Sri Lanka: Rajapaksa era gets a new lease on life

Six months after he was ousted from power in the presidential election, Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is eyeing a political comeback as prime minister. Ironically, his comeback bid has been facilitated by the very person who ejected him from the presidency, his friend-turned-foe, Maithripala Sirisena.

Mahinda Rajapaksa is eyeing a political comeback as prime minister

Mahinda Rajapaksa is eyeing a political comeback as prime minister

Last week, President Sirisena, who also heads the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) as well as the coalition it leads, the United Progressive Freedom Alliance (UPFA), reversed his decision not to allow Rajapaksa to contest the August 17 general election under the SLFP banner.

Both Sirisena and Rajapaksa belong to the SLFP. Sirisena was health minister in the Rajapaksa government and quit it to challenge his former boss in the presidential election. After becoming president, Sirisena wrested leadership of the SLFP and the UPFA from Rajapaksa as well.

That Rajapaksa would aspire for a comeback was never in doubt. Although he was defeated in the presidential election, he did not perform badly in the Sinhalese areas. He remains popular among Sinhalese-Buddhists, the island’s ethnic majority, who are grateful to him for having ended the civil war in 2009.

However, what he lacked was a party machinery. Sirisena has provided him with that by granting him a seat under the SLFP banner.

While Rajapaksa supporters are delighted with Sirisena’s decision, others, especially liberal Sri Lankans are not. They backed Sirisena as president as they wanted an end to years of Rajapaksa misrule; corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism were some of the hallmarks of the Rajapaksa presidency. Gains that were made in recent months on questions of democratization, constitutional reforms, etc., could be frittered away should Rajapaksa return,they fear. Sirisena’s decision is seen as a subversion of the people’s mandate, a betrayal of the hopes for change that millions of Sri Lankans vested in him by voting for him in January.

So why did Sirisena decide to give Rajapaksa the green signal to contest under the SLFP banner?

Over the past six months, the SLFP has been a divided house – factions loyal to Rajapaksa and Sirisena were at odds with each other. Although the United National Party (UNP) backed Sirisena in the presidential election and the President appointed the UNP’s Ranil Wickremesinghe as the prime minister, relations had soured.

The SLFP and the UNP are rivals in the upcoming election and the UNP has an advantage given the rift in the SLFP. To deny the UNP that advantage, the SLFP has now closed ranks. By permitting Rajapaksa to contest on an SLFP ticket, Sirisena and the SLFP are no doubt hoping that the party will be able to win the votes of Rajapaksa supporters among the Sinhalese majority. Many SLFP leaders realize that without the electoral boost that Rajapaksa’s presence will provide, they may not be able to return to parliament.

Rajapaksa is far more assertive than Sirisena. His return as prime minister could shift the spotlight away from the rather uncharismatic President. Has Sirisena blundered by agreeing to give Rajapaksa a ticket?

Sirisena appears to have taken a calculated risk. After all, even if an SLFP-coalition were to win the election, it is the President who appoints the Prime Minister. So the final word on whether Rajapaksa should be the prime minister rests with Sirisena.

While the UNP and the SLFP are the main actors in the electoral fray, there are several other parties who will impact the final outcome. Sinhalese parties such as the Janata Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya, who were Sirisena allies in the presidential election, are upset with the Sirisena-Rajapaksa rapprochement. They have said they will contest separately and could end up taking away a sizeable section of Sinhalese-Buddhist votes from the SLFP.

As for the Tamil National Alliance and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, parties that had played a huge role in ensuring Sirisena’s victory, given their fierce opposition to Rajapaksa – Tamils and Muslims suffered much during his presidency – they can be expected to go along with the UNP.

The coming weeks are likely to see politicians and parties switch loyalties, change sides and negotiate deals and alliances. There is much uncertainty in the air.

However, one thing is clear: the Rajapaksa era which was thought to have ended with his defeat in January has got a fresh lease of life.

Dr. Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore, India who writes on South Asian political and security issues. She can be reached at

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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  • You write here that Rajapaksa was responsible “corruption, nepotism, authoritarianism”. All of these are nothing more than false, unproven allegations promulgated by Rajapaksa’s unelectable political opponents and certain anti-SriLankan international forces and organizations.

    Further, you state that the JVP and JHU hold sway with a large number of the Sinhalese-Buddhist vote. But given their complete betrayal of the national cause after the January 8 election, the JHU has lost all credibility with the electorate, and will be wiped out. Also, the JVP is a dying party, as thanks to Rajapaksa’s successes have improved the conditions of the traditional JVP sympathisers. They reject the JVP’s stupid marxism.

    Finally, you assert that the Muslims and Tamils suffered greatly under Rajapaksa, but provide no real evidence of this. Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese alike are now far better off that Rajapaksa had the strength to end the war.

