By Jayadeva Uyangoda
Is Sri Lanka ready for an elected dictator? This is the latest question to enter the country’s current political debate. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s preparations to contest the next presidential election in 2019 have already precipitated a potentially explosive controversy that can last weeks and months. An admirer of Gotabaya Rajapaksa has echoed as a positive political desire, what his detractors have been suggesting indirectly for the past few months. A Buddhist prelate representing Sri Lanka’s most conservative Sangha establishment has said it in a few words: “Let Gotabaya Rajapaksa prove his critics right by becoming a real Hitler.”
Ven. Wendaruwe Upali, deputy chief priest of the Asgiriya Chapter in Kandy, made his rather unusual plea to Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the latter’s birthday alms giving just a few days ago. In the crowd listening to the monk were former strongman President Mahinda Rajapaksa and ex-liberal democrat G. L. Peiris, who happens to be the nominal leader of the newly formed Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna (SLPP). The latter is a political outfit created as a vehicle for the political ambitions of various members belonging to two generations of the Rajapaksa family.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa has begun to build his own presidential campaign outside the SLPP through a new organization called Viyath Maga (“Path of the Learned’), which is a non-party entity. It is a loose association of ex-military officers, some relatively new, to use Dayan Jayatilleka’s phrase, business tycoons, and a few layers of the Colombo-based professionals and academics with high personal ambitions. Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his Viyath Maga have already given some key signals about their political project. Two of them can be stated as follows: