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Rajapaksa's appeasement of nationalists: Controversial monk appointed to head ‘one-country one rule’ task force

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed a controversial hardliner Buddhist monk to head his 13 member- Presidential Task Force to oversee legal reforms and the possibility of implementation of the One Country-One Rule system

Oct 28, 2021
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Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed a controversial hardliner Buddhist monk to head his 13 member- Presidential Task Force to oversee legal reforms and the possibility of implementation of the One Country-One Rule system. The task force has been asked to submit its report by February next year.

Gallagodatte Gnanasara, an ultra-conservative Buddhist monk, known for his anti-minority rhetoric, was appointed the head of the newly created Presidential Task Force. The 46-year-old monk is also the head of Bodu Bala Sena, often described as a  Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist and extreme nationalist organisation. 

According to a gazette notice issued by the government on the appointment of the Task Force, the administration of justice, its implementation, and protection under the law should be fair by all as set out in the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

“The implementation of the concept, one country, one law within Sri Lanka is reflected as a methodology of ensuring nationally and internationally recognized humanitarian values,” reads the notification. 

The Task Force includes four members of the Tamil minority group. However, no Muslim or woman is part of the panel.

The decision to appoint the monk as the head of the Task Force surprised many. In 2018, Gnanaasara was sentenced to five years in prison on four charges of contempt of court, according to a report in The Hindu. However, he had spent only five months in prison and was pardoned by then-President Mathripala Sirisena, a move criticized by many.
 
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who himself is a Sinhalese nationalist Buddhist, has in the past appointed several Presidential Task Forces, including one which recommended a blanket ban on chemical fertilizer to turn the country overnight organic. The decision proved catastrophic and compromised the country’s food security. 

Interestingly, the latest controversial -- and somewhat divisive--move comes at a time when the country has been going through its worst economic crisis. There are many other pressing issues in need of immediate attention. 

Furthermore, Rajapaksa’s popularity took a serious hit over the gross mismanagement of the economy in the last one and half years. The decision to appoint a controversial monk to oversee legal reforms--which will definitely have long-term consequences-- appears politically motivated, intended to polarise the public. 

Naturally, the move will bolster Rajapaksa’s image among the right-wing nationalist segment, his strongest support base. 

However, the move could also backfire politically. A panel headed by a radical monk may also suggest a set of radical reforms Rajapaksa finds, politically, tough to implement. In that case, the government would feel pressure from both the hardliner and other sections. The island country, already under the scrutiny of rights groups and other European countries, could also feel additional pressure from the external players.   

Going by the past, the Rajapaksa government hasn’t had a record of accommodating the concerns of minority groups like Tamil and Muslims. And the continuation of this trend is a process that will definitely alter existing legal codes and rules may have serious consequences for Sri Lanka.

(SAM) 

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