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Mahinda Rajapaksa

Mahinda Rajapaksa

Rajapaksa, Mahinda: see Rajapakse, Mahinda.
Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa (commonly known as Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sinhala මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂ, ; ; born November 18, 1945) is the current President of Sri Lanka. A lawyer by profession, Rajapaksa previously served as the country's Prime Minister from April 6, 2004 until his swearing in as President for a six-year term on November 19, 2005. He is the current Chairman of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Early life

Rajapaksa was born in Weerakatiya in the southern rural district of Hambantota. He hails from a well known political family in Sri Lanka. His father, D. A. Rajapaksa, was a prominent politician, independence agitator Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister of Agriculture and Land in Wijeyananda Dahanayake's government. D.M. Rajapaksa, his uncle, was a State Councilor for Hambantota in the 1930s who started wearing the earthy brown shawl to represent kurakkan (finger millet) cultivated by the people of his area, whose cause he championed throughout his life. It is from his example that Rajapaksa wears his characteristic shawl.

Rajapaksa was educated at Richmond College, Galle before moving to Nalanda College, Colombo and later Thurstan College, Colombo. He also had a few cameo roles as a movie actor in a few Sinhalese movies and also worked as a library assistant at Vidyodaya University.

Following the death of his father in 1967, Rajapaksa took over as the SLFP candidate for Beliatte constituency and was elected to Parliament in 1970 as the youngest Member of Parliament at the age of 24. Later he studied law at the Sri Lanka Law College and took oaths as an attorney-at-law in November 1977. Rajapaksa becoming a human-rights lawyer, and practiced law in his rural district Hambantota and Matara form 1977. Throughout his parliamentary career, except for the period from 1994-2001 when he was a minister, he continued his law practice in Tangalle.

He lost his parliamentary seat in the landslide defeat of the SLFP in 1977. During the 1985 by-election campaign in the Mulkirigala electorate in Hambantota district, for which his brother Chamal Rajapaksa contested representing the SLFP, Mahinda was remanded by the then UNP government for allegations of possession of unauthorized fire arms, but he was cleared of charges due to lack of evidence.

In Opposition

From the start of his career, Rajapaksa adopted a centre-left political stance, identifying himself with labour rights.

In 1989 he was re-elected to Parliament to represent Hambantota District under Proportional Representation. He came into prominence as a leader, together with Manorani Saravanamuttu, of the Mothers Front, which organised the mothers of the "disappeared" in the white terror of 1988-90 instigated by a rebel group that called themselves Deshapremi Jathika Vyaparaya or 'Patriotic National Movement'. The Visva Bharati University of Calcutta in India conferred on him the title Professor Emeritus for his record on human rights.

In the early 1990s he was elected to the Central Committee of the SLFP and was part of a re-organisation drive. He also organized and led the Pada Yatra march from Colombo to Kataragama in protest against the United National Party government, which was primarily responsible for its downfall.

Appointment as Minister

In 1994, following the election victory of the People's Alliance a political front led by Sri Lanka Freedom Party and headed by Chandrika Kumaratunga, Rajapaksa was appointed Minister of Labour. He held this post until 1997 when, following a cabinet reshuffle, his portfolio was changed to Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

During his tenure as Minister of Labor, he suffered a major setback when President Chandrika Kumaratunga did not implement his brainchild, the Worker's Charter, which he drafted and had presented to parliament. The charter sought to establish trade union rights, a wages Commission, social security, a National Trade Union Training Institute and facilities the adjudication of industrial disputes.

Following are some of the tasks he carried out during his period as Minister.

  • Initiated a housing program called "Diyawara Gammana" for fishermen and their families.
  • Initiated the first ever University for Oceanography known as "Sagara Vishwavidyalaya."
  • Introduced a special banking scheme called “Idiwara Banks” for fishermen.
  • Established a Coastal Guard Unit, a much needed security system for an Island nation, to stop the illegal fishing activities and protect the coast of Sri Lanka.
  • Provided fisheries communication equipment to improve efficiency through the use of technology.
  • In addition to the Portfolio of Fisheries, he also held the Portfolio of the Ports and Shipping for a short period of three months. Within this period, he took the initial steps to construct Hambantota Harbour.

