Sri Lankans often witness many colourful policy statements and populist proposals presented during election times. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also a political leader belonging to the same category, who has given various promises to the people during his political career.
However, the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ programme presented by him during his two terms in office must be carefully looked into, in retrospect.
The term Mahinda Chinthana first entered in to the Sri Lankan political arena in 2005 with the launch of his inaugural Presidential Election manifesto.
The prime intention of Mahinda Chinthana at the time was to put an end to the bloody war that was raging in Sri Lanka for 30 long years. With the end of the war on May 19, 2009, Rajapaksa once again decided to go before the people, seeking a second term of office in 2010.
By then, the term Mahinda Chinthana had strongly taken root in the local political culture. Taking advantage of this, Rajapaksa launched his second election campaign amidst much pomp and pageantry at the BMICH with the participation of many intellectuals and religious leaders in the country, under an extended title of the original Chinthanaya, as Mahinda Chinthana; Idiri Dakma (The way forward for a new Sri Lanka). The 2010 Presidential Election brought victory to the SLFP and Rajapaksa, probably due to the memories of the war victory that were fresh in the people’s minds at that time.
However, taking a giant leap forward, as never before in the Sri Lankan political history, Rajapaksa wanted to try his luck for a third time, in 2014, resulting in the launching of his final episode of the Mahinda Chinthana trilogy, the Mahinda Chinthana; Lowa Dinana Maga (The way to win the world) on December 22, 2014.
Like his previous manifestos, the third Mahinda Chinthana was also launched at the BMICH with pomp and pageantry.
However, the tide had turned against the President at that time. The people, whose patience had run out after suffering limitlessly due to various socioeconomic and political problems that had soared under the Rajapaksa regime, on January 8, 2015, took a serious decision. Accordingly, the decade long regime was toppled, paving way for the victory of the common candidate backed by the United National Party (UNP).
The events that followed were strangely unheard of in Sri Lankan political history. It truly was a transition period in local politics. The people have got another chance to evaluate its progress, with the announcement of the August 17 general election. In preparation for the big fight, many political parties in Sri Lanka, both mainstream and minority, have now presented their own unique election manifestos. Accordingly, the UPFA also launched its election manifesto recently. However, unlike its previous glittering Chinthanas, the manifesto was not launched at the BMICH.
The launching ceremony was without any pomp and pageantry as before. Party leaders justified this difference by claiming that the government did not allow them to use the BMICH or the Nelum Pokuna auditorium for their event. However, on July 28, morning UPFA leaders handed over the UPFA election manifesto titled “Anagathayata Sahathikayak (A guarantee for the future) to party chairman President Maithripala Sirisena at the President’s official residence.
There, the first Sinhala copy was handed over to the President by the UPFA General Secretary Susil Premjayanth and the second copy was presented to the President by the SLFP General Secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.
The UPFA leaders then explained to their party chairman how the party intends to implement socioeconomic development work in the next five years.
On the same morning, at a ceremony held at the Henry Pedris grounds, a UPFA manifesto titled Ratata panademu; aluthin patangamu (Give life to the country; let’s start afresh) was presented to the Maha Sangha by the UPFA Kurunegala district candidate, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
This ‘starting afresh’ UPFA manifesto comprised of 12 main points.
Under this manifesto, the UPFA has proposed new policies for national integrity, sustainable development, preventing corruption, ensuring the independence of the judiciary, economic management, foreign affairs, land and housing, education, health, environment and wildlife, cultural and communications promotions, sports and youth affairs, women and children’s affairs, investment and infrastructural development and so on.
The 56 page document is written in an analytical manner with a summary of eight pages attached to it.
Under the urgent programme to revive the country, proposals have been made to reduce the cost of living, stabilise the prices of essential commodities, increasing the wages of war veterans, raising the minimum wage of the government employees up to Rs. 25,000, granting the private sector employees an increment of Rs. 3,000, formulating a pricing policy for vegetables, tea, rubber and milk power etc.
Further promises, such as duty free vehicles, interest free loan schemes, pension schemes and health insurance policies for artists and journalists, interest free loans for self-employed personnel up to Rs. 200,000, credit card facilities to employees in the transport sector, IT villages for major towns and new programmes for the youth have also been included in this manifesto. Proposals to place retired government servants in a higher salary scale and providing permanent housing facilities for the homeless, newlyweds and also for those who are living as tenants are mentioned in the UPFA manifesto.
Launching the new election manifesto, the former President said that he had kept his word and changed the country and that, now, he has started to think afresh. Claiming that he had plenty of time to think afresh, during the last six months, as to what he should do to build a modern nation filled with bravery and harmony, Rajapaksa said that it was under his election manifesto that issues such as Dhamma and Pirivena school education were first discussed.
He also said that the UPFA has not split into two groups as the only group there is would be the anti-UNP group. He concluded his speech, promising to create a peaceful country where all ethnic groups could live without fear or suspicion.
Addressing the crowd, UPFA General Secretary Susil Premjayanth said the 12 point declaration would be a guarantee for the future and that their party would definitely win the next election.
Several religious leaders were also present at the occasion. Giving his blessings to the former President, Ven Dr Medagoda Abayatissa thero said that the ensured peace must be carried forward. Brahma Sri Babu Kurukkal gave the Hindu blessings and Rev Krystal Kurakulasooriya gave the Catholic blessings and wished victory for the UPFA. Islamic priest Hussan Maulavi said that they would expect an environment where people of all ethnicities could live in harmony without fear.
The event that marked the official launching of the UPFA election manifesto came to a conclusion around 12 noon.
However, when reading the UPFA’s new election manifesto, memories of the 2010 Mahinda Chinthana ‘the way forward’ come flashing back.
Several key points that were raised in that early manifesto are worth recalling. New employment opportunities, steady income for farmers, electricity for all by 2012, giving five liters of kerosene oil to all families who do not have electricity, a pension for all above the age 60, salaries for war veterans for life, housing schemes for war veterans, super luxury health schemes for government employees, removing taxes on vehicles by 2012, a positive country with a higher position for the youth, one country under one law and many other colorful promises were also made by the UPFA before Sri Lankan voters at that time.
The way forward of Mahinda Chinthana towards a new Sri Lanka had promised to make Sri Lanka the miracle of Asia. Accordingly, it painted a picture of a prosperous nation.
The same promises that were made to make the country a miracle in Asia have been repeated in a boring fashion in this new 12 point declaration. Maybe they look similar as the promises made then were never fully kept. Even though some steps were taken by the previous government to keep their promises such as building the Mattala Airport, Hambantota Harbour and several housing schemes, the manner in which they had been carried out are now being revealed. The country was in a non-transparent state for many years.
Many development projects proposed by the Mahinda Chinthana Part II should have been concluded by 2012. Budget packs with necessary commodities, relief for Samurdhi families, senior citizen benefits and privileges have proven to be nothing but day dreams.
One must think as to how many promises made were kept by these politicians. Forgetting the promises made during the election time is not new to us Sri Lankans. But one must always think twice before voting for a government that had given false promises just to secure votes over a government that had at least tried to do something to keep its promises. It would therefore be the supreme duty and the responsibility of the voters to use their vote wisely.