BY DHANUKA DICKWELLA
Dynasties are prone to fall. Immaterial whether they are of Royal or political by nature. A dynasty will emerge , rise & fall. This was true to the Qings, the house of the Habsburgs & Marcos family.
Political families are so common in the world & particularly in Asia. 30 % of the Asian leaders get elected from such families. Among them the Rajapaksha family in Sri Lanka is one of the most notable. The family’s political history dates back to the 1930s. From that time onwards various family members have held political portfolios from elected parliamentarians to ministers to prime ministers to the presidents. Among them the most prominent would be Mahinda Rajapaksha who became a household name thanks to his contribution to end the 30 year long brutal civil war that ravaged Sri Lanka.
Mahinda Rajapaksha was a leader who used populism to keep his vote base loyal to him. He rode on a wave of popularity after leading the country through the war & various development projects thereafter. His time in office was undoubtedly the peak of the family’s rule. His political ideology however was based on manipulation on the fault lines of the very social fabrics in the Sri Lankan society. He was never shy to exploit the resentments amongst the various ethnic & religious groups among the Sri Lankans. Although in appearance his appeal was to unite the various communities & work on reconciliation , the undertone was to make sure the gulf between the people got wider. His political gains were reaped on capitalizing the ethnoreligious bias. Ethno Religious political maneuvering has been the disease that plagued Sri Lanka for decades. Many leaders used this card for their political advantage & Rajapkshas did it way more aggressively than anyone else.
Political favoritism, corruption, abuse of power , nepotism , extrajudicial killings , violence and entertainment of political cronies, are the key pillars of Sri Lanka’s political culture. Those have been sugar coated with ever more appealing words for the public ears by an extensive media manipulation. You’ll see & hear about progress, unity , reconciliation , futurism & rule of law more often, forcing you to think that you are living in a country heading in the right direction & future . During the Mahinda Rajapaksha rule, from Government institutional heads to foreign mission heads to sport body chiefs to local government chairmans were appointed based on favoritism. The able, capable, knowledgeable were left out & it is one of the key reasons for the current mess we are in now.
Once Mahinda Rajapaska was democratically forced out of office by one of his one time loyalists , the notion among the population was that Rajapakshas were done for good. Only to find him as the prime minister & his brother as the president of the country five years later. Gotabaya Rajapaksha was not a people’s man yet his brothers backing , the public frustration towards the then government & the choices available at the 2019 elections were good enough reasons for him to get a seizable mandate. His presidential campaign was also based on a largely hyped personality cult myth & amplified ethno religious division. By the time he was elected Sri Lankan society was at the peak of its polarization.
Gotabaya Rajapaksha had an early success with his COVID vaccination drive. The public rewarded him with a two thirds parliamentary majority. The expectation among the public was unbelievably high. Majority expected that Gotabya would deliver & the country could reach its full potential.
Yet the Rajapaksha family started to encroach the entirety of the country’s rule like a giant octopus. Other than the presidential & prime ministerial brothers the other two brothers were given the highest ministerial portfolios. The nephews, sons were all brought in & were tasked with the most important ministries. The henchmen , cronies & friends of powerful families were yet again running the country.
The reign was tainted by numerous scandals. Swindling of public money , politically backed scams, corruption charges, undue influence of judiciary were at its peak. While the family & their well wishers were enjoying the heyday of their rule the public was asked to tighten the belts. The mismanagement of the economy by the Rajapaksa family was criticized by the public & the professionals made an appeal to change course. But the sheer arrogance & the feeling of being untouchable made them steer the country into a complete collapse. Thanks to the ever powerful Rajapaksa family , Sri Lanka is on its knees. The chaos & the ruining of the economy will haunt for decades to come. With all that happening in the country, the family tried at its best to keep their power grip ignoring the dire situation of the masses. But the unthinkable happened.
People took to the streets in masses & the Rajapaksha family was ousted in a humiliating manner. First time ever recorded in our modern history a sitting president had to literally flee the country. The masses have spoken & they brought one of Asia’s most powerful political family dynasties to their knees. As of now it will be all but possible for anyone in that family to make a political comeback to a national level. Gotabaya Rajapaksha will go down in history as one of the most incometent leaders ever to lead the country. Rajapaksha brand name will be a known name for corrupt political families just like the Marcos.
Yet in politics anything is possible. Who would have thought a Marcos would be back at the helm of Philippines politics after being chased away by millions of Philippines . But for now the Rajapaksa family in Sri Lanka is as important as a glass paperweight. The history will tell the rest.