The Rajapaksas have entertained several projects with Chinese support and money, which is bound to cost Sri Lanka its sovereignty dearly in the coming years, if corrective steps are not taken, writes N.S.Venkataraman for South Asia Monitor
As predicted by several pollsters, the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Party (SLPP or People’s Party) led by the Rajapaksa brothers has gained majority in the Sri Lankan parliamentary election. This verdict is no surprise, particularly considering the anxiety of the Sri Lankan citizens, who wanted strong leadership.
While Rajapaksas’ has gained an overwhelming majority, this does not really mean that majority of the people are entirely satisfied with the style of governance of Rajapaksas’ during the last few years.
Obviously, the Sri Lankan people, owing allegiance to different religions and lifestyle, must have carefully weighed the options before them and must have decided that Rajapaksas are the best option in the given circumstances, though they very well know that Rajapaksas are not leaders without any blemishes.
It is a fact that most of the Sri Lankans, including the Sinhalese and a section of Tamils, feel grateful towards Rajapaksas for decisively defeating the secessionist forces and restoring the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. What Rajapaksas achieved for Sri Lanka for its peace and development is what several presidents and prime ministers before them could not. Perhaps, this gratitude of Sri Lankans will be there for all time to come.
The fact is that a majority of people have voted for Rajapaksas giving the president and prime minister brothers the benefit of doubt, in spite of their not very impressive governance. Obviously, this will be the last time that such a benefit of doubt would be given to them and, certainly, people will not react in the same way in future elections if Rajapaksas do not deliver in the coming years.
As it happens in several democracies, many political leaders win elections by securing negative votes, as the votes in their favour may really be more the votes against their opponents in the elections.
One conspicuous factor that one should not miss is that leaders of the political parties in the Tamil the region were not united and were more fighting the elections against each other rather than against the Rajapaksas. This too helped Rajapaksas to some extent.
Certainly, people are deeply aware that Rajapaksas have reduced the government of Sri Lanka virtually to family rule in the past. This 'family ownership' of the government may become even more obvious and cause concern, as one brother would be the president and the other brother would be the prime minister. Both these brothers would be accompanied by a few other family members in pivotal positions in the government. This may lead to a disturbing situation, where no one can get top positions in the government or government-owned institutions or even in the judiciary if they would not show their loyalty to the Rajapaksas.
If the Rajapaksa family members were to become the be-all and end-all of the Sri Lankan government then those who voted for them would be disappointed. Sri Lanka has not been governed well in the pasts and the island nation has been made into a debt-ridden country, in spite of the several advantageous resources that the country has and the talent at the individual level that many Sri Lankans possess.
With the poorly managed economy due to misgovernance, Sri Lanka is now facing a debt-trap. The Sri Lankan government has been forced to hand over the Hambantota Port to a Chinese company on a 99-year lease and this means that the Chinese government would be occupying the port for many many years to come and would be breathing down the neck of Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksas have entertained several projects with Chinese support and money, which is bound to cost Sri Lanka its sovereignty dearly in the coming years, if corrective steps are not taken.
When it is obvious that the Sri Lankan government would not be able to repay the debt to China in the foreseeable future, it will be a big challenge for Rajapaksas and one wonders whether they would be able to extricate Sri Lanka from the vice-like grip of China.
The Rajapaksas should clearly understand the challenges before them and understand that hard and intelligent work needed to make Sri Lanka realize it’s full potential, instead of rejoicing over their victory in the parliamentary election, assuming that the family can be in power for quite some time to come.
The primary requisite now is that Rajapaksas should erase the impression that it is the family rule in Sri Lanka. They should also ensure that they do not continue to appease China. China is already deeply entrenched in one way or the other in the country.
Taking along all Sri Lankans, including Tamils, in governance is the compulsive need to make Sri Lanka a vibrant country. Opportunities before Sri Lanka are plenty and what is needed is a long term and lofty vision for the leaders in the Sri Lankan government. The Rajapaksas have the challenges and opportunities before them and they will be tested.
(The writer is a Trustee, NGO Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)