Former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said people were tired of mainstream politicians who only think of votes and care little for the genuine development and progress of the people.
In an interview with News in Asia on Wednesday, Mr. Rajapaksa said he was confident of getting elected as the President of Sri Lanka at the end of this year because he was not a mainstream politician.
“Sri Lankans are yearning for a “non-mainstream, ethnically unbiased and an economic and social development-oriented leader to wrench the country from the morass it has been stuck for three decades. People are tired of mainstream politicians who only think of votes and care little for the genuine development and progress of the people. I am not a mainstream politician and that is the advantage I have,” he said.
He said even if the minorities, especially the Tamils, were swayed by ethnic considerations, he could win with enhanced support from the Sinhalese majority.
“It is not essential to get the votes of the minorities to win a presidential election. In 2010, Mahinda Rajapaksa won by 1.8 million votes without Tamil support. He lost in 2015 not because he did not get Tamil and Muslim support but because the Sinhalese urban middle class in key districts like Gampaha and Colombo did not vote for him. But still, Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the election by only 449,000 votes. And even under the unfavorable conditions of that time Rajapaksa got more than 100,000 votes in the Tamil North,” Mr. Rajapaksa said.
He said the process of getting a release from American citizenship is on and that this is not an issue at all.
Meanwhile, Mr. Rajapaksa said nice plans alone are not enough and a presidential candidate must have the ability to implement the plans.
“After the war ended in 2009, I took over as Secretary of Urban Development in addition to having Defence. I renovated roads, pathways and buildings to make Colombo and other towns livable. After the end of the war in 2009, we wanted to develop infrastructure in the country as without infrastructure no investor, whether local or international, will invest. Since we did not have the funds, we borrowed. But we did not fall into a debt trap as it is alleged. We got the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to take the Chinese loan for building the Hambantota port because SLPA was a profitable organization and could re-pay the loan. In fact, the SLPA had paid the first installment of the loan taken for the Hambantota port by the time Mahinda Rajapaksa left office,” he said.
Mr. Rajapaksa said that during the war, Jaffna peninsula was bristling with military camps but when the war ended, he cleared lands up to Keerimalai, Vasavilan and Thondaimannar and kept only the Palaly High Security Zone.
“I had handed over 90% of the private land which the military had taken over. Only that area under the Palaly High Security Zone was retained for security reasons. If we needed some private land we purchased them. Demining was done to settle 300,000 people. The present modern hospital in Kilinochchi was an army camp during the war. And all this was done within a short period of time from 2010 to 2014. Above all, we gave back to Sri Lankans their most important right – the right to live,” he said.
Regarding the Tamils oft repeated yearning for “living in dignity” Mr. Rajapaksa said, “Where does dignity come from? I don’t believe it comes from political power alone. A man with no means will have no dignity, whether he is a Tamil, Muslim or Sinhalese. Therefore to give dignity to people we must raise their incomes and living standards. That was what we were doing within the short time available to us,”