    Throughout this whole piece you don’t use even one sentence to explain why Rajapaksa has been able to make a comeback. It is not because he “won the war”. At least not entirely. He also brought peace, great infrastructure development, grew the economy at a fast pace, reduced unemployment, reduced inflation and strengthened the nation.

    Under 170 days (since Jan 8), an unelected, unconstitutional, illegal regime, backed to the hilt by imperialist India, the economy collapsed, all development stopped, and the military has started to be dismantled, giving room for a Tamil terrorist resurgence. In addition, Sirisena’s apology speech for the war victory led to Tamil militants stoning the police force in the north.

    A large part of the reason for Rajapaksa’s defeat was a sordid campaign of mega-lies on a scale and deviousness that Goebbels would have been proud of. Sirisena himself, and the UNP, alleged that state funds had been used to buy Lamborghinis, horses, and helicopters for Mahinda’s children. All of these allegations were found to be false.

    People are rallying back to Mahinda because they see that he was framed, and they realize that they were duped by a campaign of vicious lies. People want Mahinda back to restore their dignity, keep India’s meddling (and hungry and disease ridden) fingers out of Sri Lanka, to bring back peace and stability, and to return this country to the path of development. They realize that on Jan 8 they did a great disservice to an innocent man.

    Please stop misinforming those reading this website.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    When Mahinda Rajapakse lost the elections to the Sirisena coalition, he lost it by only 450 thousand votes out of 15 million. Mahinda did not lose to any single individual, but to a coalition of parties.

    Unlike previous elections that kept him in power as the President of Sri Lanka, this time the voter turnout from the Tamils and Muslims were high. Yet the margin of loss was very thin. One could assume if he was that unpopular the victory of the Sirisena coalition should have been a landslide as in India, when the Bharata Janata Party (BJP) swept across India’s vast diversity, cutting across region, ethnicity, language, and caste to win by a massive margin, over the Congress Party.

    That may explain why just 7 months ago in January 2015, President Rajapakse lost and now 7 months later he is being invited to participate in yet another election.

    Then the Sirisena coalition not only defeated Mahinda Rajapakse but intended to bring corruption charges against him. Rajapakse was not only defeated but now was accused of criminal action during his time in office. He was not meant to ever return to power. That included many of his family members who also held high positions in Colombo.

    Assuming he does get the post of a Prime Minister (not President), Mahinda will have to deal with daunting issues regarding relations with China, India, and mostly the domestic issue. The Tamil Tigers were roundly defeated in 2009 but the aspiration for Eelam never died. It lives on in Chennai (Madras) Tamil Nadu in the form of TESO (Tamil Ealam Supporters Organization), TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization), PLOTE (Peaple’s Liberation of Tamil Ealam) to many more. They have been resurrected by the former chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi a few years ago, and are thriving.

    Part of the reason Rajapakse lost (including his brother Gotabaya Rajapakse) was that issues greater than economics have not been dealt. Amendment 13 created in 1987 and during the war stipulated that at a minimum, Police and land powers be decentralized and given to the Provinces. The Tamil dominated region of Jaffna demanded this, so did the Tamil National Alliance, the political voice of the Tamils. The constant reply from Colombo was that no province had these powers and they would remain with Gotabaya Rajapakse. To give one province these powers is to also do the same with the other provinces.

    From Tamil Nadu to London (where the Tamil Global Forum are) demanded that some aspects, if not all of Amendment 13 be fulfilled. Partly what stopped this from happening was that this amendment was created in 1987 to end the war by changing the way Colombo governs the nation. It was meant to make Sri Lanka into a Federal system which would have given everything to the Tamil Tigers short of the creation of Eelam. the war ended 12 years later in 2009, by a military action. It then negated this amendment. It should never have been an issue, but it is.

    Part of the Sirisena coalition’s platform was to give the police and land powers to the provinces. The aspiration for Eelam never really died in 2009, even when the region of Jaffna witnessed a 22% growth rate, while the rest of the nation maintained a 7.5% growth rate.

    It is NOT economic well being. It is not even the issue of human rights violations against the Tamils but the desire for self determination. As a side note, the Mahatma (and the Congress party) demanded Home rule from the British Empire, purely based on “self determination”. The Mahatma did not have a list of grievances to validate this demand, and he was just a subject of that Empire. The Mahatma had less power as a subject, to demand home rule for India (and by that the dissolution of an Empire) than the Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka.

    Since the war ended in 2009, and across the world in the United Kingdom, Scotland faced a referendum to end the 300 year old union with the United Kingdom. Even though they lost this bid the Scottish Nationalist Party jumped from 25 thousand members to 85 thousand members, and is still growing. the main platform of the Scottish Nationalist Party is the independence of Scotland. The Scots do not face any kind of discrimination and have a standard of living which is one of the best in the world. Yet the Scottish Nationalist Party has become a potent voice in Westminster.

