In the recently concluded General Election in Sri Lanka,defeat of former Lankan Supremo Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) has been more conspicuous than the victorious forces. This is his second defeat in a row after the Presidential election rout early this year. Although he has won from his electoral district, his alliance has faltered in sweeping expected number of seats required to support his bid to become the country’s next Prime Minister.He accepted defeat a few hours before the official results were set to be declared. In his own words, "My dream of becoming prime minister has faded away, I am conceding. We have lost a good fight." If won, his victory would have had the potential to alter the current geopolitical dynamics and internal equations within Sri Lanka. In this light, it is pertinent to analyze his political journey to pin-point the factorsthat finally culminated in ouster of Sri Lanka’s former strongman. The following are some of these reasons.

 

Rajapaksa achieved an exemplary feat by vanquishing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and thus freeing his country from the clutches of a protracted, devastating civil war which crippled this littoral nation for more than 26 years. While riding high on the wave of popularity, he missed a golden opportunity to consolidate the post victory gains by cleaning up the country with necessary reforms. The absolutist trends transpired into enactment of 18th Constitutional Amendment, which removed term limit for President and concentrated massive powers in his hands. Instead of embracing the path of 17th Amendment which ideated deepening of country’s democratic tenets, Sri Lanka was acquiring a more and more authoritarian character under his regime.

 

This 18th Constitutional Amendment institutionalized nepotism and abuse of power. Soon Sri Lanka acquired the character of ‘an island ruled by Rajapaksa brothers with aid of family coterie’. With MRsitting at apex, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was serving as Secretary of Defence, Basil Rajapaksa as Minister of Economic Development while elder brother Chamal served as Speaker of Parliament. Other members of the Rajapaksa clan controlled around 90 government departments. This entrenching abuse of power threatened the very fulcrum of the republican nature of Sri Lankan polity.

 

Rajapaksafailed to learn a political lesson that whipping up of chauvinistic rhetoric is not sufficient to win over people without an inclusive agenda. After thevictory of the Fourth Eelam War, he was trying to nurture a sense of triumphalism which did not resonate with a large part of Sinhala community that has had a long history of coexistence with Tamils. While giving Rajapaksadue credit for winning a formidable war, many Sinhalas realized the demerits of perpetuating triumphalism against their own people, who were badly devastated by terrorist forces on one hand and the military machinery on other. Hence, bringing back Rajapaksa was not considered good for rebuilding the Lankan society.

 

Instead of ensuring genuine devolution of political, economic and cultural power as assured to international community from public platform, there was a rising trend of centralization of power.Rajapaksa’s disregard for his commitment was evidentfrom his speech on Sri Lankan Independence Day of February 4, 2013, where he suggested thatthere will be no devolution to provinces, which is tantamount to rejection of thirteenth amendment. He was clearly trying to cultivate two faces – one to appease international community and the other for his Sinhalese constituency. This militant majoritarian nationalism threatened to a substantial degree thethriving multiculturalism in Lankan society.

 

During the recovery phase after the war, MR’s economic policies and heavy dependence on the Chinese influx of money (which came with strict conditions, leading to benefits to Chinese companies) created no productive investment in terms of employment or improving traditional livelihood like the plantation sector. This in turn transpired into economic discontent. Due to war crime allegations during the last phase of Elam war coupled with Rajapaksa’s all powerful attitude, the international reputation of Sri Lanka suffered dramatically. This development also did not augur well for many Lankan citizens as their nation was in international news for all wrong reasons.

 

Rajapaksa’s announcement to hold Presidential elections two years prior to the annulment of his term had heavy undertones of desire to cling to power amidst deteriorating domestic and international circumstances. Even his coming as Prime Minister after the fallout in thePresidential election clearly reflected an urge to remain in power, partly to cover up his misdeeds. The growing centralization of power, nepotism, rising corruption and gagging of press led to disenchantment of his coalition partners and old guards of the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP), which ultimately led to an erosion of the coalition. Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) parted ways with coalition while SLFP stalwart Chandrika Kumaratunga played cardinal role in mushrooming Sirisena as a common opposition candidate to stage a strong coalition against the Rajapaksas. Even now during Parliamentary elections in a hard hitting letter, President Sirisena forewarned Rajapaksathat he will not be appointed as the PM even if the party secures absolute majority in Parliament. Under the new political dynamics evolved after post war period, no wave favored any individual and thus any attempt to encash upon a personality cult had inherent limitations. Rajapaksafailed to come to terms with these dynamics of change.

 

The last nail in the coffin was the murky way of campaigning tactics that he resorted to during the last few days of general elections. It was targeted at reviving and mobilizing Sinhala nationalism for political gains and this was where he couldn’t see the writing on the wall. The world shall always rememberRajapaksa’s contribution in annihilating one of the deadliest terror outfits of recent times, but actions sans accountability lacks credibility. If he could have done even half of what Sirisena and Wickremesinghehad done in past eight months in terms of reinvigorating confidence in all stakeholders of society, then he’d have been at the pinnacle of his glory.

 

Rajapaksa failed to acknowledge that however indelible ‘divine kingship theory’ had been part of politicalhistory of the subcontinent, it essentially remains a feature of ancient &medieval society. The hallmark of anymodern democratic society is the rule of law, republicanism and an inclusive agenda for all.This electoral result is an eye opener for political leaders world over that arrogance of power is not only deceptive but also heralds beginning of downfall.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.