After a long five-year intermission spent wisely preparing for a comeback, the spectacular third advent of the House of Rajapaksa to the centre stage of Lankan politics was made replete this Wednesday morning when Mahinda Rajapaksa followed by his ministerial retinue were formally sworn in to high office by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the sacred [...]


Will Rajapaksas’ third coming give national reconciliation a chance?


After a long five-year intermission spent wisely preparing for a comeback, the spectacular third advent of the House of Rajapaksa to the centre stage of Lankan politics was made replete this Wednesday morning when Mahinda Rajapaksa followed by his ministerial retinue were formally sworn in to high office by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the sacred shelter of the Sri Dalada.

As temple bells pealed, heralding the auspicious hour to perform the initiation rites, the nation watched riveted history in the making unfold before their eyes, as live television coverage of the formation of the Rajapaksa Government streamed into their living rooms frame by frame; and dramatically brought home the realisation they were witnessing the outlandish marvel of the Rajapaksa Resurrection.

And it had been no mere tepid return of Lanka’s First Family to the helm of affairs. The Rajapaksas’ Third Coming had been on a Tsunami tidal wave on the crest of which they had ridden to the shores of triumph, annihilating every bulwark of opposition into fragments, until at last, no alternate credible voice lay left even to squeak a whimper of protest against it. The victory had been complete.

Power had been given by the masses and power had been taken lock, stock and barrel; and, like all Alexander Selkirks on desert islands, to paraphrase Cowley,

‘They are the monarchs of all they survey;

Their right there is none to dispute;

From the centre all round to the sea

They are lords of the fowl and the brute’

Take a look around. The United National Party which, once upon a time even in opposition, stood unshaken like the Rock of Gibraltar now lies hopelessly reduced to a sand castle some schoolboy had trampled upon on some sandy beach; its leadership, its rank and file, men and women of some earthly substance only but yesterday, now haplessly rendered overnight to airy fairy apparitions, hoping against hope to regain lost paradise; and conspiring, in the words of John Milton: ‘To wage by force or guile eternal war, irreconcilable to our grand foe, who now triumphs, and in the excess of joy sole reigning holds the tyranny of heaven.’

HISTORIC MOMENT: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa swears in his elder brother former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the 13th Prime Minister of Lanka at the Audience Hall in the Temple of the Tooth

Take the Samagi Jana Balavegaya which narrowly escaped the Wednesday massacre. Though it emerged with a decent tally of 54 parliamentary seats, it will find it difficult to transcend its present feather weight status and cross swords with swashbuckling maestros.

Until they are able to convince the masses they are more than a rag tag collection of opportunistic mutineers who jumped the sinking mother ship for personal glory, they maybe unable to command the respect of the people as being not top heavy enough yet to fill the shoes the UNP hastily left behind in the wake of its ignominious debacle. Do they possess the gravitas to be treated seriously? Do they have the wherewithal to hold the fort when besieged? It’s in its salad days; and may need more time to find its bearings, to bloom and flower in the opposition’s front benches as a worthy adversary to an all-powerful and overbearing government.

And what of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna the hardcore revolutionary party of yore, which held as its guiding dogma that power came through the barrel of a gun, now keeping company with core intellectuals and professionals and masquerading as one under the sheepskin of the National People’s Power? The gambit failed. The JVP won only two seats. Surrendered the national list seat to the NPP. And lost its vital member Handunnetti who failed to secure his Matara seat. Compared to 2015 election result, which was six seats, including two national list seats, the JVP position as a powerful third voice has been weakened.

But in this desolate political landscape, one party sees a rainbow dawn to banish the surrounding gloom. It sees hope in the Rajapaksa Renaissance to usher in a new era of lasting peace and harmony. It envisages, in the rise of the SLPP based on its strong Sinhala Buddhist roots, the sure, albeit, ironical means through which the noble prospect of national reconciliation to heal the wounds of war and dispel the mistrust and suspicions amongst communities, can at last be achieved. And it sees in the sturdy figure of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the prime catalyst of change, as the one man who can deliver the goods to end this ethnic madness. In the shadow of the SLPP’s two-thirds majority, it sees the Phoenix of Tamil aspirations once more reborn.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan put the government on notice the day after it was installed in Kandy and warned it not to ignore Tamil concerns merely because it lorded over Parliament.

He told the media in Jaffna on Thursday, “The government could not ignore the concerns of Tamil people just because it has a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government should find solutions to the problems faced by the Tamils.”

He declared defiantly: “The Government attempted to divide the votes of Tamil people through various means. It tried to weaken the TNA and reduce the number of seats we have in Parliament. But we have not been weakened. Soon, we will regain what we have lost.”