    In the light of this, no matter what the social or economic situation is for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, they like the Mahatma or the Scottish Nationalist Party, want to have a government of their own. President Woodrow Wilson’s famous “self determination speech of 1918” stated that people have a right to form their own government.

  • Wasalaya

    Well said champ.

  • Kailas Pillai

    Except for the January 2015 Lankan Presidential election every election since independence in 1948 has had the ethnic divide as the main issue. Because of unbridled corruption, nepotism, culture of impunity, deteriorated law and order, the January election did not have the ethnic divide in the forefront. This is a first and a healthy one at that!
    The ethnic divide via terrorism threat is bound to raise its head in the August parliamentary election. This will set Lankans back yet another decade.

  • Kailas Pillai

    Your first para: “You write here that Rajapaksa was responsible “corruption, nepotism, authoritarianism”. All of these are nothing more than false, unproven allegations….”
    Mahinda himself has promised that he will eliminate corruption. Why eliminate something which is not there? You are stretching your loyalty a bit too much.

    Your statement: “Finally, you assert that the Muslims and Tamils suffered greatly under Rajapaksa, but provide no real evidence of this”.
    Ask the Eelam Tamil who endured internment for three years in Vanni Camps and Aluthgama Muslims who were brutalised for a week in June 2014.

  • Kailas Pillai

    Surely you meant “Well said chimp”

  • Ranil Lokuge

    The entire opposition joined together at the last Presidential election. They had only one aim: Defeat Mahinda Rajapakse. Combined opposition (85% of the minority and 40% of the majority)
    used all kinds of wild allegations to defeat Rajapakse. Now more than six months, not a single claim had been substantiated at a court of law or by any means since their ascending to power. Within 100 days since Rajapakse defeat, people realized election gimmicks promised by Sirisena/Wickramasinghe government is vaporizing in to thin air. People realized the peaceful and fast developing country that progressed under Rajapakse is been dragged towards uncertainty by the unholy pickled alliance of the so-called good governance of Sirisena/Wickramasinghe administration. Neo-cons pressured the Sirisena/Wickramasinghe administration to discontinue the Chinese projects but had no replacement. Work ceased Rajapakse commenced projects were
    everywhere. Sirisena/Wickramasinghe administration didn’t realize they are fast loosing popularity and Mahinda is fast becoming a cult of celebrity among the majority Sinhalese.

    Getting back to Sirisena, he has never been a strong or a popular figure. He had no standing
    among the majority or the minority community before becoming the ‘common candidate’. In fact minorities hardly knew him. Sirisena was chosen as the common candidate at the last minute by the former President Chandrika and was backed by neo-cons and their stooges and was approved by Wickramasinghe because they believed he would be a good puppet.

    Just a month back, when President Sirisena was under the spell by the former President Chandrika and Prime Minister Ranil W he was uttering differ tunes. He has even rejected giving nomination to Mahinda from SLFP of which party he is the chairman. But Mahinda has become so popular now, it is estimated that he could get more than half the seats of the parliament on his own. Apparently, President Sirisena is fast losing the control of his party (SLFP) for rats were about to abandon his ship. Reluctantly though Sirisena gave in to demands by Mahinda faction of the SLFP. For much of the delight of the majority, soon, Mahinda will be back on the driving seat of Sri Lanka governance.

  • Kailas Pillai

    Your first two lines:” ……….Rajapakse lost the elections to the Sirisena coalition, he lost it by only 450 thousand votes out of 15 million……….”
    So what? Remember in 2005 Mahinda got 59.28% – won by 190 thousand votes.

    In 2019 he was riding very very high, He got 57% and Sarath Fonseka over 40%. This was not overwhelming considering the civil war ended in May 2009.
    You want him to win in spite of allegations of corruption etc. Do not bet on it.

    Towads the middle of your rigmarole you say” The aspiration for Eelam never really died in 2009, even when the region of Jaffna witnessed a 22% growth rate, while the rest of the nation maintained a 7.5% growth rate”.
    This is a Goebbelian canard. With 22% growth rate unemployment rate must be zero or negative. Unemployment among Eelam Tamils is three times national average.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Got message Kailas
    ‘so we meet in Asia Times. What is with you? Do you tail me from Hindustan Times to Asia Times challenging my comments? don’t you have a life? and anyway what makes your statistics correct? why should anyone believe you? because you state that?
    before doing your “follow Bernard through the internet” check out my stats, then pour out your bile. I do not buy the constant garbage you dish out at me on almost all my comments.

  • Prasanthi

    Foolishly said chimp

  • Low Shen-Cheang

    The report was written by Sudha Ramachandran, care to know who is this guy?

  • Kailas Pillai

    Not at all. It is the song and not the singer.

