Posted on November 22nd, 2019


President Gotabaya hails from a political family with a proud political record. His father, D. A. Rajapaksa was one of the founder-members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).  D.A. was a Member of Parliament.  He served as the Deputy Speaker and Cabinet Minister of Agriculture and Lands when W. Dahanayake was Prime Minister. The late D. A. Rajapaksa today holds the proud distinction of having produced two highly popular Presidents of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa came from a political family, but he had no political ambitions initially. He left that to his three brothers.  But In 2009, with the end of the war, Gotabaya was identified as a possible successor to Mahinda Rajapaksa. Gotabaya at that time stated firmly that he had no political ambitions. Gotabaya was catapulted into politics when Mahinda Rajapaksa was prevented from contesting the presidency for the third time. Since Mahinda Rajapaksa was disqualified from a third try, the popular choice was his brother, Gotabaya.

Gotabaya may have come in as a substitute for Mahinda Rajapaksa but he has the potential to be an effective President in his own right. Gotabaya has better qualifications, better achievements, better work experience, and a wider world view, than all the former Presidents of Sri Lanka, put together said, one observer. [1] 

Gotabaya has the discipline and necessary managerial experience to function effectively as President said another. He has a very successful track record.  In the army, he was seen as a fearless, unflappable leader. He has gained a reputation as a forthright administrator who does not take no” for an answer, said, analysts. He is a decisive and clear-sighted person, said Subramanian Swamy.   

 Gotabaya comes into the Presidency, with work experience in two very demanding, highly different fields. He is a decorated military man with experience in commanding troops. That is well known. But he is also a qualified computer professional with work experience in that field too. Gotabaya worked as a computer engineer in the IT department of Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California.  

As Secretary to the Defense Ministry, Gotabaya showed that he can deliver the goods at two very different levels, a military victory then urban improvement. There was a third level as well, which is not so well known. Using his position as a brother to the President, Gotabaya came to the rescue of projects in distress. Here is one instance.

Archeologists had found an ancient boat at Godawaya and had signed an agreement with a foreign country (forget the name) to do joint research on it. The foreign country, however, said the boat now belonged to them, and chased away the local researchers.   The boat was about to go abroad. When all other avenues failed, the local researchers ran to Gotabaya who put a stop to the plan.

The Yahapalana experience brought a new factor into Sri Lanka politics.  There arose a call for a strong leader. Until now no one wanted a strong leader. They wanted a weak leader who could be pushed around. This time, it appears, the public wanted a strong leader.    Well, they have definitely got one. Hope they will like it.  Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be a strong   President, unlike any we have had before. There are good reasons for this.

President Gotabaya is not a career politician. That is why he was able to order that photographs of political leaders be removed from the walls of state organizations. No career politician would have attempted this. This was carried out immediately and the public applauded.

President Gotabaya has never had his own political party, does not want one and is not shackled to any other political party either.  That means he neither knows nor cares about pandering to supporters to simply hold on to them. He cannot please all those who elected him this time, either because there are far too many of them. He also does not seem to care, at least at this moment, whether he is re-elected or not. All of which means he cannot be easily influenced.

Secondly, this is a leader who means business. I address you today as the Executive President of our dear Motherland, [as] the Commander-in-Chief and [as] the Defence Minister who will ensure security,” he said in his inaugural speech,  making it clear that he had considerable power.

 I am your Executive President. I will not hesitate to use such executive powers for the benefit of the country at any time. I will thus form a new Government that can work in accordance with my policies and implements the historic mandate given by the people to build a prosperous nation,  he continued, making it clear that he intended to use those powers.

He favours loyalty and patriotism. Loyalty and patriotism are looked down on in the west, as backward, old fashioned values. It is good to see President Gotabaya embrace them. ‘I love my country. I am proud of my country. I have a vision for my country. I appeal to all patriotic Sri Lankans to join me in my journey to build a prosperous nation for the future generations’, he said.

The public has already seen something of the Gotabaya style, though they may not realize it.  Towards the end of Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s second term of office as President, there were a series of demonstrations by university students, directed from outside and intended to destabilize the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. The main strategy was to block important trunk roads.

In one of these demonstrations, which I happened to see, the students were seated on the road in front of College House, on Thurstan Road, in a large group covering the whole road.  Facing them ,  very far away were two police vans strategically placed, blocking the road, and a handful of police, standing by the  vans,  silently watching, The students were not going to be allowed to  proceed up Thurstan Road, as they had intended, but could  continue sitting in front of College House as long as they wished. How long the students sat there, I do not know. Unlike in Yahapalana time, there was no tear gas, no water cannon, and no rows of helmeted, baton carrying police. Traffic had been re-routed.

President Gotabaya will work in consultation with his brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The two have worked together before, as we know, and will have no difficulty in working together again. This will be a formidable combination. The public has already noted that if this pair had been running the government, the Easter Sunday bomb explosion would not have been allowed to occur.

