Towering Lankan

Saviour to some, war criminal to others, this lawyer-cum-politician is admired and criticized in equal measure.

Wily, ruthless and charismatic, are some his strong suits with which he dominated the political arena of Sri Lanka.

Known to be superstitious, he wears talismans and consults astrologers in his decision-making.

Childhood

Percy Mahendra “Mahinda” Rajapaksa was born on November 18, 1945 in Weeraketiya. He hails from a well known political family in Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa got his education from Richmond College in Galle, before moving to Nalanda College Colombo.

He also had a few cameo roles as a movie actor in Sinhalese movies and worked as a library assistant at Vidyodaya University.

A law student at the Sri Lanka Law College, he took oaths as an attorney-at-law in 1977.

Career

Rajapaksa was elected to Parliament in 1970 as the youngest Member of Parliament at just 24. After losing the seat in 1977, he focused on his law career until reentering the parliament in 1989.

He was viewed as a centre-left politician and became known as a defender of human rights.

Rajapaksa served as labour minister (1994–2001) and minister of fisheries and aquatic resources (1997–2001).

After the Parliamentary Elections of 2004, in which the United People’s Freedom Alliance gained a slim majority in Parliament, Rajapaksa was sworn-in as the country’s 13th Prime Minister.

Rajapasksa vs LTTE

Rajapakse was elected president in 2005 as the candidate of UPFA.

At the time, the Sri Lankan government was in the midst of ongoing peace talks and a precarious cease-fire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), better known as the Tamil Tigers, the guerrilla organization which sought to establish an independent Tamil state in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa announced his intention in 2006 to eradicate the separatist group, which had operated as both a rebel army and a de facto government in parts of Sri Lanka for more than 20 years. 

In 2009, the Sri Lankan army defeated the Tamil forces, ending the country’s long civil war.

In late 2009, four years into his six-year term and hoping to capitalize on his popularity following victory over the Tamil Tigers, Rajapakse called for a presidential election in early 2010. Rajapakse easily defeated his counterpart, winning 58 % of the vote, though the general protested the results. 

Criticism

Media groups alleged media freedom was curtailed in Sri Lanka during Rajapaksa’s term as President. In 2008 Reporters Without Borders ranked Sri Lanka 165th among 173 countries in its annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index.

After defeating LTTE, Rajapaksa’s popularity surged, but international observers criticized his army’s brutality in the war’s final battle, which had led to many civilian deaths. 

Decorations

He was conferred with two Honorary Doctorates. The first one is a Doctor of Law from the University of Colombo in 2009. The second degree was awarded by the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia in 2010 for his contribution for world peace and outstanding success in defeating terrorism.

The Visva Bharati University of Calcutta in India conferred on him the title Professor Emeritus for his record on human rights.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by the Beijing University of Foreign Languages in China on August 2011.

Personal Life

In 1983, Rajapaksa married Shiranthi Wickremasinghe, a child-psychologist and educator. The Rajapaksas have three sons. 

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