Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Mahinda Rajapaksa's Fall from Grace

Reuters pic, January 11, 2015
Sri Lankan strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa lost his country's January 08 presidential elections while pursuing a third term in office – and I am not surprised many people rejoiced.
After all, many sensed popular sentiment turning against his regime but few were sure that it would translate into an outright defeat to the challenger Maithripala Sirisena. Such has been the hold on Rajapaksa's regime on Sri Lanka's state and society, that analysts speculated that in addition to a volatile, vicious and violent campaign the possibility was great that there could either be electoral fraud, a military coup or the invalidation of the result by a pliant Supreme Court.
Indeed, it was a stunning and spectacular defeat. Rajapaksa lost with 47.6% of the vote, while his opponent, former health minister and ally Maithripala Sirisena took 51.3% of the vote. If those numbers are familiar to Malaysians, it is because those are nearly the same numbers as the split between the ruling Barisan Nasional and opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat in GE13.
Rajapaksa was Sri Lanka's hero who ended the 26-year civil war with the minority Tamil population in 2009 – and he went on to create a monocracy that promoted chicanery, cronyism and corruption. He also set out to build a personality cult whose details, with shades of North Korea, have been widely reported. Rajapaksa's pictures were everywhere: buses, billboards and all forms of media. His family monopolised state power. Two brothers became ministers of defence and economic development and a third the speaker of parliament. Other kinpersons secured key positions and all told the family was said to control 70% of the government expenditure.

Sri Lanka was nothing more than a fiefdom. A family-run corporation. A personal vault.
After two terms in office – he still insisted on continuing to wield absolute power. And so he decided to change the law to allow unlimited terms as president.
Eventually, it took an astute reading of the situation and clever bit of timing by the insider Sirisena to defect in November, rally the opposition and capture the anti-Rajapaksa mood.
Whether Sirisena can undo the country that had been in Rajapaksa's clenched grip  remains to be seen. For now, the story is about Rajapaksa's fall.
And it offers a lesson for Malaysia: that the very powerful and those who intimidate their opponents and the press, apart from advocating censorship – ultimately can lose. This is the hope that Malaysians cling to.

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