The two brothers are equally popular in the eyes of their supporters. The work they have done for the country is well known.  Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s role in winning the war and building superhighways is well known, but he has also contributed in other areas. I have listed them elsewhere and will mention just one here. The nanotechnology sector in Sri Lanka was developed during the time of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Throughout Yahapalana rule, Mahinda Rajapaksa remained popular. Within days of losing the 2015 Presidential election, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s supporters (who had voted against him!) wanted him back. They went in droves to his residence in Hambantota.  With every blunder by Yahapalana, Mahinda Rajapaksa became more desirable.  The Pohottu party which came up later is centered on him.

 Mahinda Rajapaksa was given special recognition at all Gotabaya Rajapaksa‘s election meetings. His arrival at these meetings, looking very plump, was greeted with howls of joy and toddlers were held out for him to hold. He was always the main speaker at these meetings.  A final observation. When President Gotabaya mentioned Mahinda Rajapaksa’s name in his first speech as President of Sri Lanka,   the audience immediately applauded.

It is not possible to say anything yet about how President Gotabaya will deal with economic issues, but there are pointers. The economic growth and progress achieved by President Mahinda Rajapaksa were not continued by Yahapalana complained to the public. ‘Hondata thibuna ratak,’ said one election slogan, ‘apata giya kalak”.

This was Sri Lanka‘s first wake up call. Sensing this, Gotabaya started ‘Viyath Maga’ and ‘Eliya’. Two collectives of intellectuals, artists and academics whose primary objective was to rebuild a stronger economy in Sri Lanka. These organizations held well-attended seminars throughout the country. ‘Viyath Maga’ and ‘Eliya’ were very popular. Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that he had no intention of entering politics when he began Viyath Maga.

The public expects much from President Gotabaya, I think it’s a turning point in the history of Sri Lanka,” said one supporter. “With the economy and national security, I think the country will improve in every way in the next five years. We’re very hopeful with him.” [In Gotabaya‘s time] the Colombo City was developed with several new attractions and most importantly the city had been kept clean, we expect that this would be continued, said another.”

President Gotabaya has generated hope in the economic sector. The Stock market which had fallen steadily from 2015, shot up within 24 hours of President Gotabaya taking office.  The new President must prioritize a National Industrial Policy serving the local industrial community while maintaining a global outlook, said former President FCCISL, Nawaz Rajabdeen. Sri Lanka has abundant talent in enterprise, innovation, and technology,” he concluded.

Business Chamber of Commerce sent a congratulatory message to President Rajapaksa. We wish to express our faith in [your] ability to take the country towards a more fortuitous era of economic growth, the message said.

The Chamber wishes to recall that at the outset of his Presidential campaign  Gotabaya Rajapaksa convened a gathering of the country’s leading business personalities, called “Viyath Maga”., to exchange ideas about the economy. It did not merely generate goodwill but created new hope in the business community.   President Gotabaya has expressed refreshing ideas about the Small and Medium Sector and has referred to the need to find fresh export markets for Sri Lanka’s products.

 This chamber is deeply impressed by the President’s words of wisdom as well as his knowledge of the economy and where it should be driven towards to achieve better results for this country. Given these factors, whilst we foresee a more promising future for the country. We assure the new Head of State of Sri Lanka all our support in his great endeavor, concluded Business Chamber of Commerce.

When Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected President of Sri Lanka, the neighboring countries, India, Pakistan and Maldives responded immediately, with greetings and assurances of support. Prime Minister Modi has invited President Gotabaya to come over. India immediately sent External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar to Colombo, to meet President Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa. President Gotabaya will be good for India, said Subramanian Swamy, a Rajya Sabha MP of India.

However, Hindustan Times, a privately owned newspaper, thinks it is time for India to start bullying Sri Lanka all over again. “Delhi must respect the political dispensation in Colombo, but be firm when necessary,” it said. India must deepen economic interdependence with Sri Lanka.  India must make Sri Lanka pursue an India-first policy.

 India must also draw clear red lines and enforce them. Colombo is free to engage with Beijing as a sovereign entity, but if the engagement affects Indian security interests, Delhi should make it clear that it will exercise its leverage. Gotabaya will only seek in Beijing what he is unable to get from New Delhi, just as during the final phase of the civil war,” it said. India will also have to deepen security cooperation with Sri Lanka without further escalating geostrategic competition in the Indian Ocean.

It is not possible to accept any of this. In addition to having to hold on to its 29 states, its Muslims and Hindus,   India now has to tread very carefully in its foreign relations. It is still a part of the US-dominated military set up for the Bay of Bengal together with Australia and Japan. But it is getting alarmed about the USA getting into Trincomalee. India is waking up to other realities as well. Instead of fighting with China, India has now decided to talk to China. India has re-established links with Russia on military matters. India is in no position to dictate terms to Sri Lanka.

