President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the 5th President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, assumed his second term of office on November 19, 2010.
He established a record in Sri Lankan political history with being the first Executive President to lead his party to a landslide victory in Parliamentary Elections held just over two months after being elected for a second term of office as Executive President with an overwhelming majority of 1,842,749, polling 6,015,934 votes.
His success in Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in January and April 2010 respectively, came after a series of sweeping victories in elections to eight Provincial Councils by the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by him. The UPFA now has an over two thirds majority in parliament.
President Rajapaksa's election for a second term of office in the Presidential Election held on January 26, 2010, saw the Sri Lankan electorate recognizing him as the national leader who liberated the country from the terrorism of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and set the country on the path to peace, stronger democracy and rapid economic development.
|• Elected to parliament in 1970
|• Minister for Labour & Vocational Training and Minister for Fisheries from 1994-2001.
|• Elected Leader of the Opposition in March 2002
|• Appointed as Prime Minister on April 6, 2004
|• Sworn in as the fifth Executive President on November 19, 2005
|• Elected to a second term polling 6,015,934 votes
|• The first leader to give political leadership to end a thirty year war against forces of separatist terrorism
|• Chairman of SAARC at 15th Summit 2008
|• Awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by the University of Colombo in 2009
|• Awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Peoples' Friendship University of the Russian Federation in 2010
|• Awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Beijing Foreign Studies University in 2011
|• Conferred the title Professor Emeritus by the Viswa Bharati University of Calcutta, India
|• President of the Sri Lankan Committee for Solidarity with Palestine for 25 years
|• Chairman of G15 from 2010-2012
|• Commonwealth Chair-in-Office from 2013 to 2015
|• Awarded the “Parliamentary Order Merit Democratic Rep. Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruza” by the Bolivian Government on 16th of June, 2014
|• Conferred an honorary doctorate on November 23, 2014 by the Surindri Rajabhat University of Thailand, in honor of the services he rendered to uplift Buddhism in Sri Lanka and abroad
In the election held two years before the end of Rajapaksa's first six year term, he won with 57.8 per cent of the votes cast, in an election where nearly 70 per cent of 14,088,500 registered voters polled. His closest rival, former Army Commander General (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka obtained 40.15 per cent. The number of votes obtained by Rajapaksa was 6,015,934, while Fonseka received 4,173,185 votes.
The re-election of Mahinda Rajapaksa took place in the first nationwide election held after the defeat of the LTTE in May in 2009, and the first where people from all parts of the country were free to participate in more than two decades.
In the previous Presidential Election held in November 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as candidate of the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was elected fifth Executive President obtaining 50.29% or 4,887,152 votes polled, while his closest rival Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, leading the United National Party (UNP) obtained 47.43% or 4,706,366 votes.
Rajapaksa's rationale for calling a Presidential Election two years before the expiry of his first six year term, was his desire to obtain a nationwide mandate, because in the Presidential Election in 2005, the Tamil population, in the North and East of the country were unable to vote, as the heavily armed LTTE, that was controlling most of those regions, ordered the Tamils to boycott the poll. In this election all communities throughout Sri Lanka were free to exercise their franchise, in the oldest representative democracy in Asia, which has had universal franchise since 1931.
Defeat of LTTE
Early in the fourth year of his first six-year term, President Mahinda Rajapaksa etched his name in the records of Sri Lankan history as the national leader who ended a thirty year long war against the forces of separatist terrorism that threatened the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country; gave leadership to defeat the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world; withstood international pressure for a ceasefire with terrorists; united the country under the single National Flag, and embarked on an ambitious programme to ensure democracy throughout the country, bringing a new political vision that seeks both Development and Reconciliation to build a New Sri Lankan Nation.
His re-election to a second term was a clear endorsement by the people of the leadership given by him to defeat the LTTE, eradicate terrorism and restore peace; and recognizing his courage in standing up to international pressure against the humanitarian military operation to defeat the LTTE.
