Leader for Challenging Times | Daily News

Leader for Challenging Times

The Bible speaks of the ‘Eternal Sea’ which is also known as the ‘World of Politics’. The world of politics, that is full of revolution, turmoil, change, conflict and violence. Nations rise and fall, and world leaders rise and depart. The last words of Augustus were - “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit…”. Therefore, it is always important to have a balanced view of world leaders.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa swearing-in before Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya at the Ruwanwelisaya Temple in Anuradhapura on November 18, 2019. Picture by Wasitha Patabendige

Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the 8th President of Sri Lanka. Today he turns 73. And like every world leader he has had his failings. Yet it is important to take a balanced view of the man. He was instrumental in ending the War in Sri Lanka. And it is because of his foresight that Sri Lanka has managed to limit the Covid-19 deaths to below 17,000.

From 1983 to 2009, the war raged on. The leader of the LTTE Velupillai Prabhakaran was one of the most ruthless and feared men in the world. He was a leader who struck terror into the hearts of Sri Lankans, during the period he ruled the LTTE terrorists. He was a man responsible for up to 40,000 civilian deaths. In 2009, President Gotabaya was the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development. His brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was President. In 2009, together these two men with the assistance of the Tri-Forces managed to finally defeat the leader of the LTTE, putting an end to the terror.

The son of former Cabinet Minister D. A. Rajapaksa, Lieutenant Colonel Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa, after finishing his Secondary Education at Ananda College in Colombo, joined the Sri Lanka Army in 1971. He was in active service during the early stages of the Sri Lankan separatist war with the elite Gajaba Regiment. He took part in several major offensives such as the Vadamarachi Operation.

He took early retirement from the Army and moved into the field of Information Technology. He studied Information Technology at the University of Colombo. In 1998 he emigrated to the United States and worked at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles as an IT professional. He returned to Sri Lanka in 2005 to aid the Presidential campaign of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa. Subsequently, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was appointed Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.

He was a brave soldier. He was awarded the Rana Wickrama Padakkama and Rana Sura Padakkama medals for courage and excellence in combat. During his military service, he earned a Masters Degree in Defence Studies from the University of Madras, and underwent advanced training in Pakistan, India and the USA.

On December 1, 2006, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) made an attempt in Colombo to assassinate Gotabaya Rajapaksa, but he survived. Had his destiny been different, the fate of this country may also have been different. For it was the indomitable will of both he and his brother that put an end to the thirty-year long war in Sri Lanka. Velupillai Prabhakaran was a man who was responsible for innumerable atrocities. Someone who went as far as killing Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India.

Leader with many talents

We also cannot forget the urban development plans that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa put into action when he was Defence Secretary. He really transformed many parts of Colombo into paradises. Under his watchful eye, the Colombo landscape changed visibly. It seems that President Gotabaya is a leader with many talents. To this day some of his paradises still exist. Under his purview, derelict properties were transformed into landscaped vistas.

Then Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa (L) is hugged by elder brother then President Mahinda Rajapakse (C) in Colombo, on December 1, 2006, after narrowly escaping assassination in a suicide bomb attack in Colombo.  

It is not incorrect to say that he swept to power in the 2019 election. He won 52.25% of the total votes cast at the election, garnering over 1.3 million votes more than his closest rival. He contested from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Party. He is the first person with military background to be elected as President of Sri Lanka.

Over six million Covid-19 deaths have been reported throughout the world. However, Sri Lanka’s Covid-19 death rate was relatively low, amounting to nearly 17,000. Since the detection of the first case in January 2020, Sri Lanka has successfully managed two waves of the pandemic and it seems to be having some success with the third wave. Sri Lanka’s early successes were undoubtedly due to the Government’s timely intervention. During January 27–March 9, 2020, 33 Sri Lankan students and families were evacuated from Wuhan on February 1 and quarantined at a military facility at Diyatalawa. Even today no one denies the fact that the President acted quickly.

Truth be told, every world leader was at sea when it came to Covid-19. Donald Trump who was then one of the most powerful men in the world badly mishandled the pandemic. In comparison to some leaders who badly mishandled the pandemic, President Rajapaksa had a very effective strategy.

Covid vaccination programme

Government adopted a ‘whole of government and whole of society’ approach in its Covid-19 eradication strategy mobilizing the health authorities, Tri Forces and the community at large. Sri Lanka’s vaccination programme against Covid-19 has been a tremendous success. Eighty two percent of the population over 12 years has been vaccinated with both doses of the vaccine.

The Covid-19 virus caused devastation worldwide. It is one of the most distressing events in human history. People were unable to travel freely and Sri Lanka’s thriving tourist industry was badly hit. Something the President was not able to prevent, although his government implemented strict measures to curb the spread of the disease. Sri Lankan expatriates were forced to return to the country in the midst of the raging Covid-19 pandemic in many countries. Sri Lankan exports were also badly affected. Sri Lankan economy had to undergo a crisis period due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There was another event which created an enormously adverse impact on the economy. The Easter Sunday attacks of 2019 dealt a severe blow to Sri Lanka’s tourist industry.

The Sri Lankan Governments in the past kept borrowing foreign loans and the country’s outstanding debt is over US$ 36 billion. As a result the country is faced with a shortage of foreign exchange reserves. At present Sri Lanka is undergoing an unprecedented political, economic and social crisis. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has conceded that he has made certain mistakes. He has the humility to accept his own faults, which is an admirable quality. He has however insisted that he will not leave office as a “failed Leader.” This indicates that he is determined to transform the present crisis into a promising future. 

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