China knows that it already has good relations with President Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa. Therefore China did not rush to greet President Gotabaya. Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his congratulatory message, It is a great pleasure to learn that you are assuming the office of the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. On behalf of the Chinese Government, people and in my own name, I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations and best wishes to you. I attach great importance to the development of our bilateral relations and wish to work together with you to enhance our mutual political trust, to start a new chapter of the China–Sri Lanka Strategic Cooperative Partnership and to bring more tangible benefits to our two peoples.”

The USA was also slow to respond. It did not congratulate President Gotabaya directly. The USA embassy said. “The United States congratulates the people of Sri Lanka on their democratic presidential election and looks forward to working with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Sri Lanka has continued to show the strength and resilience of its republic with a free, fair, and transparent presidential election befitting Asia’s oldest democracy. We commend the Elections Commission, civil society and government authorities for promoting a peaceful election. We are ready to continue our work with the new President and with all the people of Sri Lanka in supporting the country’s sovereignty through heightened good governance, expanded economic growth, the advancement of human rights and reconciliation, and in fostering an Indo-Pacific region where all countries can prosper.”

This message makes it clear that the USA plans to dig in and continue their work in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is sadly mistaken if Sri Lanka thinks that it can get rid of the USA as easily as they allowed the USA to come in. Once the USA gets a grip on a country, it will not let go.  The USA has military plans for Sri Lanka.

The US-controlled Yahapalana Phase one (2015-2019) is now over. In Phase one three instructions were given to now-defunct Yahapalana government,   (a) weaken the state, (b) ruin the economy and (c) crush the people. Then a dissatisfied, angry, restless community will be created, who will be encouraged to protest. A state of chaos will result. The west will then be able to move in, probably using the Right to Protect” (R2P). 

Sri Lanka must understand that the apparatus set up by the USA to further its interests in Sri Lanka is still intact.  It is very much alive and kicking.  This apparatus consists, inter alia, of political parties, politicians,   CIA funded NGOs parading as ‘civil society’, USA funded evangelist churches and the Killer Breed,” whose votes would have gone without hesitation to ‘Hansaya’.

There have been a few hiccups. The Presidential elections revealed the actual strength of the JVP.  JVP has only 418,553 supporters among 13,252,499 voters. The civil society grouping played a significant role in the high profile 2015 project to defeat the Rajapaksas. The Americans funded the operation, noted Shamindra Ferdinando. This time they failed. They couldn’t have challenged Gotabaya Rajapaksa under any circumstances, he said.

When I saw the huge enthusiastic crowds at the election meetings of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, shown on television, I felt a sense of fear, not elation. Because, if the USA , which had meddled in the 2010 and 2015 elections,   decided to meddle in this as well, and distort the result, this angry crowd would have erupted. There would have been an explosion that America could not have controlled.

USA will not find it easy to manipulate President Gotabaya, either. President Gotabaya has lived in the USA, so he will know something about the American culture, surely. He will also understand the agreements the USA is offering. President Gotabaya has already negotiated one ACSA with the USA. He will know to re-negotiate the present one. As a military man, the implications of the SOFA will be clear to him and he may kick it out of the window. That is why the USA wanted the SOFA signed before Gotabaya took over.

Sri Lanka has to now decide on a new foreign policy. .President Gotabaya in his first speech as President of Sri Lanka said, We want to remain neutral in our foreign relations and stay out of any conflicts among the world powers. I urge all countries to respect our country’s sovereignty and unitary status.” It is unlikely that they will do so. Sri Lanka’s strategic position in the Bay of Bengal makes it a useful possession.

Nonalignment is also no longer possible. India, which should lead non-alignment, is aligned to the USA.  It is no longer possible to speak of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace either.  Too many big powers have arrived in the Bay of Bengal.

Declaration of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace was initiated by Sri Lanka at the 26th United Nations General Assembly in 1971. It led to the adoption of a resolution by which the Indian Ocean was designated as a Zone of Peace, with airspace and ocean floor limits to be determined. The proposal was not so much about peace. It was about containing the presence of Western powers in the region. But those powers, except China, had wanted to have bases in the Indian Ocean.

So it is going to be like old times. In the 19th   century, the Sinhala king considered bringing in France, Denmark or Britain in order to get rid of the Dutch. This time, there are just two alternatives.  It is either the USA or China.   Obviously, Sri Lanka must link with the rising power, China, not the fading power, USA.  (Continued)

[1] Presidents R. Premadasa, D.B. Wijetunge and M.Sirisena went straight from secondary school into jobs in the police, cooperatives, and community work. Chandrika Kumaratunga had a diploma in political science. Only J.R. Jayewardene and Mahinda Rajapaksa had professional qualifications as lawyers.

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