The fifth Executive President of Sri Lanka, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, former Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Member of Parliament, lawyer, human rights activist and trade unionist - comes from a family with a long tradition in people-oriented politics.
He succeeded his father DA Rajapaksa to Sri Lanka's Parliament in 1970, showing the strong influence that his family has had for decades in Sri Lanka's southern Hambantota District.
Voice to the people
He continued a tradition of pro-people politics initiated by his paternal uncle, DM Rajapaksa, known in his time as the Lion of Ruhuna (the traditional name for the southern region of Sri Lanka), who was elected to the State Council from Hambantota in the 1930s as a leader of the emerging movement against British colonial rule, giving voice to the largely impoverished rural peasants of the South. He wore an earthy brown shawl, the colour of kurakkan (a type of maize) cultivated by the rural masses, whose cause he championed throughout his life, till his sudden death in 1945.
The mantle of the southern rural leadership and the earthy brown shawl of protest and hope came to his brother DA Rajapaksa, himself a politician well-known for his integrity, courage and perseverance in the face of many odds, especially for those who worked for the cause of the rural poor. In the by-election in 1945 he succeeded his brother uncontested in the Second State Council and was included in the Council's Committee on Agriculture and Land, prior to independence from the British in 1948. With his interest in the needs of the landless peasants and the development of agriculture, DA Rajapaksa pushed through a 99-year lease scheme to transfer crown land to landless peasants in five acre plots. For the middle income earners, land extending from 10 to 50 acres was alienated in the same manner; measures that gave a boost to rice and coconut cultivations in the south of Sri Lanka.
Elected to Parliament from the Beliatta electorate of the Hambantota District in the first Parliament of 1947, he was a member of the governing party, the United National Party (UNP), till in 1951 he crossed over to the Opposition on matters of policy, together with the late SWRD Bandaranaike, which led to forming of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) that gave weight to Social Democratic policies. He was re-elected to Parliament from the SLFP in 1952 and 1956 after which election Mr. Bandaranaike was elected Prime Minister of an SLFP-led Government. Mr. Rajapaksa was appointed the Minister of Agriculture and Lands in 1959. He was defeated in the parliamentary election held in March 1960 following the assassination of Prime Minister Bandaranaike in September 1959. In the general election held in July 1960 he was re-elected from Beliatta from the SLFP then led by Mr. Bandaranaike's wife Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. He was appointed Deputy Chairman of Committees in Parliament and subsequently Deputy Speaker. When the SLFP lost to the UNP in 1965, political fortune changed again and he was defeated.
Mahinda - The early years
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the second son in a family of six brothers and three sisters, was born in Weeraketiya in Sri Lanka's Deep South, on November 18, 1945, and was brought up from his early years in keeping with Sinhala-Buddhist tradition. Family tradition was also seen with his first schooling at Richmond College, in the southern city of Galle, where his father and uncle, and cousins who also entered politics, were first schooled. His education was later shifted to Nalanda College and Thurstan College in Colombo. He later studied law at the Colombo Law College, and qualified as an Attorney-at-Law. He took oaths as an Attorney-at-Law in November 1977, and has evinced a keen interest in human rights aspects of law.
Throughout his student days he continued his links with the peasants of the south, and was no stranger to the paddy fields and the agricultural livelihoods of the people. With Sri Lanka having a strong leftwing movement at the time of his student days in Colombo, Mahinda also participated in many of the leftwing and radical protest and agitation movements.
He was 24 years, when first elected to Parliament as an SLFP member, from the Beliatta electorate in 1970. He was then the youngest Member of Parliament and represented the same electorate his father did from his first election in 1947 and several subsequent polls till his death in 1965. He practiced law mainly in the southern town of Tangalle from 1977 to 1994 which kept him closely in touch with the people and their needs, and also the development needs of the southern region, until his appointment as a Minister in 1994. He lost his parliamentary seat in the landslide victory of the UNP in 1977. In the parliamentary election that followed in 1989 (after the UNP had extended its term by six years through a questionable referendum) he was re-elected to Parliament from the Hambantota District under proportional representation, and held this position until he bade farewell to Parliament as Executive President in November 2005.
