Today begins the first day of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tenure as the Executive President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. It is obviously the hope of all those who voted for him and indeed many who did not that he would usher in a new era for the nation. A new and better time for each and every citizen where mandates are taken seriously and the promises delivered. Therefore at the outset, the Daily Mirror wishes him all the strength and wisdom required for the tough job ahead.
In the coming days and weeks, political analysts will unpack the election result, break it down to details along the lines of region, ethnicity, religious affiliation etc., and compare with the results of previous presidential elections. They will explain why things turned out the way they did. They will draw key inferences. All that, for later.
Right now, Sri Lanka has elected her 7th Executive President. Gotabaya Rajapaksa polled 6,924,255 votes which amount to 52.25% of the total votes cast. The margin of victory is significant.
The percentage says a story. What it doesn’t say is that Gotabaya Rajapaksa is now the President of the entire country, he is President not only to the 6.9 million people who voted for him, but also of the people who voted for other candidates and even those who did not vote at all. That’s the essential definition of representation in a democracy in the case of presidential elections.
Leaving aside the numbers, Rajapaksa’s victory means one of two things: The majority believe that he is the best person to lead the country over the next five years or else they have lost confidence in the current regime and chose to express this sentiment by defeating the candidate put forward by the principal party of the ruling coalition.
Obviously elements of both reasons are encrypted in the result. The new President would do well not to dismiss the second possibility. His immediate predecessor, it can be argued, did so to his discredit and downfall. In other words, there’s work to be done to convince one and all that he was not in any way the beneficiary of a ‘default option,’ that constant factor that has been part and parcel of electoral politics in our country.
In this, he would have to address not just the flaws of the outgoing regime, but those of all regimes that have ruled. There were reasons why they were voted out of power. Reflections on these reasons would inform the new President and his Government what should and should not be done.
While we leave deep analysis to the political commentators, one particular element of this overall result cannot be left unmentioned: The voting pattern evidenced in the results from the Northern and Eastern Province. Whereas Maithripala Sirisena secured approximately 75% of the vote in these areas, Sarath Fonseka running against the same opponent, Mahinda Rajapaksa, obtained 67%. Sajith Premadasa was routed in almost all electorates outside these provinces but won handsomely in the North and East, polling well over 80%.
Did the voters have greater confidence in Premadasa when it came to delivery of aspirations? Were they more wary of Gotabaya Rajapaksa than they were of his brother Mahinda? These are questions that ought to trouble the new President. Indeed, it is probably a challenge that he, as President, would relish taking on — that of convincing everyone who did not vote for him that when he leads the country to a better tomorrow as he has promised and as every citizen hopes he will and he will not leave anyone behind, especially the people of the North and East. He can, given that he has the backing of the vast majority of people in other parts of the country, seek to reverse the perceptions that produced the result in these provinces.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa has spoken of inclusive nationalism. What better opportunity than the presidential term to work towards that? He is positioned to give concrete meaning to those endearing sentiments in our National Anthem, eka mavakage darukela bevinaa… (since we are all children of the same mother). In this, and indeed, all endeavours as President, he could draw inspiration from the timeless recommendations of the Buddha as expressed in the Karaniya Metta Sutta:
Mata yatha niyam puttam, uyusa eka-puttam-anurakkhe; evam-pi sabba-bhutesu, mana-sambhavaye aparimanam.
As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings.
Congratulations President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. May you, at the end of your term, leave a legacy that will make every Sri Lankan utter these words: ‘He was a man; he was a man who stood with all of us, a man who left this country to his successors more beautiful and wholesome than it was when he received stewardship over it.