COLOMBO: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday told Sri Lankans that he was the leader that they searched for and openly flaunted his strong Sinhalese-Buddhist roots to say that he was the right man to hold the highest office in the country.
Addressing the nation on the occasion of Sri Lanka‘s 73rd Independence Day, Rajapaksa said, “I am a Sinhala Buddhist leader and I will never hesitate to state so. I govern this country in accordance with Buddhist teachings.”
In his traditional President’s address, Rajapaksa, 71, said, “I am the leader that you searched for.” Sri Lanka got independence from British rule on February 4, 1948.
“Within the Buddhist philosophic tradition of peaceful coexistence which gives due respect to all religions and ethnicities every person in this country irrespective of his or her ethnic or religious identification has the right to enjoy freedom as equals under the nation’s legal framework,” the president said.
Rajapaksa tore into “traitorous elements” for banding together to “marshal domestic and foreign forces against the leadership that upholds indigenous way of life”.
“Every citizen who lives in this country has equal rights. We reject any efforts to divide our citizens based on ethnic or religious reasons,” Rajapaksa said.
The official Independence Day ceremony featured only the Sinhala version of the national anthem, even though the Tamil version of the national anthem is constitutionally accepted.
The Tamil version was sung in 2016 for the first time. However, since 2019, the practice has been disbanded.
The powerful Rajapaksa family has long held key positions in Sri Lankan politics. Gotabaya’s brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is a two-time Prime Minister and has held the office of President for 10 years.
Mahinda, a lawyer-turned politician, served as the prime minister for a brief period in 2018 and then again took the office in November 2019. He was sworn in as Prime Minister again in August 2020. Mahinda earlier served as the country’s president from 2005-2015. He also became Sri Lanka’s youngest ever parliamentarian in 1970 at the age of 24.
Current president, Gotabaya, came to power in 2019. He has earlier served as the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development. He led the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers, which ended the bloody civil war in 2009.