Loyalty and politics
Loyalty to principle and party has been the hallmark of Mahinda Rajapaksa's political philosophy. In this he followed the example set by his father, especially in the loyalty he showed to the SLFP which he helped found and to the late SWRD Bandaranaike and Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike whose leadership and politics he accepted, and was deeply loyal to Mrs. Bandaranaike and the SLFP, the leader and party that brought him to Parliament. His loyalty and attachment to the SLFP, which was responsible for the ups and downs in his politics, just like his father's, has kept him with the party from the time he was a youth activist of the party as a student, and throughout his political life as Member of Parliament, Cabinet Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Prime Minister and now as the country's President.
It is this loyalty that saw him chosen as Prime Minister after the General Election of April 2004, when the United People's Freedom Alliance, a coalition led by the SLFP, won a majority in Parliament. He had by then risen to the position of senior Vice President of the SLFP. Loyalty to party also saw him chosen as the SLFP's presidential nominee in November 2005.
A Man for Rights
From the beginning of his career, Rajapaksa adopted a centre-left political stance, identifying himself with labour rights and becoming a champion of human rights. He was a leading member of the Parliamentarians for Human Rights, and in the days of grave human rights violations under the UNP government in 1988/89 took the lead in agitating in defence of human rights, taking the issue before the international community.
He came into prominence as a leader, together with Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu, of the Mothers Front, which organized the mothers of the "disappeared" in what was described as the white terror of 1988-90. The Visva Bharati University of Calcutta in India conferred on him the title Professor Emeritus for his record on human rights. He played a major role in mobilizing people's action against the then government, especially in defence of the democratic rights of the people that were being gravely endangered. Among the campaigns he led was the hugely successful "Paada Yaathra" – a pilgrimage of protest on foot from Colombo to the southern shrine of Kataragama, which saw massive participation by the people; he also took the lead in organizing several other public protest campaigns which laid the groundwork for the defeat of the UNP government in the General Election in August 1994, and the later election of Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga of the SLFP as the fourth Executive President in November the same year.
Rajapaksa was Minister for Labour & Vocational Training and of Fisheries in President Kumaratunga's Cabinet from 1994 to 2001. He brought his experience in trade union activities to good use as Minister of Labour and helped settle many a labour dispute both in the public and private sectors. His close understanding of issues involving the working people helped in the preparation of the Workers' Charter, presented to the Government of President Kumaratunga. He brought a new lease of life to the field of Vocational Training by establishing the Vocational Training Authority with over 300 training centres at the village level.
As the Minister of Fisheries he started a University for Oceanography and established a Coastal Guard Unit. He also took the initiative in launching housing schemes for the fishing communities in the country, which has seen the building of the largest number of housing units so far for any single economic sector in the country, other than the traditional housing arrangements in the plantation sector.
He also held the portfolio of the Ports and Shipping in addition to Fisheries, for three months, and in this period initiated work for the construction of a new harbour at Hambantota, which is one of the most important measures in economic and infrastructure development in the country. The work on this was stalled for some time, and under his leadership as Executive President, Phase I of this new port has been completed with work on Phase II already initiated. It is to be operated as a Free Port in Sri Lanka, when completed it is expected to be a hub of marine activity in the South Asian region.
From the time he was chosen Prime Minister in April 2004, till his election as President 19 months later, he also held the portfolio of Highways, which saw him take a keen interest in the development of the country's roads. This experience made him introduce the concept of “Maga Neguma”, focusing on the development of roads and highways, in his manifesto for the Presidential Election. As President he pursues road and highways development as an important aspect of development policy, and has seen to the building and reconstruction more than 6,000 km of modern roads, highways and expressways in the country and more than a dozen important bridges, vastly improving and modernizing the country's road network. The first expressway between Colombo and the Southern city of Galle is already opened and several other major expressways linking Colombo and other key cities are under construction.
