Gotabayarajapaksa: An admirer of his ‘war heroism’ over Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis

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Gotabaya Rajapaksa is no longer considered a “war hero”, despite being credited with ending the civil war that lasted nearly 30 years. Worst economic crisis in Sri LankaFollowing this, he fled the country mid-night.

The 73-year old politician and younger brother of the former prime minister Mahinda RajapaksaHe is a former officer in the military who went to Assam’s counter-insurgency, jungle warfare school. He was the first person from a military background to be elected President of Sri Lanka in 2019, with a large mandate.

He resigned days after protestors stormed his residence. They blame him for the unprecedented economic turmoil in the island nation since it gained independence from Britain in 1948.

A lack of foreign currencies has contributed to the economic crisis. The country is now unable to pay imports of staple food and fuel. This has caused severe shortages and high prices.

In mid-April, President Rajapaksa dropped Chamal, his elder brother, and Namal (his eldest nephew), from the Cabinet due to mounting pressure. After his supporters attacked antigovernment protesters, Mahinda, the Prime Minister, also resigned. This triggered violence against Rajapaksa family loyalists throughout the country.

For a few weeks, President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister tried to resolve the crisis. Ranil WickremesingheHe fled his home before the protests that erupted over the economic crisis in Sri Lanka forced him to flee.

From an undisclosed location President Rajapaksa informed Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Parliament Speaker, about his decision late Saturday night to step down.

But he fled to Maldives, where he remained in his office without being fired. He went to Singapore from the Maldives. This “allowed him” to enter the city-state as a “private visitor”.

After reaching Singapore, President Rajapaksa mailed his resignation to the Speaker.

Sri Lankans were concerned about Islamic extremism in their Buddhist-majority country after Rajapaksa was elected president. He served as defense secretary during Mahinda’s presidency from 2005 to 2014.

Rajapaksa, despite being called the “war hero”, is a divisive figure in the end of the conflict with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009. He was accused of violating human Rights, a charge he vigorously refutes.

Rajapaksa took the oath of office as president at Ruwanwelisaya Buddhist temple in Anuradhapura, an ancient temple built in Sinhalese King Dutugemenu. It is well-known for his victory over an invading Tamil monarch.

His swearing-in ceremony revealed that the president leans towards Sinhalese Buddhist dominance of the island where Hindus, Muslims and Muslims together make up around 20% of the total population.

Rajapaksa is accused in the torturing and indiscriminate murders of civilians and combatants. Later, Rajapaksa was accused of being involved with political assassinations.

Mahinda and Mahinda are also charged with condoning the use of sexual violence and extrajudicial executions by Lankan security forces during wartime.

Rajapaksa was a target of the Tamil Tigers and was assassinated by a suicide bomber from the LTTE in December 2006.

He is also believed to be inclined towards cash-rich China.

China began investing heavily in infrastructure projects for the island nation during the Mahinda regime. This was when Sri Lanka was facing international isolation after the civil war.

Critics believe Mahinda was responsible for the country’s fall into the “Chinese Debt Trap”.

After Mahinda failed to repay the debt, the Hambantota port was purchased with a Chinese loan. In 2017, Beijing was leased the Hambantota port in a 99 year debt-for-equity deal.

Because of its strategic position within the Indian Ocean, China is increasingly making inroads into Sri Lanka’s maritime trade routes, Sri Lanka has always been a major commercial hub.

Rajapaksa was born on June 20, 1949 in Palatuwa (Matara) and is the fifth of nine brothers.

His father D A Rajapaksa, a prominent politician from the 1960’s Wijeyananda Dhanayake government and a founding member the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, was his son.

Rajapaksa completed his primary and secondary education in Colombo at Ananda College. In 1992, he received a postgraduate degree from the University of Colombo.

He was a Cadet officer in the Ceylon Army in 1971.

He also obtained a Master’s degree in Defence Studies at the University of Madras in 1983.

He was appointed Deputy Commander of the Sir John Kotelawala Defense Academy in 1991. This position he held until his retirement from the army in 1993.

Rajapaksa was awarded gallantry awards by three Sri Lankan presidents during his 20-year military service – J R Jayewardene Ranasinghe Premadasa, Ranasinghe Premadasa, and D B Wijetunga.

Rajapaksa continued his studies at the University of Colombo to obtain a postgraduate diploma as an Information Technology specialist after his retirement. Later, he was appointed marketing manager at Informatics in Colombo. In 1998, he immigrated to the United States and became an IT professional at Loyola Law School Los Angeles.

He returned to Sri Lanka in 2005 to help his brother Mahinda with his presidential campaign. He also obtained dual citizenship in Sri Lanka at that time.

Mahinda appointed him as defence secretary in November 2005. He was the commander of the military operation that defeated the LTTE on May 9, 2009, earning him the title of “war hero”.

Rajapaksa married and has a child.

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