The completion of 43 years in politics is no easy achievement, and President Mahinda Rajapaksa who reached this milestone in his career on Monday 27, found himself in the marking this event amidst of the biggest show of friendship by China, the new economic giant in the world. It was a memorable way to mark an important anniversary, with the beginnings of many development projects in the country that will remain on record as part of his continuing commitment to the progress of the country.
His entry into politics began with winning the Beliatta seat in Parliament on May 27, 1960, the seat earlier represented by his father DA Rajapaksa, who passed away in 1967. When he entered Parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa was the youngest member of the House. He was following a tradition of pro-people politics begun by his paternal uncle DM Rajapaksa in the days of British rule, when he challenged the colonial power in the Deep South of the country. His brother DA took over the mantle of southern leadership after the untimely passing away of DM, and Mahinda Rajapaksa today personifies a tradition of people friendly politics that began more than 75 years ago.
His journey in politics was not easy, facing both success and defeat in elections, and playing a key role in the organization of the SLFP – especially its youth movement and the trade union wings. While in Parliament he qualified and took his oaths of a lawyer, and was active in the defense of human rights in the troubled period of southern youth insurrection. He also brought his experience in Parliament to the several portfolios he held, such as Labour & Vocational Training, and Fisheries and Aquatic Resources before being chosen Prime Minister in 2004. His rise to the highest office of Executive President came in November 2005 with election to a second term in 2010.
The pinnacle of achievement in the past 43 years in politics was his leadership of the country and the security forces to defeat the forces of terror of the LTTE in May 2009, defying the views held strongly by many analysts, political commentators and strategists at the time that the LTTE could not be militarily defeated. This great achievement was followed by the leadership he gave to one of the biggest humanitarian exercises in modern times when he assured state protection and care to nearly 300,000 internally displaced people – the Tamils whom the LTTE held as human shields in its hollow bid to liberate them; and their resettlement in conditions of peace, in a period shorter than many considered possible, especially considering the victims of other conflicts who still languish in refugee camps in many other countries. The process of resettlement, rehabilitation and reconciliation still continues, and is a key aspect of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s policies today.
It was his political maturity by the time he became Executive President that made him decide that development of the country could not be left till after the battle with terrorism was over. He initiated many development projects at much cost, while the war against the LTTE was still on, and initiated similar projects, especially in infrastructure and economic development programmes in the areas liberated from the LTTE; no sooner the conditions for such peaceful reconstruction and development were established.
Roads to Progress
His emphasis on post-conflict development has seen the north and east that were most affected by terrorism make significant progress in recent, reaching a much higher rates of growth – 22% - than the highly commendable national growth rate of 7.5% and 8%, in a country that has emerged from a conflict that extended for nearly three decades.
There has been much emphasis on development in the rural sector, in recognition that the largest proportion of Sri Lankan lives in the villages. The strategies of development in recent years have laid emphasis on the growth of ports, the improvement of aviation, the increase of power supply, the expansion of both irrigation and potable water supply, the advance of telecommunications, Information Technology and Computer Literacy, and the support of industries that provides employment, as well as the easing of conditions for foreign direct investment.
The fact that peace prevails and is being strengthened in the country is best seen by the increasing numbers of tourist arrivals, which has led the development of this sector of the economy being given much priority, to go in tandem with the other aspects of development.
Of special significance in the development strategy of Mahinda Rajapaksa, is the importance he has given to road development in the country. The number of kilometers of new roads built, existing roads improved is a now a record that cannot be matched, by any other great road builders of the past, and not likely by others in the future. Most of the country, even areas where once roads had been destroyed by terrorism and resulting military operations, have now been replaced with wider and better roads. Almost all trunk roads in the country are well paved and maintained for smooth, quick and easy travel. The Southern Expressway, the first of such highways in the country, the Colombo – Katunayake Expressway to be completed very soon, and the several other expressways that have gone long past the planning stage, indicate the focus on the development of road transport, which is aimed at bringing the cities and villages closer, and also opening up the land for good investment opportunities, where access to land, and produce are made easier as well as paths for better distribution of goods within the country and easier and faster exports.
The emphasis on the expansion of the country’s road network, with new highways, expressways, roads and bridges being and integral and noteworthy aspect of the development strategy of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has earned him the well deserved accolade of being named by many as “Maga Dun Piya” – the Father to the Way Ahead.
Marking the completion of 43 years in politics in China, President Rajapaksa saw a tremendous fillip to the development strategies for the country, with nearly US $2.2 billion offered to Sri Lanka as loans for infrastructure projects and arrangements for a free trade pact between the two countries.
At his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Rajapaksa congratulated the new Chinese President who took over as China’s new leader in March of this year and thanked China for the continued support to Sri Lanka in a number of spheres. The Sri Lankan President said his many visits to the East Asian nation had helped him gain a deep and profound understanding of China’s political, economic and social dynamics, and that he looks forward to working closely with the new administration.
President Jinping, recalling the long-standing ties between China and Sri Lanka, said the fact that President Rajapaksa is visiting China for the seventh time is an indication of the strength of the relation between the two countries and said he looks forward to further strengthening bilateral ties during his tenure.
This is clearly the most important visit to China by any Sri Lankan leader for the very clear practical support the country has been offered by China. This extends from the expansion of the road and rail infrastructure to water supply, expansion and development of hospitals and health services and satellite communications.
The China Development Bank (CDB), China’s biggest financial institution that provides development loans to foreign countries, told President Rajapaksa that Sri Lanka will always be given priority in providing development aid. At the request of the President there is now every possibility that completion of the Moragahakanda Reservoir Project, which was initiated with financial assistance from the Bank, will be part of the assistance from CDB in the future.
Among the new projects that are to be assisted by China are the construction of the new Colombo- Jaffna Expressway, the Colombo - Kurunegala- Kandy Expressway and extending the Southern Expressway from Matara to Kataragama. This is in addition to the expansion of several other road networks and railway lines.
During bi-lateral discussions between the Sri Lankan and Chinese Presidents an agreement was signed to establish two committees that would work towards a free trade agreement, which would give Sri Lankan products such as apparel, gems and jewelry, tea and rubber wider access in the Chinese market.
Assistance for the development of tourism in Sri Lanka was an import aspect of the discussions between Sri Lanka and China with the clear assurance that China will take action to substantially increase Chinese tourists visiting Sri Lanka by more than 100,000 by 2015.
China has also pledged support for a number of other projects such as water supply schemes in Attanagalla, Minuwangoda and Kurunegala, an international conference hall in Kandy, an arts theater in Anuradhapura and the development of the national hospitals in Colombo and Ragama.
With all of this, President Rajapaksa who returned to Sri Lanka on Thursday has brought to Sri Lanka the assurance of the strongest friendship with China, and continued assistance for the development plans of the government, in a further important phase in progress of the country from the 44th year in politics that he has now begun.