Sri Lanka: Electorate Gives Rajapaksas Benefit Of Doubt – OpEd


As predicted by several pollsters, the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party   (SLPP or People’s party) led by the Rajapaksa brothers has gained a majority in the Sri Lankan parliamentary election.  This verdict is no surprise, particularly considering the anxiety  of Sri Lankan citizens, who want strong leadership .

While the Rajapaksas have gained an overwhelming majority, this does not really mean that majority of the people are entirely satisfied with their style of governance in the last few years.

Obviously, the Sri Lankan people, owing allegiance to different religions and lifestyles, must have carefully weighed the options before them and decided that the Rajapaksas are the best option in the given circumstances, despite knowing that they are not ‘blemishless’ leaders.

It is a fact that most of the Sri Lankans including Sinhalese and a section of Tamils feel grateful towards the Rajapaksas for decisively defeating  the secessionist forces and restoring the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. What the Rajapaksas achieved is what several Presidents and Prime Ministers before them could not do. Perhaps, this gratitude of Sri Lankans  will be there for all time to come.

The fact is that the majority of people have voted for the Rajapaksas giving the President and Prime Minister brothers the benefit of doubt, in spite of their nearly unimpressive governance. Obviously, this will be the last time that such a benefit of doubt will be given to them and certainly people will not react in the same way in the future elections, if the Rajapaksas are unable to deliver in the coming years.

As it happens in several democracies, many political leaders win elections by securing negative votes, as the votes in their favour may really be more the votes against their opponents in the elections. 

One conspicuous factor that one should not miss about the politics in Sri Lanka is that the leaders of the political parties in the Tamil region were not united and were more fighting the elections against each other rather than against the Rajapaksas. This too has helped them to some extent.

Certainly, people are deeply aware that the Rajapaksas have reduced the government of Sri Lanka to a form of family rule.  This “family ownership”  of the government may become even more obvious and cause concern, as one brother is the President and the other brother the Prime Minister. Both these brothers are accompanied by a few other family members in pivotal positions in the government. This may lead to a disturbing situation, where no one can get top positions in the government or government-owned institutions or even in judiciary, if they do not show their loyalty outwardly to the Rajapaksa family.

People who have given the benefit of doubt to the Rajapaksas in the election will be keenly watching the emerging scenario and could view the scenario disapprovingly if the Rajapaksa family members become the be all and end all of Sri Lankan government.

In the past, it is a fact that Sri Lanka has not been governed by the best of standards, being made into a debt ridden country, despite the several advantageous resources that the country has and the talent at the individual level that many Sri Lankans possess.

With the poorly managed economy due to ‘misgovernance’, Sri Lanka is now facing a debt trap, with the Chinese government hanging like a Democles’ Sword over the country. The Sri Lankan government has been forced to hand over the Hambantota port to a Chinese company for an over 99 year lease and this means that Chinese government will be occupying the port for many many years to come and be breathing down the neck of Sri Lanka.

Like putting all eggs in the same basket, the Rajapaksas have entertained several projects with Chinese support and money, which is bound to cost Sri Lanka’s sovereignty dearly in the coming years if corrective steps are not initiated.

In the present situation, when it is obvious that the Sri Lankan government will not be able to repay the debt  to China in the foreseeable future, it is a big challenge for the Rajapaksas and one wonders whether they will be able to extricate Sri Lanka from the vice-like grip of China.

The Rajapaksas should clearly understand the challenges before them and  understand that hard and intelligent work needs to be done so that Sri Lanka may realize its full potentials, instead of rejoicing over their victory in the parliamentary election, assuming that the family can be in power.

The primary requisite now is that the Rajapaksas should erase the impression that it is ‘family rule’ in Sri Lanka.

They should also clearly ensure thatthey would not continue to appease China  and continued appeasement  would inevitably mean sacrificing theinterests of Sri Lanka in favour of a foreign country.  China is already deeply  entrenched in one way or the other  ,

Congratulations to Rajapaksas’ forthe victory in the election and  thefervent hope is that they would not repeat the mistakes of the past and providequality governance to Sri Lanka, which the Sri Lankans deserve.  Taking  along all Sri Lankans including Tamils  in governance is a compulsive need to make SriLanka a vibrant country .
Opportunities before Sri Lanka are plenty andwhat is needed is a long term and lofty vision for  the leaders in the Sri Lankan government.  Rajapaksas’ have the  challenges and opportunities  before them and they will be tested.

N. S. Venkataraman

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.

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