“The Rajapaksas: From darling of Sri Lanka to the most abhorred”

I WONDER whether it is a coincidence that the island state of Sri Lanka is witnessing its worst economic, financial, social and political crisis unprecedented since its Independence.  

Ordinary people on the streets are expressing their anger, frustration and tears as to their fate in the country. 

The recent economic and financial crisis in Sri Lanka that led to the resignation of its Cabinet members, including the prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, coincided with the end of hostilities against the Tamils there; 13 years ago. 

In May 2009, the three decades of civil war between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended with the defeat of the latter.  More than hundreds of thousands of Tamils, mostly civilians in the north and east, perished due to the military assault by the Sri Lankan forces.  

The civil ended with the subjugation of traditional Tamil areas in the north and east by the Sri Lankan government. Although the fighting was brought to halt, there was no prospect to meaningfully address the plight of the community there.  

The end of hostilities brought not peace but misery in the forms of displacements, detention, restriction imposed on Tamils’ movement, encroachment of the army in their areas, the complete lack of accountability on missing persons and most importantly, the defiance by the government to offer a peaceful solution to their plight.  

International human rights organisations that operated under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) failed to convince the Sinhala-Buddhist government of the need to address human rights issues. Even the call for an internationally supervised referendum fell on the deaf ears of the international community.  

However, it did not take centuries but only 13 years for the Sri Lankan government run by the dreaded Rajapaksa family to collapse under its own weight of economic and financial incompetence.  

Basically, corruption leading to economic and financial mismanagement eventually resulted in the dramatic reduction of the country’s reserves; lacking foreign currency to pay for essential imports such as fuel, fertilisers and others.  

The Rajapaksa family, the icon of the Sinhalese community in defeating the LTTE, were brought to their knees under the weight of their own self-inflicted wounds.  

Riots and demonstrations brought the country to a standstill. People stood in long lines to obtain fuel and other basic necessities.  

The unthinkable then happened; the Rajapaksa family, once the darling of the majority Sinhalese population, became the most hated family in the country.  

The people on the streets are demanding the exit of the president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the younger brother of Mahinda.  

I understand that Mahinda was escorted by the army to be holed up in some unknown place in the country probably in Trincomalee, eastern part of the country.  

Equality a must in a democracy  

The appointment of Ranil Wickremesighe as an interim prime minister might be a just a stop gap measure because Sri Lankans have no confidence in him either.  

Extension of credit line by India and China to relieve the temporary shortage of essentials might not be just enough. The economic and financial crises has brought to fore the major mistakes made by the government that ruled the country under the platform of Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony.  

In essence, such a formula had no place for ethnic minorities, such as Tamils and Muslims. However, bear in mind that they not small minorities but constitute about 25% of the total population.  

The Rajapaksa family basically ran the country; with family members running important ministries and agencies.  

Since the Rajapaksa family was credited with the victory over LTTE, essentially, the Tamils, the family developed a false sense of immunity from challenges.  

It took 13 years to prove beyond any doubt that the family took the people’s goodwill for granted and thought they could do whatever they pleased, including the plundering the country.  

It is not that ordinary people have short memories, but when their very existence is under threat due to the shortage of essentials, then there was nothing to stop them from going against the very family that were once hailed as heroes!  

The on-going crises illustrates, among others, that management of ethnic relations in a democratic and egalitarian manner seems to be an essential prerequisite for the return political stability.  

Since the Sinhala-Buddhist hegemonic model has been largely blamed for the present crises, there is need to envision a new model of government predicated on the notion of equality of races and not on the basis of the majority-minority principle.  

So, will there be an attempt to examine whether referendum might be a method in which Tamils can have a say in the future direction of the community there?  

A referendum might allow the Tamils to say whether they want to be part of Sri Lanka or opt out for a new political formation.  

It need not be either or as other options could be made available in the referendum process.  

The United Nations would be an ideal party to conduct this referendum with the support of India and other big powers.  

Most importantly, referendum offers a democratic choice for Tamils who have long been denied freedom and democracy in the country of theirs. – May 19, 2022


Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is the state assemblyperson for Perai. He is also deputy chief minister II of Penang.   

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia. 


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