The President fought on behalf of a forgotten people | Daily News


 

The President fought on behalf of a forgotten people

The president rode to power in November mainly on the strength of the Sinhala vote. He made a point of stressing this at his inaugural address, stating he will be the president of all communities. But he has also pressed the reset button after years of neglect of the majority community’s concerns.

The repercussions of this has people such as Mangala Samaraweera pulling out of the general election race in a fit of chagrin. Samaraweera has said that the nationalistic genie must be put back in the bottle. But there is no genie. When the concerns of the majority community are neglected, that community is bound to arrive at the realization that if they do not look after their own interests, they will be marginalized, majority status notwithstanding. Neglect was palpably what they faced during the five years of UNP dominance.

What genie? The majority community was kicked in the rear in the five years of UNP misrule. The Armed Forces which are mostly comprised of majority Sinhalese felt so neglected when it became the priority of the former regime to put soldiers behind bars, and release LTTE cadres at the same time. There were an untold number of other majority grievances such as the encroachment of temple properties in the Eastern province.

The majority Sinhala leadership was determined to decisively put a stop to this neglect — and that is what happened with the Presidential Election in November.

People often compare Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Malaysia’s iconic strongman former Premier Mahathir Mohammed. Ex PM Mahathir Mohommed made a brief come back two years back and became the Prime Minister of Malaysia once more, in his 90s. But this time his tenure in power was cut short drastically, and that’s an interesting story in our times

IMPERATIVE

He returned to power defeating an extremely corrupt Government after forming a party of his own and defeating the prime ministerial candidate of the most formidable party in Malaysia, which had never lost an election and was once a force of hegemonic dominance. No doubt Mahathir had very good intentions. But also, while in the process of throwing out a corrupt regime, he seemed to veer away from the aspirations of the majority Malay community in his country.

This may have been a political imperative, because the formidable political party he defeated, of which he was once the leader, was the standard bearer of the majority community’s concerns. But the long and the short of it was that in a very short time the corrupt party that was thrown out of power was able to muster enough support in Parliament and stage a comeback.

The proximate cause was that the majority community was beginning to feel neglected once more. After all it was Mahathir Mohammad that championed the Bhoomiputra (Son of the Soil) policies which favoured the majority Malays in matters of land rights etc. It was Mahathir who argued that there was a reason for this preferential treatment. The generally poorer Malays did not have the advantages that the minority Chinese community had in matters of education so Mahathir urged that to keep Malaysia stable the majority community must be kept from harboring a feeling of neglect.

There was an affirmative action program of sorts that ensured that the majority community did not feel marginalized, and cast aside by the powerful Chinese business interests. But when Mahathir Mohammad returned to power after a blitzkrieg campaign two years back, he seemed to go against this societal compact that he had himself championed successfully several decades back. Malaysia had avoided ethnic convulsions largely due to his Bhoomiputra policy, but he now seemed to turn the page on all that in his bid to stage a comeback.

In the second round in power Mahathir was somehow seen to be going against the grain of Malaysia’s long entrenched policy of ensuring that the majority Malays are treated fairly. The reaction seemed swift. Even the father of the nation so considered, could not retain his grip on power against an opposition party which had been thrown out summarily not so long ago for corruption.

The corrupt Barisan party that got its marching orders is now back in power and this could not have happened if powerful elements of the majority community had not engineered a breakaway from Mahathir’s new group and formed an alliance with the party that had been ousted.

ORIGINAL

It’s not certain what will happen if Malaysia faces an election anytime soon, but at the moment it is quite clear that even the most powerful person in the country from its glorious past, Mahathir, cannot turn his back on the concerns of the majority community comprised of the country’s original inhabitants.

It may not be palatable to some people but this reality of making sure that the majority community does not feel neglected animates the politics of the general election that is scheduled in this country too, on August 5.

Mangala Samaraweera is going on about putting the genie back in the bottle but the entire opposition seems to be now courting the Sinhalese in vain after having stamped them underfoot for five years. They are realizing however that it is all too little and all too late.

The Buddhist monks who have been insulted know that certain people in the Opposition are now holding their tongue only because there is an election ahead. So courting the majority Sinhalese after spurning them is not going to cut any ice in the Sinhala community that is not willing to be suckered by opportunistic politics.

The President and the SLPP are seen as the authentic representation of the majority Sinhala aspirations. The Tamil National Alliance is itself aware of this fact and the reality is staring them in the face that the SLPP will be in power in the conceivable future. This is why even Sumanthiran and Sambandan are making attempts to sidle up to the Prime Minister even though they made no secret of the fact that they considered the Rajapaksas anathema all these years.

So times have definitely changed. But yet the President is not capitalizing entirely on the majority community’s resurgent sentiments. His main concern is to shore up the economic prospects of both state and non-state actors which is something that will benefit all communities, and not the majority community alone.

The opposition seems to be so conflicted straddling the divide between majority and minority that it seems to be at sixes and sevens, confused by the maelstrom of political transition. A Samagi Jana Balawegaya stalwart, former MP J C Alawathuwala, was seen last week not knowing his own party’s symbol at the forthcoming elections. At a pocket meeting he wanted everyone in the assembled crowd to mark a cross against the Aliya (Elephant) symbol. He had to be reminded by one of the hangers-on beside him on stage that the symbol of his party is not the Elephant but the Telephone.

CONFRONTATION

So called neutral commentators never tire of saying that Sri Lanka is facing ethnic polarisation with the new regime firmly in the saddle. How is there any polarization one may ask when the TNA is ingratiating with the duly elected President and his party which identifies itself as a representative of the majority Sinhalese community?

The forthcoming election will see decisively where this trend will go. It appears that even the minorities are rethinking their position of direct confrontation with the Sinhala majority — which was the stance adopted during the five years of UNP rule.

Now, that trend of antagonistic polarization seems to be at an end. All communities seem to be ready to coexist recognizing the realities of how each community should be able to exist as self-respecting entities as in Malaysia.

The most salutary aspect of all is that as a result the President is able to focus on issues of the people, chief among them being concerns of economy and education. And of course national security.

The SLPP will be seeking a consolidation in power that they hope will be manifested in a two thirds majority. Such an outcome is difficult under any circumstances with the proportional representation system in place.

But there is so much consolidation behind the President that if ever there was a possibility of a 2/3 majority under PR, this should be the election in which that could be achieved. In many ways this is the national poll that closely mimics the 2010 General Election in which Mahinda Rajapaksa’s UPFA rode the wave of post-war popularity to secure a massive win in that year’s Parliamentary Polls. 

 

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