He has been the President of the Sri Lankan Committee for Solidarity with Palestine for 25 years, until his election as Executive President, and has always maintained a close interest in finding a peaceful solution to the Middle East problem within the framework of a sovereign Palestinian state.
Rise to Presidency
Mahinda Rajapaksa had no sudden rise to the Presidency of Sri Lanka. He has come through many decades of work with and for the people, demonstrating an unfailing loyalty to his political party and its leadership, and boldly facing the rough and tumble of politics. After the ministerial position he held in Government, when the SLFP again went into Opposition following electoral defeat in December 2001, in March 2002 he was elected Leader of the Opposition, bringing to that office his many years of parliamentary experience, both in Government and Opposition.
After the General Elections of April 2004 in which the United People's Freedom Alliance emerged winner, he was appointed the country's 13th Prime Minister on April 6, 2004, in the Government headed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and was a key political organizer for the SLFP and its allies at a time of increased political rivalry.
When the Presidential Election was brought forward by one year to November 2005 by order of the Supreme Court, Mahinda Rajapaksa, then a senior Vice President of the party was chosen as the presidential candidate of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party for the election held on 17 November 2005. His candidature was later approved by 25 political parties and people's movements. His election came with support from most sections of the Sri Lankan polity, and was a more significant achievement as he had to wade against undercurrents of opposition from sections of the very political party, the SLFP, to which he had been loyal from the time he entered parliamentary politics in 1970. It was an opposition that came from a fear of the loss of family control over the leadership of the party.
He was sworn in as the fifth Executive President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka on the 19th of November 2005, after being elected President with a majority that endorsed his manifesto, the Mahinda Chinthana in a closely contested, peaceful, free and fair election.
In acceptance of his commitment to the SLFP, and his loyalty to it in times of success and defeat, he was elected President of the party, of which his father was a co-founder, on June 29, 2006.
Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Presidency of Sri Lanka on a wide-ranging policy, which was largely people-oriented and was laid out in the "Mahinda Chinthana" – The Thinking of Mahinda – which promised the defeat of terrorism, advance of democracy, and a commitment to a negotiated solution to the long standing ethnic conflict, exacerbated by separatist terrorism; it offered social democratic approaches to economic and social issues, the continuance of social welfare policies such as free education and free health, and end to privatization of the State sector, a huge commitment to infrastructure development, strengthening of the rural sector of the economy, protection of the environment and the upholding of traditional values such as the humane treatment of animals.
He went through a most trying period in the first five months since his election, with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launching attacks on the security forces and civilians from barely two weeks after his election. From early December 2005 till mid-April 2006, President Rajapaksa showed considerable patience and forbearance, for which he won international admiration, in the face of provocative violence by the LTTE that killed nearly 600. He allowed limited attacks on LTTE positions only after it carried out a failed suicide-bomb attack to assassinate the Army Commander in April 2006. He demonstrated his commitment to peace and negotiation by re-opening the talks with the LTTE, which it had unilaterally walked away from in April 2003, but the LTTE did not reciprocate his moves for peace.
Road to Peace
President Rajapaksa did not hesitate to take a determined stand on behalf of the people, when the LTTE closed down an important sluice gate at Mavil Aru in the East, cutting off water for drinking, agriculture and livelihood for nearly 50,000 people of all communities, leading to the danger of a major humanitarian crisis, in mid-2006. He used the security forces to re-open the sluice gate at Mavil Aru. From then on the security forces proceeded to clear the LTTE from other areas of the East such as Mutur and Sampur, strengthened the protection to the strategically important Trincomalee Harbour, and finally liberated the entire Eastern Province from the LTTE in July 2007. He has since initiated an accelerated programme of development for the East, which has led to considerable economic activity in the region, long affected by the prolonged conflict caused by the forces of terror.
