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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2705

Sri Lankan Presidential Election 2015: the fall of a political giant of our time

Hemantha Abeywardena wrties from London…

Our former president, Mr Mahinda Rajapakse, may be enjoying his well-earned rest in his rural village in the deep south of Sri Lanka with the folks that he is always comfortable with – the peasants who adore him. His departure, not completely unexpected, shows, however, that the overwhelming reliance of this particular stratum of the contemporary Sri Lankan society is not good enough for a leader to survive in the political theatre at national level, regardless of the charisma that one naturally carries.

During the campaign, the mirage of victory was callously manipulated, by an enviable combination of ‘yes’ men, spin doctors, advisers and ‘star gazers,’ who made the leader believe that whatever mishap happens on the latter’s watch can always be subjected to his charm. As the results of the presidential poll started rolling, Mr Rajapakse may have realized the miscalculations that he made, thanks to the misplaced optimism, generated and then radiated in equal measure by those who were around him.

At the end of the war in May, 2009, the scenes that we witnessed were unbelievable, whenever Mr Rajapakse walked among the public: not only did men, women and children start worshipping him while bowing down before him, but also, literally speaking, worshipped the ground he walked over. Then, even before just six years have elapsed, he is out of power, echoing the sour note on which Sir Winston Churchill slowly became a part of history - despite winning the Second World War.

Who, in one’s wildest dreams, must have seen this coming about six months ago? It is a bolt from the political blue, indeed.

The loss of the presidential election on January, 8th, shows Mr Rajapakse did not read the public mood very well, perhaps owing to the layers of closest allies who stood between him and the masses. As the size of the former grew in number, Mr Rajapske inadvertently distanced himself from the masses, which used to adore him, both as a leader and a down-to-earth human being. His catalogue belated responses, be it about the cost of living or break-down of law and order or accusation of turning a deaf ear to the instances of corruption, unfortunately, provided the critics with an opportunity to equate it with sheer insensitivity.

There was an exponential improvement in the country’s infrastructure, although his critics do not see it that way, perhaps, because they know about them much more than we do - the folks who live outside the country. There is, however, no denying the fact that in inverse proportion to this aspect of material progress, the values, which we once used to hold dear in the society, saw deterioration - perhaps not quite irreversibly.

Turning the back-to-basics mode on, is one of the commitments in the election manifesto of Mr Maithripala Sirisena, the new president, which remains to be seen in the coming months, or even years.

Of course, the alienation of the minorities played a role in Mr Rajapakse’s downfall. But it is not the only factor. There were plenty of organizations, both in the country and abroad, which were working against the president at micro level, but playing a macro role in enhancing the cumulative impact through social media. Adding insult to injury, some popular websites were banned, underestimating, both the existence of technical short-cuts for wriggling out and the natural curiosity of the masses about what they actually report. In short, the websites in question got a massive traffic boost, when they made hell break lose against Mr Rajapakse’s administration on mass scale.

Even Mr Rajapakse’s fiercest opponents would not dare write him off as politically irrelevant, just because he has lost the presidential election. Exactly like Mrs Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaranatunge did just before the announcement of the presidential election, Mr Rajapakse may make a come-back – when the time is ripe, at some point in the future.

In all probability, however, by that time, there would be a significant change in our political system, as the forward momentum that picked up during the campaign is too strong let it to go otherwise. I am sure Mr Rajapakse may make the best of his semi-retirement to sharpen up his instinct for the evolving political landscape.

Meanwhile, If President Sirisena’s determination to be a good shepherd for the masses in Sri Lanka, irrespective or race and religion, does not vanish into thin air at the periphery of the rhetoric and refuses to play to the gallery, Mr Rajapakse will see a set of significant road blocks on his journey to make a swift comeback.

The challenges against Mr Rajapakse can only get too intense, if the administration of President Sirisena passes the moral test of the government - as promised during the campaign - defined by Hurbert Humphry, the US senator in the following lines: how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. "

- Asian Tribune -

Sri Lankan Presidential Election 2015: the fall of a political giant of our time
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