  • Kailas Pillai

    The high level of unemployment among Eelam Tamils and the social toll, availability of alcohol and drugs near schools and checkpoints were discussed in “The Mirror” last week. Your figure were probably from one of the websites which carry news and statistics cooked to Gotabaya orders in the then President’s office.
    No I never stalk you Bernard. I never waste time talking to Ghost.

  • Kailas Pillai

    You are effectively saying “Mahinda lost because of minority votes”. The main theme in the January 2015 election was corruption. You are submitting that Mahinda regime was clean. Will Lankans accept this?
    In the January election 2015 the ethnic divide was in the lower rung. It will be tragic if seven months later this cancer is brought to the forefront again.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha


    Got comment. Now I can see why you thought my comment of 22% economic growth in Jaffna did not happen. I read it several times since 2010, but found it difficult to find in the web. There are Wikipedia articles from “Economy of Sri Lanka” to “Sri Lanka” and other articles written by global companies. You have to Google “Jaffna Sri Lanka economic growth rate”. here is a quote from “Sri Lanka” Wikipedia:

    “With the end of the war, the Northern province reported a record 22.9% GDP growth in 2010.[244]”. There are plenty of articles that show the overall growth rate of Sri Lanka went fluctuated between 7.5 to 8%

  • Ranil Lokuge

    All I am saying is voting pattern of minorities is ‘a’ major factor for Mahinda to lose the last election. Then again, this is nothing new. Only, it has gone beyond one’s belief this time around. Be it Muslim or Tamil, everywhere that minorities congregate in large numbers, Mahinda lost. If you care to analyze the electoral result map with population statistical map you’ll see that this has happened in 2005 as well in 2010 when Mahinda faced different opponents. Why? I say there is only one and only one reason: Mahinda is stamped as a strong Sinhala Buddhist. And Tamils and Muslims are against Sinhala Buddhists for an ulterior motive. You’ll see that the same results will reoccur this time around. Right now people are not unduly concerned about the so-called corruption issue for one, they have seen it played worse (bond issue) during the short spell of yahapalana and for another, they have seen the non-stop allegation, “hora hora hora” but no proof even after 200 days of all out effort to expose the stolen things and corrupt deals.

  • NAK

    why do you think there is high unemployment in the north?is it because there are no jobs or most unemployed are not employable due to lack of education/vocational training or they are not interested in emloyment since they have the dough through their kith and kin abroad(they have been drinkin heavily according to wiggles)or are all these factors contribute and of these what factors does the former president responsible for and why?
    Tell us also why,that the TNA does not address these issues at all and they only concentrate on soaring aspirations of peoplesof the Eelam?
    Is it because if their suffering is ended they may not follow the pied piper any more?

  • Kailas Pillai

    You are devoid of any human feelings Ranil Lokuge. Eelam Tamils were hounded and brutalised by Sinhala goons in 1958, 1977 and in 1983 – before the evolution of liberation groups. A civil war was inevitable. In May 2009 Eelam Tamils were corralled and bombed. After the end of the civil war the hounding continued. Sure do you expect them to support the perpetrator of the carnage?
    Do you expect Muslims to support Mahinda after the Aluthgama pogrom in June 2014?
    Why the hell do you defend and support the Mahinda regime?

  • Kailas Pillai

    Unemployment is present everywhere but in Lanka it is chronic in Tamil speaking areas. I am not imagining this.
    A small proportion of the unemployed are helped financially by Eelam Tamil Diaspora but the majority are not.
    The roads etc laid by Mahinda used labour brought by the contractors. The hotels etc inside were built by the army and locals including CM NP were not allowed inside.
    The CM NP had no say in these.

  • Kailas Pillai

    What appears in Wikipedia is based on what is provided by GoSL.
    Look at “The Daily Mirror” 10 July. It says that the Lankan Department of Census and Statistics has revised the GDP growth for 2014 from 7.4% to 4%. Various reasons are given for this but does not include that the 7.4% was a Gotabaya order.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Please read my comment. I got that information from the Wikipedia but I also stated “and other articles written by global companies”. the figures you quoted were from 2014. the figures I quoted covered the period from 2010 to 2012. Go back to the Mirror and look up her archives for those years and quote the Daily Mirror what was reported then. Kailas since you put all your faith in the Daily Mirror I am sure you would check on this. I also look at other sources to support my claim.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    This may make it easier for you to find the facts, since you are correcting all the commenters about this article on Sri Lanka. Next to the quote from Wikipedia is a number (244). That is the source where the Wikipedia got that statistic. Check it out yourself and see if it is from the GoSL or from an independent source. Since you are the one making the accusation that this information is false, here is the golden opportunity for such a dedicated person like you in finding the true information about the growth rate and treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka. If you do find out that the growth rate in Jaffna was around 22% I am sure you will come back and let all of us know.

  • DavePh

    When is Rajapaksha going to be tried at The Hague?