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End of the road for Sri Lanka’s “Terminator” president

#road #Sri #Lankas #Terminator #president

The rule of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, known to family and enemies alike as the “Terminator” for ruthlessly crushing Tamil rebels to end a decades-long civil war, is drawing to a close as a refugee and economy his island is in ruins.

Rajapaksa, one of a clan of four brothers who have dominated the country’s politics in recent years, served as defense minister from 2005 to 2015 under the presidency of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa.

He has denied allegations that at least 40,000 Tamil minority civilians were killed by troops under his command in the final months of the war, but the allegations reinforced his image as a tough guy in the eyes of the Sinhalese majority.

He was also credited with being the architect of the “white van” kidnappings under Mahinda, when dissidents and journalists were captured and disappeared in unmarked vehicles, allegedly the victims of extrajudicial killings.

He made no secret of winning the 2019 election with the overwhelming support of his own majority Sinhala Buddhist community.

To the influential Sri Lankan Buddhist clergy, he was the reincarnation of the Sinhala warrior king Dutugemunu the Great, known for defeating a Tamil ruler.

Dutugemunu ruled for 24 years, but Rajapaksa fled less than three years into his tenure – and stepping down would make him Sri Lanka’s shortest-lived directly elected president.

The 73-year-old leader flew to the neighboring Maldives on Wednesday, four days after his presidency collapsed and tens of thousands of protesters overran his official residence.

This comes after months of demonstrations demanding his resignation over an economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic but exacerbated by mismanagement.

The former soldier marketed his lack of political expertise as a virtue, but Tamil lawmaker Dharmalingam Sithadthan said what Rajapaksa projected as his strength was actually his weakness.

“His lack of political knowledge showed in the way he worked,” Sithadthan told AFP. “He went from one crisis to the next. He thought that simply by giving orders, things would materialize.

“Every time I met with him, he said he focused on economics and law and order, but he failed at both.”

– ‘Prosperity and splendor’ –

Rajapaksa came to power with a manifesto promising “prospects of prosperity and splendor,” but according to the United Nations, the country is now in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on tourism and international remittances – both pillars of the economy – and faced them with a foreign exchange crisis.

There have been protracted power outages as the country has no dollars to import oil for generators, the country’s 22 million people have been suffering acute shortages of food, fuel and medicines since late last year, and poverty is spreading.

Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves stood at $7.5 billion when he took office in November 2019, but recently fell to just “$1 million,” according to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Under Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka defaulted on its external debt for the first time in April. The country declared bankruptcy and inflation skyrocketed in June.

The once-prosperous country experienced its worst recession in 2020, when the economy shrank 3.6 percent and is expected to shrink 7 percent this year.

“This outcast stole our future,” cried former MP Hirunika Premachandra, who recently led a demonstration outside Rajapaksa’s home. “Gota is an outcast. We have to get rid of him.”


Rajapaksa’s tenure was marked by political about-faces. Critics say he has repealed more than 100 government orders, earning him the nickname “Gazette Reverse.”

He abandoned the previous government’s democratic reforms and empowered the presidency, but in the final months of his presidency agreed to return those powers to parliament.

Shortly after coming to power, he slashed taxes to win over his financiers, a move blamed in part for Sri Lanka’s dire economic crisis. These taxes are now being increased.

Arguably his biggest political blunder was the ban on agrochemicals in April last year. He lifted the ban six months later, but by then more than half the crop had failed.

The government promised but failed to compensate millions of farmers affected by Rajapaksa’s disastrous quest to become the world’s first 100 percent organic farming nation.

As food and fuel shortages gripped the country and prices soared, cities and towns across the country were riddled with protests urging him to leave.

During the pandemic, his refusal to allow Muslims, the country’s second-largest minority, to bury their Covid-19 dead according to Islamic rites and instead enforce cremation, has been condemned by the Islamic world as well as rights groups.

Buddhist monks welcomed his adamant refusal to allow Muslim burials, but the tide turned quickly: a year later, a shortage of gas forced Buddhists to bury their dead over their preferred cremations.

#GotaGoHome is becoming a trending hashtag on social media. After overrunning his official residence on Saturday, activists hung Rajapaksa’s likeness as a symbolic gesture of what they intended to do to him.

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