Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is reported to have said, in South Korea, recently, he had to work with conspirators while he was in power. All his predecessors had to contend with that problem. There were conspiracies against even the Buddha and Jesus. So, it is only natural that lesser mortals are troubled by them. Nowhere can one find power politics without conspiracies; they are coterminous.
However, it was not because of conspirators that Rajapaksa lost power. He succeeded in eliminating terrorism and protecting himself from his enemies including conspirators. But, he did not know how to save himself from his ‘friends’ who brought about his downfall. His second term was the political version of drunk driving. A strong government with a weak opposition which is unable to act as a counterweight is like a juggernaut with a faulty brake system. Power without control is disaster!
The beginning of Rajapaksa’s rise in politics was characterised by public protests like Pada Yathra. Now that his luck has run out he is staging Pada Yathra again. His has been a journey from Pada Yathra to Pada Yathra. Back to square one, his detractors may say. However, it will be a mistake for anyone to write him off.
The Rajapaksa government thought the sky was the limit and it could do anything and get away with it. Its members lined their pockets and remained above the law; the Rajapaksa rule came to be considered a metaphor for abuse of power and corruption, which eclipsed its good work. Many a UPFA politician who knew which side his bread was buttered had money coming out of his ears, so to speak.
The Rajapaksas thought the turbo boost they had gained from the war victory would help them remain in power indefinitely. They were cherishing a delusion. Their style of government alienated a sizeable section of the SLFP vote bank. Plum ministerial portfolios were awarded to the members of the ruling clan and their lackeys much to the consternation of the senior members of the SLFP. UNP crossovers and other servile elements, given to boot licking, went places while those who had stood by the SLFP through thick and thin including Maithripala Sirisena were short-changed. Most of them chose to take it lying down for the sake of the party’s unity, but others were bent on taking revenge.
The Rajapaksa government, blinded to the ground reality, did not factor in the strength of the minorities as a political force. It duped itself into believing that a massive swing in the southern areas would offset the minority block vote for the Opposition candidate. Little did it realise that the anti-incumbency factor, hostile propaganda, unfulfilled election pledges, high cost of living, the arrogance of power etc had caused a considerable erosion of its support base. It also paid little heed to the crucial youth vote. The then Minister D. E. W. Gunasekera, who had an ear to the ground, did his damnedest to draw the Rajapaksas’ attention to the political reality, but in vain.
It was not only on the domestic front the Rajapaksa government bungled. It totally mismanaged the country’s foreign policy. It looked as if President Rajapaksa had wanted to be the Hugo Chavez of Asia as it were; he antagonised the western powers unnecessarily and became a marked target in the process; the US and its allies ganged up against him and used war crimes allegations as a bludgeon to beat him with. Even if he had been able to prevent a split in the SLFP and secure a third term, the western bloc would have made it impossible for him to stay in power; the economy would have been made to scream and international pariah status conferred on his government with him bracketed with Zimbabwean, North Korean and Ugandan leaders.
Members of the incumbent government also complain of conspiracies and conspirators from time to time. But, they ought to realise that a government, intoxicated with power digs its own political grave. They have endeared themselves to the west thanks to their subservience and willingness to offer anything to the western powers on a platter, but their unfulfilled election pledges, corrupt practices, callous disregard for the woes of the public as evident from their resolve to jack up taxes are bound to cost them dear in terms of votes at future elections. They don’t seem to have learnt from the fate that befell the Rajapaksa administration.
(Cartoon googled for entertainment)