President Rajapaksha: Four years on

By Rajpal Abeynayake

(November 25, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It’s a full four years since Percy Mahendra — Mahinda — Rajapaksa took oaths as president of Sri Lanka, on his 60th birthday. It’s perhaps not a long time, folks would say, considering that constitutionally a Sri Lankan president can hold office for a six year term.

But yet, if this was Germany, or the U.S.A, Rajapaksa would be facing elections by now. That’s how long presidential or chancellor terms are in those countries. So, an appraisal at the end of four years is not out of place, but is indeed imperative.Besides, though this is not Germany or the USA, Mahinda Rajapaksa may just be calling for presidential elections very soon, in all likelihood. Most of his party members, including the hierarchy reportedly want him to do so.

Anyway, his four year report card rings with one absolutely stunning resounding success. He defeated the fascist, terrorist LTTE and sent Prabhakaran to meet his maker, and people may have had this news reported to the point of their being utterly jaded now, but for decades that feat was unthinkable.

Special place

So no doubt Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa would have earned for himself a special place in this country’s history. The New York Times, I saw, in their own four year appraisal of Mahinda Rajapaksa, had said that he became president, annulled a ceasefire agreement in short order, and almost peremptorily set about recapturing territory held by the Tamil Tigers.

"More importantly, Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot seem to shake off the image of overconfident Plutocrat who was not about to disturb his Nelsonian snooze, by doing much about the problems of corruption, impunity, IDP resettlement, freeing-up the public space for free expression etc,."

We do not know from which planet the New York Times columnist penned these lines, but being here in Sri Lanka, we know quite well that Mahinda Rajapaksa didn’t approach the issues quite that way.

He tried talking to the Tigers soon after he was elected, even though many newspapers —- I bet the New York Times among them - - had already called him a hawk.

The talks failed as the Tamil Tigers did not turn up in Geneva the second time, on top of which fact, all of a sudden Prabhakaran’s troops began attacking Sri Lanka forces, even though already the ceasefire had been rendered a joke by the LTTE’s literary thousands of violations since the agreement was signed in 2002.

The LTTE leader then laid siege to an anicut in the eastern province, depriving water to thousands of farmers who irrigated their fields from waters that flowed in the Mavil Aru.

It seemed to be the last straw for Rajapaksa - - who systematically set about attacking the LTTE, cleared the Eastern province of the terrorists, and then, eventually, many months into the war, abrogated the ceasefire agreement. It’s so much history now, but that Mahinda Rajapaksa smothered the LTTE with the help of one very determined brother, and an intrepid army commander by the name of Sarath Fonseka, will be stuff of historical lore.

But yet, four years down the line - - - Mahinda Rajapaksa’s report cards strangely shows a mishmash of surprisingly varied results. That his General who dealt a military coup de grace to the LTTE is now estranged from him, is old news.

But more importantly, Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot seem to shake off the image of overconfident Plutocrat who was not about to disturb his Nelsonian snooze, by doing much about the problems of corruption, impunity, IDP resettlement, freeing-up the public space for free expression etc,.

In fact, most seem to agree that he would have done nothing about these issues, had his war General not virtually crossed over to the other side.

Just take his revival of the slogan “Maa eya itu kalemu - - then ithin rata hadamau.” (“I achieved it —- now we shall rebuild the country.”) The words made a brief appearance after the war was won in May, during that period of heady celebration and elongated hubris.

The slogan then went into storage, only to be resurrected at the recent SLFP convention last week, after Rajapaksa had felt the full brunt of a possible Fonseka political onslaught.

Reversal of fortunes

There is not much doubt that overconfidence and hubris consumed the Rajapaksa juggernaut. One needs necessarily deploy cliche to explain this situation — never did President Rajapaksa contemplate this reversal of fortunes, barely 7 months past the date the war ended.

It’s indubitable therefore, the fact that there is nothing really in that report card - - - at least upto now - - except the war victory. What the report card does have are gigantic banner negatives such as wasted funds on Mihin Air, tolerance of the corrupt and notorious such as Mervyn Silva, and tasteless family-bandyism in which the perception at least, is that the Rajapaksas alone control the better part of the national exchequer —- out of which a sizeable amount is used for their own political and personal aggrandisement.

The militaristic approach to the IDP issue was almost nothing short of a disgrace.
But, bad mistakes, however egregious, can be corrected. It can be said that the Rajapaksas cannot be expected to get things absolutely right, so soon after the war ended - - but the problem is that the perception was that the Rajapaksas were willing to go down this one track route of resting on their laurels, had not the “firm’’ received a jolt in the form of a putative candidacy of a possibly formidable contender.

Can the enormous almost unprecedented positives of the war victory —- no Executive president was able to control the military aspect of the confrontation with the LTTE, leave alone win the war —— balance the other negatives on the Rajapaksa report card, at the end of year 4?

All that can be said is that the Rajapaksas should be willing and able to do a real, tangible, gigantic roll-back of the lethargic policies on corruption and rights, on impunity and IDPs, and cost of living and nepotism, and a myriad other policy failures which make the “firm’’ look like a bunch of marauding dynastic oligarchs —— if they can have any expectation of ruling comfortably for at least the next 6 years.

So far it has seemed as if it goes against the Rajapaksa grain to engage issues of corruption impunity and nepotism - - precisely because the administration is the embodiment of corruption nepotism, and impunity.

All that has to end, almost in an instant, as it is already almost too late for change. Lip service to a war on corruption, or lip service to the concept of ‘rebuilding’’ would spell doom, considering the weight of the forces that are now legitimately or otherwise arraigned against this regime. Those forces may be motivated by greed for political power or they may be being egged on by “alien conspirator forces with ulterior motives’’ —- that being bogey or not.

But they also represent the crying need for change in the ongoing political ethos of business as usual. They represent the popular need for not frittering away the war gains by fomenting social unrest due to corruption, insensitivity to minorities, and plutocratic nepotism.

In other words, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s report card says he has won the best accolade a president can hope to win after the presidency was created, indeed after independence was won —- the glittering Gold Medal for freeing the country, something none of his predecessors had come remotely close to getting their hands on.

But yet not even that unprecedented achievement could give him the pass marks he needs to survive another term, if he does not do something fast to erase the rest of the substantial blots on that four year old report card of his.
-Sri Lanka Guardian
jean-pierre said...

I don't agree. Four years is a very short time in the history of a nation. rajapaksa inherited a minority parliament and a western world which supported the LTTE because of the false propaganda of the Diaspora and the human-rights lobby.
Under the circumstances, winning the war is already enough for the report card.. The corruption here is nothing comapred to the Bush-Cheney corruption with Halliburton getting all the contracts of the war.
After the war victory, contrary to what this writer has said, the IDP question was commendably solved. The IDP camps are better than those in India and the slums in Colombo. The LTTE gangs in the camps have to be sorted out and this has been done.
So, as under secretary Holmes, many Indian and Canadian observers and Tamils themselves (e.g., Rasalingam who wrote in these columns, and Michael Roberts who recently wrote "Tall Tiger tales"), have confirmed that the IDP camps are indeed a success. I as a Tamil will vote for Rajapaksa and avoid Fonseka like the plague, and also avoid the UNP which has always undercut the tamils, in the final analysis, from the days of John Kothelawala and JRJaywardene the greatest racist. True, Ranil seemed to support the Tamils - but he supported a sell out of the Tamils to the LTTE and the Diaspora control which supported a mad fascist dictator who killed more tamils than all the Sinhalese kings put together.

Unknown said...

I also agree with Nadeshan.