Leader of the Opposition

When the United National Party (UNP) defeated the People's Alliance in the 2001 elections, Rajapaksa lost his position in the Government. He was however appointed as Leader of the Opposition in March 2002.

Premiership

After the Parliamentary Elections of 2004, in which the United People's Freedom Alliance was victorious, there was a struggle between Rajapakse, former Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar and President Chandrika Kumaratunga's brother and former Opposition Leader Anura Bandaranaike for the post of Prime Minister. Kumaratunga was widely expected to appoint Kadirgamar, one of her close advisors, however, due to pressure from grass-root level party supporters, Kumaratunga had to select the more popular Mahinda Rajapaksa instead. Rajapaksa was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s 13th Prime Minister on April 6, 2004.

While Rajapaksa was the Prime Minister, he also held the Ministry of Highways.

  • Initiated "Maga Neguma" project to build rural and city roads and highways, and allocated funds to each and every local government area.
  • Proposed and planned to construct fly-overs to minimize traffic congestion in Colombo.

As Prime Minister, Rajapaksa was also put in charge of the Information and Communication Technology Agency. Following are his accomplishments in that position.

  • Re-energized the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka.
  • Taking the Information Technology (IT) and computer literacy to rural areas under the “Nanasala” project. The Nanasala project is an initiative to introduce several models of the telecentres or knowledge centres to be established in all parts of Sri Lanka to spread ICT services to the rural and semi-urban populations.

Presidency (November 2005-present)

After another tussle, Rajapaksa was chosen in front of Anura Bandaranaike, brother of Chandrika Kumaratunga, as the presidential candidate of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party for the Presidential Election held on November 17, 2005. Rajapaksa was up against Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe, the leader of the United National Party in this election. Rajapaksa defeated Wickremasinghe narrowly by 190,000 votes and took office as President on November 19, 2005. His victory was largely due to the mass support from the southern Sinhala-Buddhist voters due to support and endorsement from the JHU and JVP political parties, after having agreed not to divide the country into federal states as the LTTE demanded. Also, in the north-east, the LTTE called for a boycott of the polls from Tamil voters in areas under their control, and forcibly prevented a large section of voters from visiting the polling booths. Rajapaksa received 50.3% of the vote.

After becoming President of Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa reshuffled the cabinet and took the portfolios of Defence and Finance in the new cabinet, which was sworn on November 23, 2005.

Allegations of corruption

Mahinda Rajapaksa has been accused of corruption by the opposition before his election as President, citing the "Helping Hambantota" case, where he was accused of appropriating close to USD830,000 into a Treasury approved private fund, known as Helping Hambantota, to help the victims of the Boxing Day tsunami in Hambantota - his hometown and electoral district. Before the election, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka put a hold on the case. Later dismissing the case, Chief Justice Sarath Silva said the court case had been brought as soon as Rajapaksa was nominated as a presidential candidate. "The court sees this as an attempt to get political mileage for [UNP leader] Ranil Wickramasinghe and to discredit Mahinda Rajapaksa." It was told in parliament that the cabinet was aware of the existence of the Helping Hambantota fund. His office said he had held donations in Helping Hambantota fund to speed up the rate at which aid money was being handed out to victims of the 26 December, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The money in question had been put in a state account and Rajapaksa had not taken "even a cent" for his use, then Prime Minister's secretary Lalith Weeratunga told the AFP news agency at the time.

Political Position

Unlike some members of his coalition, Rajapaksa used to support peace talks with the Tamil Tigers as a means of ending the civil war with the Tamil secessionist movement.

However, immediately following his election victory, a series of mine blasts blamed on the LTTE in the country claimed the lives of many off-duty servicemen and civilians, pushing the country back to the brink of war. Following the closure by the LTTE of a reservoir supplying water to 15,000 people named "Mavil Aru" in government controlled areas on July 21, 2006, the Sri Lankan military launched an offensive against the LTTE, bringing the entire reservoir under government control. Further military engagements have led to the LTTE been driven out of virtually the entire Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. The increased military activities are the reason for a projected 40% increase in defence spending for 2007.

Family

He is married to Shiranthi Wickremasinghe daughter of Commander E. P. Wickramasinghe and Mrs. Violet Wickramasinghe and has three sons, Namal, Yoshitha and Rohitha.

See also

References

External links

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