Speedy action was taken to restore democracy to the region with the holding of Local Government elections there, and elections to the first Eastern Provincial Council all within one year of clearing the region of terrorism. The Provincial Council elections saw the emergence of a former child soldier of the LTTE Mr. Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan as the Chief Minister of the Province. The process of democratization was further enhanced when the former leader of the breakaway group from the LTTE - Mr. Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, whose nom-de-guerre was Karuna Amman, was sworn in as the Minster for National Integration and Reconciliation.
The President launched the Nagenehira Navodaya (New Dawn in the East) which is a major initiative for the economic development of the east, complete with infrastructure development and new opportunities for investment in the region. In continuance of his commitment to democracy elections to the Eastern Provincial Council were held again 2012, with the UPFA led by the President obtaining a majority.
President Rajapaksa was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Peoples' Friendship University of the Russian Federation in February, 2010 at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the University, in recognition of the President's "outstanding contribution towards fostering world peace".
On 16th of June 2014 the President was awarded the “Parliamentary Order Merit Democratic Rep. Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruza” by the Bolivian Government for defeating terrorism and restoring peace and development in Sri Lanka. It also recognizes President Rajapaksa’s commitment to human rights and his initiative to improve and expand relations with South America, including Bolivia.
Liberation of the North
The success of the armed forces in retaking Mavil Aru was followed by the launch of a major humanitarian military operation to free the North of the island too, from the grip of the LTTE. With professionalism in the security forces encouraged under the President's leadership, which sought to eliminate terrorism from the country and free all people from fear and mistrust, increased manpower to the armed services, and sufficient weapons and armour for the troops, the Sri Lankan armed forces continued operations against the LTTE. The high morale of the troops engendered by strong leadership of the President led to repeated success against the LTTE. From around September 2008, the armed forces advanced in the North defeating the LTTE in its several Northern strongholds of Pooneryn, Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass and Mullaitivu, until its final defeat on 19th May 2009.
In the final stages of the battle the LTTE demonstrated its ruthless nature by holding thousands of Tamil civilians as human shields, and later as hostages, for the protection of the LTTE leadership that was expecting to escape through some form of foreign assistance.
Political analysts are agreed that among the key reasons for President Rajapaksa's successful leadership in defeating the LTTE was his ability to put an end to the continuing rivalry and bickering between the two large democratic parties in Sri Lanka - the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party - having aligned all democratic political forces with him in the cause of defeating terror and restoring democracy.
Both military and political analysts also agree that another key factor in the defeat of the LTTE was the ability of President Rajapaksa who provided the important political leadership and commitment, together with the able support of Secretary of Defence, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the leadership of the military and other service chiefs, to call the bluff of the LTTE as an invincible fighting force. Of much importance in the successful defeat of the LTTE and its terrorism, was the firm stand that President Rajapaksa took against western powers and international institutions to pressure him to have ceasefire with the LTTE in the last stages of the battle. He rejected these pressures as interference in the sovereignty of Sri Lanka, and was not swayed by threats of economic and other reprisals by western forces that were supportive of pro-LTTE expatriate Sri Lankans in their those countries.
The leadership given by him to defeat the terrorism of the LTTE, and his restoring the unitary status of Sri Lanka, with the assurance of Constitutional Rights to all citizens led to the University of Colombo conferring on him the degree of Doctor of Laws in 2009.
Following the defeat of terrorism the President has already taken key measures to restore democracy to the North. Shortly after the victory over terrorism was announced steps were taken to hold Local Government elections to the Jaffna Municipal Council and the Vavuniya Urban Council in the North.
President Rajapaksa has also made an important commitment to resettle all of nearly 300,000 internally displaced Tamil civilians in the North under a 180 day resettlement and rehabilitation programme. His initiatives in this regard saw much government expenditure and considerable international assistance coming to Sri Lanka for the resettlement of these Tamil civilians forced into government relief centres by the violence of the LTTE. A very large number of the internally displaced were resettled within this initial period. The Government completed the resettlement of all – more than 290,000 of the IDPs in September 2012, just three years after the end of the conflict, establishing a record for the speed and success of such work among countries that have suffered armed conflict, and has earned the plaudits of international organizations involved with humanitarian relief for the internally displaced. Most of the vast extents of land mined by the LTTE as it fled the areas it controlled have also now been cleared and made safe for resettlement.
