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By N. S. Venkataraman
Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks during a meeting with foreign correspondents at his office in Colombo January 31, 2012. Rajapaksa was emphatic: China’s presence in Sri Lanka is strictly business, and not political. Challenged on speculation that China financed and built the $1.4 billion Mahinda Rajapaksa port on Sri Lanka’s south coast so it could sneak a naval base into India’s backyard, Rajapaksa laughed and said his giant neighbor had not complained. REUTERS/Presidential Media Office/Handout (SRI LANKA – Tags: POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

The decisive victory of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the local government polls in Sri Lanka on 10th February has caused considerable surprise to the political observers around the world. Rajapaksa’s party Sri Lanka People’s Front won in 239 out of the 341 councils pushing his rivals far behind.

This victory has caused huge surprise, since Rajapaksa was voted out of power only a few years back and he was accused of indulging in nepotism, corrupt practices and favouring his family members and providing them plump positions in the government. Many felt that Rajapaksa’s government just became a family affair. The defeat of Rajapaksa in the last Presidential poll was hailed as vindication of people’s unhappiness about the quality of the governance that he provided and was considered as a rebuke for many unsavoury happeniongs during his tenure.

Then, given this recent past scenario, how is it that Rajapaksa has come back with such decisive victory in the local government polls now ?

The admirers of Rajapaksa inevitably argue that the President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who have been ruling the country together for the last few years could not meet the expectations of the people and could not give better governance than Rajapaksa. The disagreement between them on various matters relating to governance and their lack of personal equation left the people disappointed.

Independent discerning observers may be of the view that what Rajapaksa secured in the local polls were negative votes caused due to the disappointment of the people about the government led by SiriSena and Ranil Wickremesinghe and cannot be considered as positive endorsement for Mahinda Rajapaksa. Further, though both the President and Prime minister are together running the government , they chose to contest the local government polls without an alliance between them and as independent entities. The growing differences between the President and Prime Minister and the uneasy coalition has been too evident when the polls took place.

While such views may be there , one fact that cannot be ignored is that most of Sri Lankans still seem to have some level of admiration for Rajapaksa for the type of strong leadership that he provided when Sri Lanka was facing the grim problem of internal war with LTTE. Most Sri Lankans feel grateful to Rajapaksa for protecting the territorial integrity of the country by conclusively defeating LTTE. This aspect may have made many voters to give the benefit of doubt to Rajapaksa and voting for him.

While President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have now met after the local government elections and have agreed to work together to end the uncertainty over the coalition government’s future after the recent poll debacle, many people may now seem to conclude that Rajapaksa’s march towards power is unstoppable.

In any case, it all depends on how Rajapaksa would conduct himself in the coming days and whether he would be able to talk the appropriate political language to win back the confidence of the people. Obviously, people’s annoyance about the corrupt dealings of family members of Rajapaksa would not go away that soon and therefore, hard efforts are required on Rajapaksa’s part.

The ultimate question is that will Rajapaksa’s return as President of Sri Lanka, if it were to happen would do good for Sri Lanka. One cannot be sure on this.

So far, Rajapaksa has not regretted about the several acts of corruption in his government. He has not disowned his family members and they all would march back into the government in various capacities , if Rajapaksa were to return to power.

With Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe wasting the time and opportunity given to them by the people now having little credibility to put a united front against Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka appears to be moving towards the cross road.

(Author N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the “Nandini Voice for the Deprived,” a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause. To promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.)

Published Date: Thursday, February 15th, 2018 | 11:41 PM

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