalana government did something they did not like, the angry public said, ‘wait till the next election comes’.  Sri Lanka loves elections. Voters have been going to the polling booths from 1931 onwards.

This Presidential election was a crucial election and voters did not want anything to mar the results. The queues were disciplined, orderly and the voting was brisk There was a very high turnout of 87.31%, probably the highest turn out ever. The voters had no trouble with the long ballot paper. They knew exactly where to put the cross. The number of rejected votes was a mere 1.41 %  (135,452).

The election was conducted efficiently and smoothly. The officials in charge are by now, very experienced in conducting elections. Election monitors from abroad confirmed that the elections were clean. European Union team said the election was peaceful, technically well managed and efficiently administered by the Election Commission. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) said the election was peaceful, orderly and successful. These foreign election observers were bound by the Declaration of Principles for International election Observers (UN 2005).

The transfer of power took just 2 ½ days.   Polls opened at 7 am and closed at 5 pm on 16th and by noon on the 17th, the winner was known because Sajith Premadasa conceded defeat. The result was officially declared by 5 pm on the 17th, 24 hours after the polls closed.  By noon on the 18th Gotabaya Rajapaksa had taken oaths as President of Sri Lanka. 

It was clear from the huge enthusiastic crowds that attended his election meetings that the popular vote had been won by Gotabaya well before the election. Crowds pursued him everywhere. They even accompanied him when he went to cast his vote!

The election was considered so crucial that around 2 lakhs of Sinhalese living abroad, came at their own expense, risking their jobs, to vote for Gotabaya. They came not only from countries like the UK and France but also from Kuwait, Egypt, and Italy. Television cameras showed them coming out of the Arrivals section of Katunayake Airport with their trolleys draped with the Sri Lanka flag and posters of candidate Gotabaya. They spoke to the camera and said openly that they had come to vote for Gotabaya and that the country was facing a serious crisis.

The Maha Sangha came out in strong support of Gotabaya. We saw them daily on television news, telling us what they thought of Yahapalana and instructing us on how to vote. Think before you vote, they said. This election was a rata gana, daruwo gana, Sambuddha Sasana gana hitana chandayak.” We need a ‘ratata adara karana, ayomaya nayakayek’, they said.

The Maha Sangha openly promoted Gotabaya. Gotabaya has a vision, also he delivers any project he undertakes, the Sangha said.  They were happy when Gotabaya won. Asgiriya and Malwatte openly welcomed the result. The Maha Sangha were there at Ruvanvelisaya looking, for the first time in five years, calm and relaxed. This was the President they had wanted. 

Pohottu ran a well-coordinated campaign. Professional groups and business persons supported it. Volunteers were enlisted at the grassroots level. There was a surprising sophistication in the Pohottu campaign, said, observers.  SLFP was not known for this level of sophistication.

President Gotabaya appreciated the support he got.  Hundreds of thousands of people, who had never worked for a political party previously, volunteered their time and resources for our campaign. I also appreciate the role played in the election campaign by professional organizations like the Viyath Maga, various national organizations, the business community, academics, artists, social media influencers, expatriates who came to Sri Lanka to vote and the youth. I have not met most of them personally, but they did their duty for the country. I thank them all,  he said in his inaugural speech.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory was greatly welcomed. Crackers were lit when Gotabaya’s nomination was announced.  There was fireworks, kiribath and rejoicing in the streets when he won. But the biggest celebrations took place when Gotabaya was sworn in as President.  The celebrations went on the whole day and spilled over to the next day as well. (See Derana 6.55 news 19.11.19)

The celebrations included Raban playing, three-wheeler and scooter parades and lots of cheering. Most of all there were dan salas offering kiribath. There were dan salas on the next day too. Television cameras showed enormous trays of kiribat, combs of fat plantains and dozens of consumers. In Colombo cameras showed a dan sala with the food in brand new clay pots and a bunch of Nelum pohottu on the side. In Matara they served the food on kenda kola. Passengers travelling on buses had food thrust on them. The media, both print and television, commented on the dan sala aspect of the celebrations, because it was so prominent.    (see Derana 12 noon news of 19.11.19 for a lengthy presentation of these celebrations.)

Gotabaya Rajapaksa received his primary and secondary education at Ananda College, Colombo.  He joined the Sri Lanka Army as a Cadet Officer in 1971 and became a Second Lieutenant in 1972. From the Sinha regiment, he was transferred to the newly created Gajaba Regiment in 1983.  In 1989, he was appointed a commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, Gajaba Regiment. He continued in this regiment till 1990  and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He attended the Advanced Infantry Officers Course at the United States Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, in 1983   and obtained a Master’s Degree in Defence Studies at the University of Chennai in 1983.

Gotabaya participated in some of the most hard-fought battles in the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He participated in Operation Liberation,” the offensive mounted to liberate Vadamarachchi from the LTTE in 1987. He commanded his battalion in Operation Strike Hard” and Operation Thrividha Balaya” in 1990.

As a reward for gallantry and excellence in combat, he was awarded the Rana Wickrama Padakkama (RWP) and Rana Sura Padakkama (RSP) in 1991. He worked closely with outstanding Army officers including Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Wijaya Wimalaratne. Gotabaya’s rise to the Presidency marks the first instance of a former military officer becoming the President of Sri Lanka.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa retired from the army in 1992. He obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Information Technology from University of Colombo in 1992. In 1998, Rajapaksa and his family migrated to the United States of America. His wife’s family were living there and his wife wanted to join them. He worked as a Systems Administrator  in the IT department of Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California.This gave him valuable exposure to the west. His ideas for beautifying Colombo probably came from what he saw in Southern California, said observers.

Gotabaya returned to Sri Lanka and held the powerful post of Secretary, Ministry of Defence from 2005 to 2015, in the two successive Mahinda Rajapaksa presidencies.   His achievements during this period are many. He elevated Sir John Kotalawala Defence Academy to a fully-fledged Defence University in 2007

Gotabaya played a key role in ending the three-decade-long war through an expertly-conceived and skillfully-coordinated military strategy. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Colombo in 2009   in acknowledgment of his role in winning the war.

He saw to the rehabilitation of over 12,000 former LTTE cadres, a rehabilitation project which has won the admiration of other nations.  He also saw to the de-mining of the north by the military and restoring normalcy in North and the East.  To consolidate national security, the Department of Immigration and Emigration, the Registration of Persons Department, and the Coast Guard were brought under the Ministry of Defence.

In 2010, Gotabaya Rajapaksa took over the Urban Development Authority, with very positive, very visible results. Within a short span of four years, he made significant changes in metropolitan Colombo and several other cities. Walls of public buildings were brought down creating a more open, relaxing environment in Colombo.

 Recreational areas and walking paths were constructed in Battaramulla, Madiwela, Kaduwela, Bellanwila, and Nawala. He initiated the renovation of many old colonial buildings and structures in Colombo, including the colonial Race Course area, Dutch Hospital precinct, and Independence Arcade, In the greater Colombo region. He used the armed forces for these projects, an excellent move. 

He negotiated the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project. Shanties in Slave Island were demolished and the inhabitants provided with flats elsewhere.  A huge flood and drainage management project were started in the Colombo city. Under this project, Colombo’s drainage infrastructure, including its micro drainage channels, primary and secondary canals, and lakes were redone. Canals in Colombo were cleaned, and they became attractive and inviting. This flood and drainage project, which probably incorporates sewer renovation, is in progress today. (continued)

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