Sampanthan also asked the Government to find a permanent political solution to the problems faced by the Tamils through a new constitution. He declared: “The new constitution that the previous government tried to pass was stalled. But the new government that has two-thirds majority in Parliament can easily pass a new constitution. The Government says it will bring in a new constitution and that should offer concrete solutions to our issue.”

Perhaps, he has a point.

The Government has made no secret of its plans to amend or even repeal the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe 19th Amendment to the Constitution which repealed the Rajapaksa 18th Amendment. In fact, it has placed constitutional changes high on the cabinet agenda. Apart from a side remark from Professor G.L. Peiris that the Government might venture beyond changing 19A, there has been no further discussion on broadening the scope of change.

Ever since the ‘Sinhala Only’ policy was adapted by the Bandaranaike Government in the late fifties, the call from moderate Tamils for a just solution to their legitimate grievances has grown. The failure of successive governments to address the issue, no doubt spawned the rise of Tamil militancy in Lanka and spurred the resort to arms to win their demands, with the separate state of Tamil Eelam as their ultimate objective. Thirty years of a terrorist war almost bled Lanka to death, with thousands of her civilians–be they Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim–dying needless merely because intransigence incarnate and manifest prejudice blinded either side and barred the entry of reason to resolve the issue.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s singular determination and purpose to win the war against all odds and bring the evil reign of Tiger terror to an end, finally succeeded on May 18, 2009 when the bullet riddled body of Tiger Supremo was found by the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon in Mullaitivu. But the peace that ensued was a superficial peace. The rumbles of distrust and animosity between the two communities, rumbled beneath the surface, an active volcano waiting to erupt hidden behind the facade of normalcy.

But even the architect of a nation’s peace revival, the man who had ended the war, paused his hand when it came to delivering the fruits of peace to the nation, inhibited to upset the diehard chauvinistic elements who feared a sellout at the behest of foreign powers. And the nation’s discontent continues simmering, unattended in the cauldron of racial prejudice and hate.

But, perhaps, the time is more conducive to change, the people more enlightened. In the hands of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the man who brought the curtain down on Lanka’s gruesome theatre of war 11 years ago, now rest the power to deliver the belated fruits of peace. He is the nation’s consummate politicians. The one the majority community trusts implicitly not to sell Sinhala Buddhists interests down the river as evidenced by the massive landslide win bestowed on him and his brother President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It is doubtful whether any other politician now or in the future will command such trust and have the political skill and acumen to engineer a lasting peace deal acceptable to both sides.

Only he can undertake this task in the foreseeable future and grant the legitimate reasonable grievances of the Tamil minority. One unfinished business remains for him to complete without postponing it for future generations to resolve. And, magnanimous in victory, show the world ‘hatred does not end by hatred, only love can douse the fire.’ It will be Mahinda Rajapaksa’s shinning hour.

Flag foul up spotted in the nick of timeThe Lion Flag of Kandyan Kings briefly held monopolistic sway and fluttered in the winds of Sinhale over Senkadagala hills hours before modern day Lanka’s new Government were to be sworn in and officially come into being in the hallowed precincts of the Sri Dalada.Over enthusiastic municipal workers were blamed for decorating Kandy town with a set of the now defunct Royal Flag of the Kandyan Kingdom, with the solitary lion symbolising Sinhala supremacy, the day before the Government carnival was expected to arrive in this once historic capital where Lankan sovereignty was surrendered to the British without a single bullet fired 205 years ago at the Temple of the Tooth.

When the Kandy Municipal Council finally awoke to the blunder and realised Kandy was awash with lion flags devoid of the green and orange stripes meant to represent the minority Muslims and Tamils respectively, the gravity sunk in and an immediate counter operation to hoist down the offending ‘imposter’ flags, passing off as the real thing, from every flag pole in the city was launched.

Kandy Municipal Council Commissioner Chandana Tennakoon confirmed to the Sunday Times that earlier ‘a couple of those ‘lion only’ flags’ were put up by the municipality staff but they were removed later. He refused to elaborate on why those flags were hoisted around the city in the first place.

But why was the imposter hoisted at all? Was it to discredit the Government by casting a racial slur, of imputing a Sinhala only face to its official standard? True. The SLPP had campaigned aggressively on a Sinhala Buddhist platform but once it had achieved its objective of coming to power, its leaders have shown no inclination of being a one race party but held itself as one that represented the legitimate interest of all.

The Lankan Constitution takes pains to illustrate the National Flag of Sri Lanka and details it in exact terms so as to ensure no room is allowed for any distortion whatsoever. The National Flag also recognises that Sri Lanka is a multi-cultural society and, by the use of the green and orange vertical stripes, has accommodated the two main minority groups. It is a criminal offence to distort the national flag or use any other and attempt to pass it off as the nation’s National Flag.

The Government must not turn a blind eye to this flagrant breach but take steps to bring the offenders to book. And reassure the minorities that under this Government there will always be for all an equal place in the sun.

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