He laid stress on the rehabilitation of former LTTE cadres, and especially the child soldiers recruited by the LTTE. The priority given to this has already seen all former child soldiers being re-united with their parents, and many also attending regular schools both in the northern towns as well as in the Colombo District. From 11,000 LTTE cadres who surrendered to Government troops there are only 263 still remaining to be fully rehabilitated.
"Uthuru Vasanthaya" the Northern Spring - is the special initiative of the President to expedite development in the North, and make the Northern Tamils partners in the country's progress. This has seen heavy investment in infrastructure development in the north, and considerable investment coming to the region, including the opening of branches of major local and foreign banks, many financial services, inclusion of the region in the tourism map of the country as part of the growth of tourism – a key area of development, expansion of agriculture and fisheries and many new livelihood opportunities for a people long oppressed by their self-appointed “liberators” who spread terror among them and in the country.
There is also a strong commitment by the President to move towards a political settlement of the issues facing the communities in the North and East as well as the widening of democracy in Sri Lanka through a "homegrown" solution which is politically inclusive and is aimed at ensuring constitutional guarantees of freedom and democracy to all communities.
President Rajapaksa remains committed to a negotiated political solution to the issue of power sharing in the country, and in a major policy initiative appointed an All Party Representative Committee to work out a consensus solution on methods of power sharing and necessary constitutional reform in the country.
Shortly after the defeat of the LTTE, he also summoned an All Party Committee representing political parties within and outside Parliament to seek consensus on speedy development of the North and reconciliation in the country. The Tamil National Alliance, considered a proxy of the LTTE that had rejected all earlier invitations to participate in all party discussions, responded positively to this initiative.
He is now working towards establishing a Parliamentary Select Committee to work out the modalities of a political solution to the ethnic issues in Sri Lanka and is seeking the cooperation of all Tamil political parties for this initiative.
With his commitment to democracy and pluralism and his understanding of the need for reconciliation among the communities in the country after a conflict that prevailed for more than three decades, President Rajapaksa in May 2010 appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to study the reasons for the failure of the earlier ceasefire with the LTTE, the genuine hardships undergone by the people during the terrorism of the LTTE and the battle against it, and also to seek reconciliation among communities based on restorative justice. The President has appointed a special Task Force to work out the means of implementing the key recommendations of the LLRC, many of which are being implemented, and a Work Plan for such implementation has already been made public to ensure transparency in this important work of reconciliation and peace building.
Under President Mahinda Rajapaksa's leadership several major infrastructure development projects including the Magama Ruhunupura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port , the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA), the Southern expressway, the first phase of the coal-fired thermal power station at Norochcholai, the Kerawalapitiya Combined Cycle Thermal Power Plant and the Upper Kotmale Hydropower Project have been completed. He has also initiated projects to upgrade four harbors and construct three new expressways including a new northern expressway linking the major cities of the country. The emphasis on expansion of power supply in the country has seen more than 90 per cent of the country now having power from the National Grid, including Jaffna that was cut off by the LTTE, and the country is on target to having 100 per cent power supply in the next few years.
The Government is paying keen attention to strengthening the rural economy with increased incentives to cultivators and the search for new markets for their produce. The development of Small and Medium Enterprises also receives considerable importance under the economic policies of the Rajapaksa presidency.
Development of the Rural Sector is a key aspect of the current development strategies of the Government. The building of new roads and highways, and rural roads, are aimed at bringing closer links between the rural and urban centers, and also to provide easy transport facilities for rural producer to the towns and cities, as well as develop the export potential in this sector. The policy has already shown considerable gain in reducing the drain of rural talent to urban centres, with increased investment in the rural sector in new industries especially in the small and medium sectors, self-employment, the expansion of banking and credit facilities to the rural cultivators, the provision of a substantial fertilizer subsidy that has seen Sri Lanka achieve self-sufficiency in its staple food – rice, and considerable improvement in the production of food and cash crops. Much encouragement has been given to the continued strengthening of the apparent and garments sector that draws a large number of employees from the rural population.
