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Why Gotabaya is battling a crisis no Sri Lankan leader has faced

As Sri Lanka descends deeper into economic chaos, the popularity of the President and his government have declined to levels never seen before for any political regime reaching midterm, writes Indika Hettiarachchi for South Asia Monitor

Indika Hettiarachchi Jan 13, 2022
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Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa (Photo: Twitter)

For a large number of 6.9 million voters who voted for Gotabaya Rajapakse in the 2019 presidential election, it was like giving a benefit of the doubt. This is because GR was a political novice at age 70. And his style of management or governance was a big question mark, although he was credited with military success. After two years, a vast majority of Sri Lankans aren’t convinced that giving the benefit of the doubt is a good idea when electing national leaders.   

As Sri Lanka descends deeper into economic chaos, the popularity of the President and his government have declined to levels never seen before for any political regime reaching midterm. The government appears to be disconnected from the general public and ground realities. Key forces within the government such as the military and Viyathmaga (an organization of professionals and a key ally of the current administration) seem to be lacking not only basic political experience and common sense in managing the country but also in the ability to work towards selfless goals.   

Rohantha Atukorala, a popular market analyst, opines that the current administration is the worst administration in the last two decades due to poor decision making. Frequent changes of key government officials itself proves widespread accusation of poor judgments by the administration in selecting people for important positions.     

Food policy a mess 

Perhaps the worst blow to people from the government came through its poor handling of the agriculture and food policy, resulting in sharp rise in food prices and shortages. Increase in cost of living to unbearable levels, coupled with rampant nepotism and corruption have angered general public to levels where they have now started to randomly and publicity hoot government and political leaders – something never seen in Sri Lanka before. 

What went wrong with the current administration, which appeared more than capable of taking the country in a positive direction, is a big question. Many blame the lack of experience of Gotabaya Rajapakse as the main cause of the failure. Lakshman Kiriella, an opposition politician, recently accused the media for its failure to question the President’s lack of understanding of the economy related problems faced by Sri Lanka at the presidential campaign stage. 

Leaning on divinity! 

Some analysts point out the downfall of the President is hastened by his and his inner circle’s blind dependency on divine powers to provide necessary guidance to run the country. Years before Gotabaya Rajapakse formally entered the presidential race, he has been a faithful follower of soothsayers – especially a popular female in Anuradhapura -- the sacred Buddhist city from where he took the presidential oath.  

The President and his key aides reportedly still heavily depend on divine guidance in managing the country. Although it is common practice for politicians to seek divine blessings, some reports suggest that Gotabaya Rajapakse has become extremely dependent on such guidance -- a stark contrast to his vision for the government driven by the use of science and technology.

As all indications suggest that the current political regime is unlikely to return to power, there are widespread discussions about who will be next presidential candidate and possible alliances. Anyway, for a majority of Sri Lankans, known devils are likely to be more appealing than unknown angels in future elections.  

(The writer is a Sri Lanka-based independent consultant in private market investments and projects. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at indika.h@jupitercapitalpartners.com)  

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