Half century of a charismatic political career | Daily News


 

Half century of a charismatic political career

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa

We are living history and our leaders, their policies and their acts are creating history for generations to come. In his 50-year long political career, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has established himself as a national and international statesman of considerable stature. He represents the spirit of an era, the pulse of the nation and the warp and woof of the social, cultural and political fabric of Sri Lanka today.

Ultimate survivor, political enigma, ardent nationalist, champion of the people, protector of the nation, trusted custodian of Buddhism and guardian of religious freedom of all communities, human rights activist and last but not the least, the untiring street-fighter. These are few sobriquets of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who reaches his Golden Jubilee of political life this week.

Rajapaksa, who began his checkered political career on May 27, 1970 as the youngest Parliamentarian in the August House reached his zenith when he guided the Armed Forces to end the 30-year-long fight against the brutal terrorist organization, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 as the President and Supreme Commander of Armed Forces of Sri Lanka.

He entered Parliament at the young age of 24 and served in many capacities. He held several ministries from Labour to Fisheries and became Prime Minister in 2004 and was elected 5th Executive President of Sri Lanka in the following year.

Although Rajapaksa was born into a land-holding elite family, he was always very close to the common people irrespective of their creed, caste, religion or social status. His uncle D M Rajapaksa, known as Lion of Ruhuna was the popular political leader of the area and after his demise, Mahinda’s father D.A. Rajapaksa, served as a member of the Sri Lankan Parliament, holding the Beliatta seat from 1947 to 1965.

Mahinda studied law after completion of school studies and received a law degree from Colombo Law College in 1974. In 1970, at age 24, Rajapaksa became Sri Lanka’s youngest-ever Member of Parliament when he was elected to the seat that his father had vacated just five years earlier. After losing the seat in 1977, he focused on his law career until reentering Parliament in 1989, this time representing the Hambantota district. He was reelected and continued as a Parliamentarian until 2005.

Viewed as a centre-left politician, Mahinda was at forefront as a defender of human rights during the state suppression of youth rebellion in 1987-90, when Sri Lanka was recognized as one of the world’s most dangerous countries for supporters of youth uprising, their sympathizers and dissenting journalists.

His fight for the rights of the suppressed people stood him in good stead in his political journey throughout.

After the complete elimination of terrorists in May 2009, he called for fresh Presidential elections at a time when he was four years into his six-year term. In the January 2010 election, he easily got reelected, winning 58 percent of the vote. Rajapaksa’s second term oversaw sustained economic growth, and he continued to enjoy the strong support of the large Sinhalese majority in the country. However, the relations with Western countries were strained over Sri Lanka’s refusal to bow down to their call for international investigations of the military’s treatment of Tamils in the last phase of the conflict.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa articulated the country’s position at the 68th Session of the United Nations General assembly, stating, “Permit me to consider briefly the post-conflict developments in my own country. I am proud that Sri Lanka has eradicated separatist terrorism, spanning three decades, and is in the process of addressing the issues of development and reconciliation.”

“Sri Lanka's Government, at all times responsive to the priorities reflected in domestic public opinion, is engaged in all measures required for meaningful progress in these fields. A significant event in this regard is the opportunity which the people of the Northern Province enjoyed at the elections, held three days ago, to elect their representatives in the Provincial Council. It is a matter of legitimate satisfaction to me that this was made possible after the lapse of almost a quarter of a century. There can be no doubt regarding the crucial importance of this measure in the context of political empowerment and reconciliation. It is clearly the responsibility of the international community to assist with these efforts and to ensure their success for the benefit of all the people of Sri Lanka” he added.

Rajapaksa, without mincing his words, pointed out that in spite of the visible progress made, and consistent engagement with UN mechanisms, many countries are surprised at the disproportionate emphasis on Sri Lanka, and the unequal treatment through the multilateral framework. The basis for this relentless pursuit is also questioned. “It is my conviction that the UN system should be astute to ensure the consistency of standards applied so that there is no room for suspicion of manipulation of the UN System by interested parties to fulfill their agendas,” he said.

The emphasis made by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa as the President of the country in 2012 is equally relevant today. The UN has consistently ensured cooperation between States, and provided a universal platform for discussions on a range of issues, contentious or otherwise. It is imperative that we jealously protect and abide by, the principle of equal treatment of countries, which has been the very basis of this global organization. Be it economic or political issues, equality must form the bedrock of all international interaction, he said.

This shows that the crusade commenced by Mahinda Rajapaksa and the policies outlined by him will continue to guide the nation for years to come. The people’s mandate given at the Presidential Election in November 2019, was another fitting tribute to a leader who has carved a niche for himself in the history of our nation. Today, as Prime Minister in the Government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, he will no doubt carry forward his mission of ensuring equality and prosperity for all the peoples of Sri Lanka.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa


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