Moving towards a well disciplined society, along with the elimination of poverty and any corruption that would hinder the progress of the nation, is at the core of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's message in the current poll campaign.
This stands out amidst the many, and often conflicting, promises that the people are being offered today, by those seeking to alter the pattern of progress the country has seen in the past ten years, with largely unrealistic goals based on poorly thought out and clearly opportunist promises.
President Rajapaksa made this policy clear when he addressed professionals from the private sector of Sri Lanka, in the special event organized earlier this week, to promote a Stable Sri Lanka in the coming years. The event focused on this important presidential election where the people will assess the record of progress of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the past decade, with all indications of a fresh mandate to him, to continue contributions for the further development of Sri Lanka.
It was an event that saw the most frank expressions of future policies by the President, with clear statements on the work already done and the successes achieved in key areas of national security, governance, democracy, social and economic progress; and the necessity for all of this to continue with the fullest support of the people to realize the new phase of Sri Lankan development, to which Mahinda Rajapaksa has an unquestioned commitment.
Speaking to a large gathering of investors, entrepreneurs, business leaders, professionals and academics, and many others who have an abiding interest in the progress of the country, and how the policies of the two main rivals in this presidential election will affect the goals of progress, the President expressed his pleasure to speak to them, with their known interest in and courage to face Sri Lanka's challenges ahead. He also found it encouraging sharing with them his plans for the future.
His sharp, well thought out presentation began with a recollection of the time when he obtained the first mandate as President of Sri Lanka. He said: "It is necessary to recall that in November 2005, when you gave me your mandate for my first term, our economy was stagnant, the country and the nation were under grave threat from LTTE terrorism. I had a very clear vision for the nation. The priority and my pledge in the first term of my Presidency were to free Our Motherland from the clutches of terror.
"You will recall that it was only after delivering on this pledge, in full measure, achieving peace and launching on reconciliation, that I sought a second term."
He then moved on to the situation that followed his second mandate in 2010, with emphasis on the building and strengthening of peace and building social progress. As he stated it: "The post-conflict focus remains one of creating the platform for rapid social development and economic growth. This included restoring democracy throughout the country, particularly in the North, while ensuring that peace, security and stability are guaranteed. The very conduct of this election for the presidency is proof of the vibrancy of the democracy that has been restored.
"My vision and action in the second term has been to restore economic stability, ensure a major growth of the economy, expand investment opportunities and thereby ensure social growth throughout the country."
He spoke with deep feeling and conviction of the emphasis placed on infrastructure development, which is part of allegations against him and the government, with little concern for truth and accuracy in the political contest today. He explained that: "A major aspect of this is the Long-term Infrastructure Development that you see in all parts of the country, embracing the entire nation, from East to West, North to South and in the Centre. This covers both urban and rural sectors, and seeks the transformation of the country, into a place of pride in modern times."
"You fully benefit today from what can only be described as a revolutionary change in our transport network of roads, highways and expressways. There is also an accompanying improvement in the rail network. All of this fosters connectivity by making travel times shorter and very important, helps in the speedy transport of goods and produce.
"You see that we are building critical infrastructure projects, with a clear long-term strategy in ports and airports - with the major developments at Hambantota, which is ideally placed to exploit Sri Lanka's strategic location for faster development."
He also focused on the aspect of power supply, where Sri Lanka now has the clear lead in South Asia, with 24-hour power in all parts of the country, and the cost of supply coming down, due to understanding of the strategic value of power and energy for economic progress. "Another aspect of this all embracing plan of development is ensuring of uninterrupted and low cost electricity to the entire country through new power projects and the combination of green energy sources, such as wind and solar," he said. This also showed Mahinda Rajapaksa's understanding of the new issues of Climate Change and the need for Sustainable Development, paying due attention to the protection of the environment.
Harvest of success
Another important aspect of the development strategy followed so far is the emphasis on growth enablers such as education, where major steps have been taken to enable youth to develop the knowledge and skills that will help accelerate the country's ongoing development drive and help further uplift Sri Lanka. There is little doubt that in addition to the expansion of traditional education, he was also thinking of the major strides made in the areas of Computer and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) literacy. Also associated is the enormous success of the Nenasala program, with more than 900 Nenasala centres in the country, which won the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's 2014 Access to Learning Award, given to the e-Library Nenasala Program, in recognition of it providing free access to computers and the Internet, to Sri Lankans in the rural areas, to boost digital literacy.
Coming to economic policies that were of most interest to the professionals and entrepreneurs present, President Rajapaksa said: "All of this combined with our positive economic policies with conducive macro-economic factors and the concessions for critical private investments, both local and from abroad, have seen the steady growth of GDP, leading to Sri Lanka achieving and soon exceeding a per capita earnings of US dollars 4,000 by next year; yes, the election year, when we will harvest part of the success in the previous five years.
"Isn't this a record that you are glad to share and be part of?"
"The strategies of the government have made you partners in this pattern of progress. You have a major role to see this develop in the future without diversion into uncertain areas of unknown, untried and untested political thinking and practice," he said.
Moving on to the future, that is most relevant to the campaign in this election, it was his view that: "Our future vision is to focus on making the maximum use of the good work done so far, the peace we have achieved, the stability we have restored, the democracy we have ensured, the infrastructure development we have brought about, all continuing to ensure a macro-economic environment, so necessary for further growth.
"We must further uplift the urban landscape and empower the villages to further improve the quality of life of our people."
Referring to the need to achieve a well disciplined society, he thought the audience would appreciate that had his concentration been on this in his first and second terms, "we still would be fighting a terrorist war, travel on half done roads, have power cuts probably running to days, and more importantly, living with fear and anxiety about our safety. I didn't want to mix up the priorities of the nation. Isn't eliminating terrorism itself, ensuring that law and order is maintained?" It was the most relevant question to raise.
This future vision also included "elimination of poverty along with any corruption that would hinder the progress of the nation. We will not only continue with the major development programs we have initiated, but accelerate those initiatives to produce results."
He underscored the importance of good results, stating: "Achieving results is good governance. Not achieving results is corrupt governance." It was a hardly veiled reference to those who have shown much failure in achieving results, but talk loud of corruption on election platforms today.
Partners in progress
The President saw in the professions, entrepreneurs and investors present, important Partners in Progress, which gave a greater role to the Private Sector in economic growth, and genuine pride in sharing in the progress of the Motherland.
His conclusion was one of good opportunities ahead. Summing up the record of achievement, and the expectations for the future, the President said: "These are the opportunities I see ahead, and these are the results you can fully cooperate towards achieving. These are the prospects that I am glad to share with you, giving you the rightful place in the forward march of this great nation.
It was a call to move ahead together and with common purpose. "Let us achieve this future together. For your children and those yet to be born...Let us march ahead, with this goal of success for today and the generations ahead."