When Gotabhaya Rajapaksa won the Sri Lankan Presidency in November 2019, there was much rejoicing. The hero of the Sinhala Buddhist throne, the saviour of the nation, the man who would deliver ‘Vistas of Splendour,’ had finally been elected. The country was back on track.
His youthful supporters drew pictures on public walls, and others celebrated with kiributh and dancing. Amongst those who had seen him in action up close and personal, when he was Defense Secretary under brother Mahinda’s reign, there was a sense of dread.
The man who held the iron whip was back, and this time, not just as the Defence Secretary, but as the Executive President. A man not to be crossed, a man who brooks no dissent. Under him, there would be no room for corruption or nepotism. Public officers and civil society members alike were wary of talking to the media in case they were taken to task for speaking out of turn.
Sri Lankans headed into 2020 on a note of euphoria. Willingly believing the spin doctors and the Rajapaksa media lackeys, they voted in a Pohottuwa government at the August parliamentary elections, with an overwhelming majority. Giving Gotabhaya carte blanche powers to re-charter the history of the country, to even ride rough-shod over constitutional guarantees, the 6.9 million faithful fans waited with bated breath to watch the actions of the ‘Weda Karana Wiruwa’ unfold and transform the country into a land of milk and honey.
But what a comedown that has been. And it is nothing to do with the Covid 19 pandemic though the President and his government would have the public believe so. Even in his New Year’s message the President says that the ‘economy and livelihoods that have been adversely affected by the pandemic will be further safeguarded.’ Granted, the pandemic has dealt a grave blow to development and the economy, yet, most nations have stayed afloat and even performed better than Sri Lanka.
Beginning with ex-military officers to helm top posts, appointing the Army Chief to head the Covid Task Force, insisting that all those dying of the disease be cremated, giving scant respect to their religious observances, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s style of government took a clear pattern. His must certainly be the government that has issued the most number of gazettes only to rescind or amend them. During his two year reign, there have been more heads of public institutions resigning or being removed. Corruption and nepotism is at an all-time high; be it the huge profit made by his backers with the tax fiasco applied to the price of sugar, the courts releasing friends and family indicted for various misdemeanours, or the decision to introduce organic farming overnight with absolutely no fallback plan, the obvious result is staring in the face. But faithful fans of the Rajapaksa have continued to believe the lies spun by government lackeys.
Successive governments have messed up the country’s economy. Yet, it is Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s government that has failed spectacularly in all aspects of governance; there are long lines snaking outside every store that sells cooking gas, milk or rice. For most, it is now tea without milk, restaurants have announced they will not serve milk tea, so have hotels, adding that if milk is required the cost of a cup of tea would be Rs. 80. With the safety of gas cylinders in question, homemakers’ spend precious time looking for kerosene oil or electric cookers, ignoring the fact that their electricity bills will be high. Furthermore, there will be more demand on the grid. Kerosene is scarce too. Firewood and clay pots are available, but those are not an option for urban flat-dwellers.
Crops are failing, and the lack of fertilizer, organic or otherwise mean there will soon be a shortage of food. Foreign reserves are down, and even with the many currency swaps Sri Lanka has traded in with neighbouring countries, financial analysts predict the country will be bankrupt before months end.
The hooting began in the heartland of the Rajapaksa stronghold; Namal and Shashindra booed by the public. Then the President himself was hooted at by a public waiting to purchase milk, just a few minutes away from the place he resides. The public no longer adore nor fear the Rajapaksas'.
Just two years into the Weda Karana Wiruwa’s reign, his ardent fans have gone from dancing on the streets and painting walls to hooting at him and his family.
His promise of a system change is certainly working!