Despite the lack of pre-polling data on trends and exit polls, it was clear that Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be a shoo-in, his closest challenger Sajith Premadasa, leader of the United National Party, having none of the clout or even the numbers needed to block the return of the Rajapaksa clan to the Sri Lankan presidency.
It was equally clear that in the Tamil-dominated north as much as the Muslim-centric eastern provinces of Sri Lanka, the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as seventh executive President of the island nation was certain to set off ripples of fear. While political figures across the spectrum brace for a return of the politics of intimidation and targeted killings of critics through the notorious “white van” disappearances, the remnants of Tamil Tiger sympathisers believe a replication of the brutality that marked the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005-2015 is very much on the cards.
“Gota” Rajapaksa’s overwhelming victory may mirror developments across the world, which marks the rise of powerful yet divisive figures to political office, ultra-nationalist leaders that ordinary people are drawn to, in the belief that it takes a strong hand to lead their nations into a mythic golden era of prosperity. This is more so in a Sri Lanka that was lulled into a false sense of security, led to believe that the threats posed to the nation’s fabric were well and truly over with the end of the 30-year separatist violence unleashed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Indeed, the Easter Sunday bombings came as a huge shock, as much of an eye-opener for the authorities as to the populace after 10 years of inertia.
The other factor in play was that while Mahinda Rajapaksa was voted out in 2015, over a litany of corruption charges, none of which could be proven that were raised by outgoing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP leader’s own indifferent record of governance and diminishing clout even among the Colombo elite ensured that the revolving door would bring the Rajapaksas back into play.
While some questions remain on Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s electability going forward, due to the status of his dual US-Sri Lankan citizenship remaining unresolved, Mahinda’s return, possibly as Prime Minister in due course, is not.
With that, Sri Lanka, has in fact, come full circle. Much is being made of repeated overtures to India by the Rajapaksas, that is clearly powered by the realisation that Sri Lanka, caught in a China debt trap, needs India by its side for strategic reasons, especially when the first family counters charges of human rights violations on thousands of Tamil innocents who perished in the war against the LTTE. China’s rising heft, both militarily and diplomatically is not easily countered. By Delhi or Colombo.
As for the man on the street, the country may have voted for a leader who gets things done, but whether it will countenance the return of Rajapaksa cronies riding roughshod over civil freedoms as before remains open to question....