Crisis in Sri Lanka: How President Gotabaya’s reign ended in a Singapore hotel

SINGAPORE, July 17 (The Straits Times/ANN): A policeman and a security escort. A luxury limo. A 20-minute ride on Singapore’s East Coast Parkway to the downtown hotel where he had booked for the night.

It was the last presidential run for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a 73-year-old former Sri Lankan army lieutenant-colonel turned politician, once a hero to his people as a steadfast defense secretary who fashioned a huge victory on the field of battle that suppressed a quarter century of ethnicity. insurrection with brute force.

Perhaps typical of a man with a military background, Rajapaksa arrived at Changi Airport’s VIP complex on Thursday wearing his favorite black jacket over a white shirt and slacks.

Despite her setbacks and what looked like fatigue on her face, her voice was firm, according to people watching her from a distance.

Once at the hotel, it seems Gota – as he is widely known in his country – wasted no time in writing his resignation.

Addressed to the Speaker of Parliament, the now historic sheet of paper that ended Sri Lanka’s eighth presidency was placed in a sealed envelope and quickly brought back to Changi Airport for delivery to Colombo on a Singapore Airlines flight in end of the night.

After his authenticity was validated the following morning, the Sri Lankan government announced that Mr. Rajapaksa was no longer the leader of the country’s 22 million people. He ended up as president.

Although Mr. Rajapaksa left office, the nation that shouted “Gota, go home!” may not have gotten his wish – the cry was supposed to ask him to return to the United States, where he had immigrated in 1998.

Instead, until his plans are confirmed or his entry visa runs out, he remains in Singapore.

Rajapaksa must now determine his next steps. He could possibly return to Sri Lanka – after all, he is not a fugitive from justice but from the public wrath – and it is not in his personality to accept defeat easily. But it makes sense that he stays out of the country until things settle down.

It will take some time.

First, Parliament must choose a new president, which it should do shortly.

Second, the new government must negotiate an economic rescue plan with international lenders, led by the International Monetary Fund.

This should not be a major problem and would instantly allow the nation to buy oil currently sitting in tankers in Sri Lankan waters and other essential supplies such as medicine.

Third, given the uproar in the shortage-hit island and public anger, the massive mandate held by Mr Rajapaksa’s party has evaporated. This means that despite the difficulties of the day, including an empty national treasury, Sri Lanka must hold new elections.

Rajapaksa might then be able to negotiate the terms of his return with Sri Lanka’s new leadership.

Until then, if only for his own safety and that of his family, Rajapaksa must stay away from Sri Lanka. His options would include Saudi Arabia and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

While Rajapaksa’s political demise is due to his mismanagement of the Sri Lankan economy over the past two years, his rise to fame is entirely due to his stint as Defense Secretary – a post he accepted. after his older brother Mahinda became president in 2005.

Until then, Rajapaksa and his wife Ioma lived in the United States where he had moved after taking early retirement from the Sri Lankan army. Their only child, a son, is not involved in politics and works in California.

From the start, Rajapaksa took a no-prisoners approach to national security and in this he had a capable ally in the then army chief, General Sarath Fonseka.

In early 2006, shortly after arriving from the United States to take up the post, Rajapaksa submitted a long list of expensive war equipment he wished to purchase. Many, including his brother Mahinda, were puzzled.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s reaction was simple and straightforward.

“You all start with the hope of talking peace with the Tamil Tigers,” he told Cabinet. “When you realize it’s futile, you will come to me. I can’t wait for this moment. I need all of this now to be fully prepared.

Having succeeded, Rajapaksa worked closely with General Fonseka to shape a brutal battlefield victory against the Tigers that would occur in just over three years, in mid-2009.

But then the Rajapaksas went too far.

Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana speaks during a press conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka Friday, July 15, 2022. He is out of office. – PA

Suspicious of General Fonseka’s national hero status and potential to emerge as a political challenge, they initially sought to sideline him, humiliating the victorious general with the offer of the post of Sports Secretary. . When the general resisted, they arrested him.

In a phone call shortly after the general’s arrest in February 2010, Rajapaksa explained to me why they had to take this step.

The general was “preparing a coup”, he alleged. Had he been successful, Rajapaksa argued, General Fonseka would have done worse to the Rajapaksa brothers than the late prime minister-turned-president Junius Jayewardene had done to his predecessor and political rival, the late Sirima Bandaranaike.

Jayewardene had stripped Bandaranaike of his civil rights in 1990 for abuse of power during his tenure from 1970 to 1977.

The second part of the Rajapaksa’s overreach was to install members of the Rajapaksa clan – there are nine siblings and Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the fifth among them – to control the commanding heights of the economy. They were accused of personally profiting from the process.

Finally, the Rajapaksas went too far diplomatically, establishing close ties with China much to the uneasiness of neighboring India, the United States, Britain, Japan and Australia.

Key infrastructure projects have been awarded to Chinese companies, and the brothers have even agreed to lease a strategically important port in the southern tip of the island – their political stronghold – from China.

In 2015, Western and Indian intelligence agencies, worried about the regime’s growing strategic proximity to China, cooperated to stage a coup against them.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was not re-elected in 2015, but was controversially appointed prime minister in October 2018 after President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe from his post.

Wickremesinghe – who is now the interim president and is accused by many Sri Lankans of secretly aiding the Rajapaksas – refused to accept his dismissal, saying it was unconstitutional.

Finally, the Easter bombings of churches and hotels in Colombo in April 2019 damaged the future of the Sirisena government.

News surfaced that the government had received advance warnings from Indian intelligence, but they went unheeded due to the dysfunction in the administration due to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe rift.

Suicide bombings claimed some 270 lives and a shocked nation began to relive the nightmarish years of insurgency and violence.

Sri Lankans, looking for a strong savior, found one in Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Elected president at the end of 2019 by a wide margin, he quickly set about appointing not only his family but also a set of trusted ex-servicemen to key government posts, including that of foreign secretary.

From there, it took less than three years to get to where it is today.

Failed economic policies, including a ban on chemical fertilizers that led to a sharp drop in agricultural productivity, the outbreak of Covid-19 and the drop in tourism, all led to the currency crisis and the fall of the Treasury and of Rajapaksa.

Amid a shortage of food, medicine, fuel and other essentials, Gotabaya’s legend disappeared and he was placed in an unknown location: the object of public abuse.

Not a natural politician like his brother Mahinda is, Rajapaksa was left bewildered and alone after his siblings left the government in an attempt to assuage public anger against the family.

Finally, he had little choice but to flee.

He is unlikely to ever return to power, although Sri Lanka’s vicious political divisions make it entirely possible the nation could turn to a Rajapaksa again – just that his name is unlikely to be Gotabaya.

An ambitious nephew, Namal, son of Mahinda, will most likely be this character.

When it comes to his personal political fortunes, however, Gota looks like a dork. – Time of the Straits

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