The plantation sector has also been given encouragement to continue its progress, and much attention has been given to bring new technology to this sector for value addition to plantation products to meet the demand in international markets.
New initiatives have been launched to take computer literacy and Information Technology to the rural sector and also bring a major enhancement of IT knowledge and capability in the country, and its use in governance. The Nenasala, or Knowledge Centre, a brand name in Rural IT Centres, was conceptualized by President Rajapaksa during his tenure as Prime Minister and to date more than 691 such centres have been opened in the rural and semi-urban areas. Action is under way to have such Knowledge Centres in all Gram Niladari or local administrative areas in the near future. IT literacy in the country has risen to more than 25% in the six years since Rajapaksa was elected President in 2005. The expansion of telecommunication facilities in the country is being encouraged with the numbers of fixed-line and mobile phone users showing a rapid rise since December 2005. The country now has more than its population of a little over 20 million having mobile and land phones, and the number keeps rising, with expansion for Broadband communication and a marked rise in data communication.
In keeping with the Mahinda Chinthana, in the social sphere, the Rajapaksa administration has introduced policies to curb addiction to tobacco and alcohol, and also prevent substance abuse and drug addiction. In a major initiative in humanitarian policy, President Rajapaksa has ordered a stop to the killing of dogs for rabies eradication, carried out under British colonial law, and initiated the introduction of modern, humane and scientific methods of rabies control recommended by the World Health Organization.
A new law on the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has completed the drafting stage. The Government is also carrying on an important programme to improve animal husbandry in the country, with the expectation of achieving self-sufficiency in milk production in the medium term.
President Rajapaksa follows a pragmatic foreign policy with a commitment to the principles of Non-Alignment, and the maintenance of friendly relations with all countries, strongly supportive of the United Nations and its initiatives for development and progress, and seeking international cooperation in the fight against terror both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.
The country is among the oldest members of the 54 member Commonwealth of Nations, being one of its founders since it gained independence in 1948, and has been named as the venue for the next meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2013, a historic opportunity for Sri Lanka to showcase the remarkable progress achieved by the country, especially in the post-conflict era.
Sri Lanka continues to have the most friendly relations with all countries, and have good trading relations with its immediate neighbours, having Free Trade agreements with both India and Pakistan. It encourages investment from all countries and has seen increased investment both from East and West, with much investment in infrastructure and development from both India and China, and continued development and social advancement related activity by countries of the West. President Rajapaksa also seeks to take Sri Lanka closer to the fold of the Asian Continent, and in recent international meetings in Dubai and Abu Dhabi has been supportive of the expansion of Asia’s influence in the world, through its many natural assets and human resources.
The country remains committed to the goal of Sustainable development, and has also achieved or come very close to reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals, especially in child and maternal mortality, primary education and gender equality in admission to schools. With more than 92% literacy, Sri Lanka today ranks among the highest in literacy in all of Asia. These are results of President Rajapaksa’s commitment to the policies of free and universal education and health care.
President Rajapaksa is currently the Chairman of the Group of 15 (G 15) which will hold its 15th Summit in Sri Lanka in 2012. The Chairmanship is for a two year term.
The G-15 accounts for one third of the global population and comprises some of the biggest economies of the world. Its membership comprises 17 developing countries namely Algeria , Argentina , Brazil , Chile , Egypt , India , Indonesia , the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jamaica , Kenya , Malaysia , Mexico , Nigeria , Senegal , Sri Lanka , Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
A person with a strong commitment to South Asian solidarity, he was elected Chairman of the eight-member South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at the 15th SAARC Summit held in Colombo in August 2008, taking over the Chair of SAARC from India.
He relinquished his position at the 16th Summit to Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigmi Thinley.
