Sri Lanka: Former president Rajapaksa under shadow of a murder case, trailing in polls!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Sri Lanka is going to general elections on August 17 in which ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had lost presidency to Maithripala Sirisena, is trying his luck to become the next premier, obviously to challenge President Maithripala Sirisena who defeated two time president Rajapaksa in a January 8 presidential vote. Since then Rajapaksha, thrown out of power abruptly, has been feeling like a fish out of water. The parliamentary poll gives him hopes of power by entering the parliament as an MP first.
However, a murder case “exhumed” recently on court orders could end his PM ambition, as well as his political career once for all. The recent exhumation of the remains of star rugby player Wasim Thajudeen whose death is now the target of a murder investigation has cast a shadow over former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s comeback bid at Sri Lanka’s general election next week.
It was reported earlier that the star rugby player Wasim Thajudeen, who played for the national rugby side captained by Rajapaksa’s second son, Yoshitha, died in a car crash but later suspicious reporting appeared that he was tortured to death in May 2012 by members of security team of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Thajudeen’s remains, wrapped in polythene, were exhumed last week on the order of a court to establish whether his injuries were consistent with a police report that his car crashed into a wall on a quiet Colombo side street and caught fire. Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne alleged last week that three members of the presidential security guard had tortured and killed Thajudeen. Officials also allege that the Rajapaksa government suppressed a post mortem report which found that Thajudeen had suffered extensive injuries to his head, neck, pelvis and legs. The autopsy’s findings were only released after Prez Maithripala Sirisena defeated Rajapaksa in a January 8 presidential vote. Following the opening of the murder investigation, Sirisena has fired his security detail.
Rajapaksa, 69, who has set his sights on becoming Sri Lanka’s next prime minister, has denied allegations by the government that Wasim Thajudeen was tortured to death in May 2012 by members of his security team and did not die in a car crash as reported at the time. “There are no bloodstains on our hands,” the two-term president said after police last week obtained a court order to exhume Thajudeen’s body on suspicion that he had been murdered.
Rajapaksa said the investigation was timed to coincide with the August 17 elections. He demanded an independent inquiry. Nobody has been arrested or charged, but the case has received sensational coverage in the local press that could mobilize voters resentful of Rajapaksa, who as Sri Lankan leader built a close alliance with China. It’s potentially very explosive. Although still held in esteem by many of Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhala community for defeating a 26-year Tamil insurgency (LTTE) in 2009, Rajapaksa is reviled by others who accuse him of running a brutal dynastic regime.
Ousted by former ally Maithripala Sirisena in a presidential election in January, Rajapaksa is seeking to turn the tables at the Aug. 17 parliamentary polls but is already being dogged by allegations of abuse of power and sleaze. His party said his campaign has also been hobbled by a lack of security for a leader who crushed a 26-year insurgency by ethnic Tamil rebels in 2009, which won him a support among majority Sinhalese but has made him unpopular among Tamils, others.
Nearly 40 percent of voters surveyed at the end of the last month said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was the best man for the job and only 27.5 percent chose Rajapaksa, the Centre for Policy Analysis, which conducted the poll, said. The survey across all 25 districts of the island nation showed Tamil and Muslim voters stood solidly behind Wickremesinghe, the leader of the United National Party-led coalition.
Rajapaksa held the edge among mostly Buddhist Sinhalese, winning the support of 36 percent against Wickremesinghe’s 31.9 percent.
Rajapaksa and his party colleagues were fighting for survival. Unlike in the past, party members said, they did not have government patronage or state media support, affecting the reach of Rajapaksa’s campaign.
In reality, however, Rajapaksa remains a divisive figure in the multi-ethnic island nation of 21 million people that is still healing from extensive rights violations in the final stages of the civil war. A UN human rights report on the war in the north is due for release soon after the election. The United Nations estimated in 2011 that up to 40,000 civilians died in the final army assault on the separatist rebels.
President Sirisena has criticised Rajapaksa’s comeback bid and said he allowed him to run in the general election to avert a split in their Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
By finally putting an end to years of conflict that made Rajapaksa and his family hugely popular with the majority Sinhalese population and seemed set to run Sri Lanka for decades to come. He ended the two-term limit for president and appeared to be grooming his eldest son for power. That when a political disaster occurred in the form of presidential poll in January that all changed when Rajapaksa was unseated people of Lanka. .
Rajapaksha was defeated by his uncharismatic health minister Maithripala Sirisena who unexpectedly won a majority in the presidential elections, standing against his former political master. Now Rajapaksa is back, now standing not for president, but to be a humble MP – although he says he expects his party to do well enough to ensure he will become prime minister. Since he lost the presidency, his reputation has come under attack. Members of his inner circle have been accused of graft, abuse of power and even murder. They just deny the allegations.
Meanwhile Rajapaksa, the self-styled father of the new Sri Lankan nation, is alleged to have been involved in corruption on an epic scale – the allegations that billions of dollars had been stolen during his time in power. His effort to become an MP is being run as if he was still a presidential candidate. Before he takes to the platform there are endless speeches by fawning supporters, songs extolling his many virtues, and swooping cameras to project images of his cheering fans onto vast television screens. He told the crowd the real corruption is in the new government, citing an alleged scam involving the sale of government bonds. He also warns that the current government’s plans to devolve power to the Tamil north will split the nation in two.
But his arguments seem to be falling on deaf ears amongst the public too. He was expected to win his parliamentary seat comfortably but the murder case and a recent opinion poll suggests his party is trailing significantly behind the government. Nevertheless it would be wrong to write the old warhorse off quite yet. The huge turnout at his rallies shows he still has some passionate supporters.
As Sri Lanka prepares to go to the polls next week, the country’s controversial former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is fighting a battle for his political life. He has faced a dizzying reversal in his fortunes. This is the man who presents himself as the warrior king who, in 2009, ended the island nation’s 26-year-long civil war, by killing Tamils stock and barrel. The country’s Tamil minority paid a terrible price for his “victory”.
According to a reliable poll, most minority Tamils and Muslims back Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reformist coalition. Rajapaksa has a narrow edge among Buddhist Sinhalese – who make up seven in 10 voters on the strategically located Indian Ocean Island of 20 million. In a one-on-one premiership contest, Wikremesinghe would have a 10-point lead.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is trailing his main rival in a prime ministerial election later this month, the latest national opinion poll showed, as the once-powerful leader, facing serious cases of murder and corruption, struggles to mount a strong campaign.