Editorial | Sunday Observer


Pohottuwa: Where only Rajapaksa flowers bloom

The identity of one contestant for Sri Lanka’s next presidential election, due to be held before the end of the year, was unveiled last Sunday. That it was Gotabaya Rajapaksa who will be running from the newly formed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) does not come as a surprise.

Announcing the decision at an event that was more in line with a showbiz extravaganza than a political launch was former President and now Leader of the Opposition, Mahinda Rajapaksa who also happens to be Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s elder brother.

To each its own, they say, and we have no quarrel with the SLPP picking Gotabaya Rajapaksa as their nominee. However, because Gotabaya Rajapaksa aspires for the highest office in the land and offers himself as a potential leader of all Sri Lankans, we do have a few questions about the manner in which he was selected as well as his past ‘achievements’.

In the weeks leading up to the declaration of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as its candidate, the SLPP made no secret of the fact that its nominee would be chosen by Mahinda Rajapaksa and only by Mahinda Rajapaksa. When asked about it, the former President was being coy, saying that he would choose someone ‘who can win’.

The question that arises is, how could a political party which professes to uphold the ideals of democracy abdicate a matter as serious as choosing its presidential candidate to the whims and fancies of one individual, especially when the choice of that individual is his own brother?

Is the rest of the party an apparatus that merely rubber stamps the decision of the Great Leader? Is there no democratic process in selecting the party’s presidential candidate such as a body within the party deliberating the issue, discussing other options, allowing for debate and arriving at a decision? Or, does Mahinda Rajapaksa simply snap his fingers and anoint brother Gotabaya as the ‘chosen one’?

Of course, the process of making decisions within a political party can be difficult. One has to only look at the quandary the United National Party (UNP) is in right now. Party leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wants to be the UNP candidate; so does Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa. The former believes he deserves one last chance after leading the party for twenty-five years. The latter believes that he is the man of the moment.

Still, messy as it is, there is discussion, debate and room for opposing views. That is the bedrock of democracy. Does the SLPP subscribe to that or is its philosophy ‘you lead, we follow blindly’? Are only a few selected flowers allowed to bloom in the ‘pohottuwa’ party?

Potential voters have a right to know because, if that is indeed the case, it must also follow that the government that is then formed will also function on the same principle where favours will be dished out to chosen individuals and not on merit. And, didn’t we see enough of that when the Rajapaksas were last in office?

The other issue we have about Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s credentials are what was listed as his main ‘achievement’- that of a person who was competent in handling the subject of ‘Defence’. Even extracts from a letter from Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s senior officer, Cyril Ranatunga praising Rajapaksa were read out in support of this argument.

We are not disputing Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s service to the nation as Defence Secretary. He was the vital cog that linked the country’s military to its political establishment. That was a smart move by Mahinda Rajapaksa because Gotabaya Rajapaksa had links to both. That went a long way in ensuring the success of the armed forces in the Eelam War.

However, if Gotabaya Rajapaksa wishes to bask in the glory and take credit for the successes during his tenure as Defence Secretary, he must also take responsibility for the less savoury events that took place under his watch and offer an explanation for them.

It was during his tenure as Defence Secretary that dissent became a dirty word and white vans attained a status of notoriety. It was during that same time that some journalists disappeared never to be found, others were brutally assaulted to death in broad daylight and the more fortunate were abducted and assaulted but lived to tell the tale.

It is a crying shame that a government elected on a platform of finding out who was responsible for those dastardly deeds has nothing to show after four and a half years in office. Nevertheless, it would be an even greater shame if those responsible for such deeds are given another chance to repeat their atrocities.

That is why presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa owes us an explanation. If he was the efficient administrator that he claims he was in the Defence establishment at that time, what does he know about those dark deeds? Or, is ignorance bliss, now that he is running for President? And, why should we believe that such events would not occur again?

These are the questions that Gotabaya Rajapaksa must answer, honestly, and without reservation, if he hopes to win more than fifty percent of the vote and become the next President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. These are the answers the country is waiting to hear, amidst all that noise and music at last Sunday’s convention. His silence on these issues, thus far, has been deafening.