The eight budgets presented by the President, in his capacity as Minister of Finance and Planning, were adopted in Parliament with overwhelming majorities, with most parties in Opposition too voting for them. Under his stewardship the economy of Sri Lanka showed a growth of 6% in 2007 and in 2008, at a time when a large part of the country was closed for investment and economic activity due to terrorism. Despite difficulties caused by the current world financial and economic crises Sri Lanka still has a growth rate of 7 % and the latest budget for 2013 forecasts a growth of 8%. The current economic projections also point to Sri Lanka having a per capita income of US $ 4,000 by year 2016, from the current per capita income of US$ 2,400. This comes through new economic activity in most areas of the country including the North and East. Prudent economic management has seen the country effectively face the major economic crisis facing the world, which had led the International Monetary Fund, in January 2010, to elevate Sri Lanka to the status of a Middle Income Country.
The pace of growth continues with the rapid rise in Tourism, a key sector of new growth strategy. From less than 500,000 tourist arrivals in 2009, the number has now risen to more than 700,000, and by end 2012, it is expected to reach 1 million, according to current trends. The country is targeting 2.5 million tourist arrivals by 2016,and major development work by way of hotel construction, and other infrastructure development, and incentives to the industry are a part of government policy. Several leading hotel developers from both East and West have already initiated work in the country and much more such investment is under way.
The economic strategies of President Rajapaksa in its focus of infrastructure development seeks to make Sri Lanka an important Asian hub in Shipping, Aviation, Knowledge, Trade and Commerce, and Power and Energy in the coming years, giving the country the full benefit of its strategic location in the Indian Ocean region and through advances in technology.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is married to Shiranthi Rajapaksa, a keen social worker who heads the Seva Vanitha Movement – a women's service movement in the public sector, and takes a keen interest in issues of the rights of women and children, as well the advance of the humanitarian policies in the Mahinda Chinthana. She has taken an important initiative in helping the women and children who are internally displaced in the north due to terrorism. Under the 'Siriliya Saviya' organization led by her, special action was taken to provide cooked food and essential drugs to the IDPs, training in community culinary work among women IDPS and also for vocational training among them to help them have better livelihoods once resettled. All of this has shown good results in the new stage of resettlement and reconciliation.
They have three sons. The eldest, Namal was elected to Parliament in the General Elections in 2010 from the Hambantota District, obtaining the most number of votes in the District. At 24 years he was the youngest Member of Parliament. He took his oaths as an Attorney – at – Law of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka on December 15, 2011 following his father in the legal profession. He is engaged in youth affairs, especially the participation of youth in development work. He is the key organizer of “Tharunyayata Hetak” which seeks to empower youth in the rural sector for the purpose of uplifting the rural economy, and plays an important role in development activities directed at youth in the north of the country.
The second son Yoshitha is a Sub-Lieutenant in the Sri Lanka Navy after training at Dartmouth in the UK. He is the captain of Sri Lanka Navy Rugby team and also the captain of National Rugby team of Sri Lanka.
The third, Rohitha is pursuing higher studies in Aeronautical Engineering and Astronautics at the University of Southampton, UK and plays for a leading Rugby Club in Colombo, the Havelock Sports Club, which is the oldest Rugby Club for Sri Lankans with a history of 98 years.
All of them are keen sportsmen and have represented their school St. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia in rugby. The eldest Namal has been the moving force behind the Carlton Rugby Sevens; a new tournament played under a franchise format with the participation of foreign players that seeks to make rugby a wide spectator sport, and is fast drawing Sri Lanka to the field of international rugby.
President Rajapaksa is himself a very keen sportsman. He represented his school in Athletics in Track events specializing in the 4 x 400 metres relay. When not restricted by the pressures of work and concerns of security he has always been present at the school rugby matches when his sons were playing, and was a frequent spectator at inter-club rugby games in Colombo and Kandy. A keen fan of both cricket and rugby, he follows the fortunes of the Sri Lanka cricket team and inter-club rugby with great interest, and offers much encouragement to Sri Lankan sportsmen and sportswomen.
June 19, 2014