Vistas of a challenging year | Daily News

Vistas of a challenging year

Presidents Lead. Presidents Heal. Presidents Unify. Presidents Protect. When Gotabaya Rajapaksa came forward as a candidate for the November 2019 Presidential Election, there was a leadership vacuum in the country, caused primarily by the squabbles between the then President and the Prime Minister. This meant that crucial matters such as national security were left in the hands of other individuals. The people yearned for a stable leadership that could give them security and protection.

It is in this context that one should analyze the Easter attacks of April 2019. With the two leaders at the top virtually abandoning their national security obligations, even the warnings by foreign intelligence agencies about an impending terror attack went unheeded at the very top echelons of power. This was perhaps a major turning point as people clamoured for a leader who could restore national security in the aftermath of the massive terror attack.

It is generally accepted that the conflict in the North and the East would not have ended without the political leadership provided by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the active military coordination and leadership of then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. This twin combination enabled the Sri Lankan Security Forces to march to victory in just over four years, a great achievement against a terror outfit that some foreign and even local military experts called “invincible”.

Creative streak

Once the war ended in 2009, President Rajapaksa gave him another role in addition to the Defence Secretary’s post – the post of Urban Development Secretary. Gotabaya Rajapaksa shone in this role as well, completely transforming Colombo within a couple of years. Several derelict buildings were turned into modern edifices without essentially changing their iconic character. This earned him plaudits in Sri Lanka and elsewhere as a visionary urban planner as well.

Although Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself may not have thought much about it, many people, including political opponents, saw a potential future leader in him. Many intellectuals and other flocked around him without any political bias, attracted by his ability to get things done, his effortless flow of ideas and creative streak. This movement gradually grew into what is now known as the Viyath Maga (Path of Intellectuals). It was not a political movement per se, but rather a collective that wanted to resolve many problems the country was facing.

It was in this milieu that the Yahapalana (Good Governance) Government was ushered into power amidst much fanfare. But the honeymoon did not last all that long. What began with the Central Bank Bond Scam ended with the tragic Easter attacks of April 2019 and people began to clamour for a more astute leadership and a more stable Government that could give due place to national security. There was one name on everyone’s lips – Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It was inevitable that he would be propelled by a diverse array of forces including the Viyath Maga to seek the highest office in Sri Lanka.

Just one year earlier, the people had handed over a resounding victory to the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Local Government Elections. With Presidential Elections due to be held before end 2019, there was a clamour from all corners to nominate Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the candidate of the SLPP, though he himself was apolitical.

Excellent track record

While many expressed optimism at his chances, there were well-meaning critics who pointed out that Gotabaya Rajapaksa had zero political experience, having never been a MP or a Minister. However, others noted his excellent track record as a military commander and an administrator. Moreover, his opponent was the son of a former President who had close to two decades of political experience, which some feared would hinder his chances. However, all these fears came to naught as Gotabaya Rajapaksa polled 6.9 million votes, an astonishing record for a political novice.

Exactly one year ago, at his swearing-in, he promised to be a President for all Sri Lankans and work towards a future where all could live in harmony. In Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka has a born leader who could marshal a diverse array of forces for the common cause of bringing prosperity and splendour to the Nation. But following the devastating Easter attacks, he had two other tasks on hand. He had to heal and unify the masses.

In his inaugural speech in Anuradhapura, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa indeed reassured the people that he would heal a wounded nation and unify all the communities and religious groups. He would be a President for all, to those who voted for him and to those who did not. This is essential to march forward as one nation, one people. In line with the President’s vision, we should all think of ourselves as Sri Lankans first and foremost.


There were many challenges in store for him, from reviving a battered economy to improving foreign relations. However, little did anyone guess that a far bigger crisis would engulf practically the whole world and pose an unprecedented challenge to Governments everywhere, ours included.

This was an enemy unseen and unheard, which conquered the whole world in a few months. It would not be incorrect to say that the Coronavirus pandemic would become a virtually a baptism of fire for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Here again, his professional skills and Forces-instilled discipline came into play, as he took decisive steps to keep the disease at bay. Indeed, thanks largely to his vision and the cooperation of the health sector and Security Forces personnel, Sri Lanka was able to contain the first wave of the disease with just over 10 deaths and a few thousands infected persons. The World Health Organization and many other countries praised the President for his endeavours. The Government was even able to successfully hold a General Election on August 5, which gave an overwhelming near two-thirds majority to the SLPP.

Undying efforts

But now that the country is facing virtually a second, more deadly wave of the pandemic, the President and the Government cannot be expected to handle it alone. The President is doing everything humanely possible to handle the second round of the pandemic, but public cooperation is vital. Sri Lanka will be a success story on the international stage once again only if the public follows through with the recommended health guidelines in order to prevent the further spread of the disease. We have to remember that the Government spends Rs.60 million per day on PCR tests alone, which a developing country can hardly afford.

Amidst all this, the President and the Government are doing everything possible for Sri Lanka to surpass that “developing” label. Today, the massive expansion project of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) will begin. Over 100,000 Km of rural roads are being renovated or newly built. Irrigation tanks and waterways are being renovated. A housing programme is underway. The Central expressway is nearing completion and work on the Ruwanpura expressway is to begin soon. That is the real hallmark of a real leader – soaring even higher amidst the biggest challenge to ever face any presidency in Sri Lanka, period. It is the fervent wish of all Sri Lankans that he will be able to eradicate the Coronavirus menace, face all other challenges successfully and usher in greater prosperity and splendour for all.