Could Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s former defense secretary (and brother of previous president Mahinda Rajapaksa), bring the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) together? Evidently a member of the country’s joint opposition has suggested that Rajapaksa be appointed to parliament, the implication being that this move would help to unify a political party that has remained divided since Maithripala Sirisena assumed the presidency in January 2015.
This is a very bad idea. After all, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is an alleged war criminal who played a pivotal role in the island nation’s slide towards autocracy. Ranga Jayasuriya, a Colombo-based journalist, has written a piece about this issue. Here’s part of that article:
Gota’s balance sheet is a jumble. On the plus side are his pivotal role in the military victory against terrorism, and of course, beautifying Colombo. Those are obviously notable achievements. But, on the minus side, his record is exceedingly dark. There are extra judiciary killings, white van abductions and disappearance of journalists, civil society activists and dissidents — all that took place under his watch as the Secretary of Defence.
Jayasuriya finishes with a strong concluding paragraph:
How he [Gotabaya Rajapaksa] can be a unifier of the SLFP is open to question, but the bigger question is how a President who pledged to redress the victims of the past and hold their abusers accountable for their evil could accommodate Gota without losing face. Also, such an accommodation is tantamount to appeasement. It would embolden his detractors within the Joint Opposition who would seek further concessions to advance their selfish ends. The impact of such a gesture on the on-going investigations into the abuses of power of the former regime would also be disastrous. Perhaps, the President would not be duped.
To be blunt, Sirisena’s tenure thus far has disappointed many people; clearly, he is not the savviest of politicians and his sincerity vis-à-vis reform remains an open question. Furthermore, politically speaking, the Rajapaksas and their allies look far from finished.
Nevertheless, for Sirisena, a rapprochement with the Rajapaksas is not a viable option. Doing so would not only undermine what’s left of his credibility and deal a major blow to the wide-ranging reform agenda, it would also undoubtedly weaken a president who still has years left in office. In the weeks ahead, it would behoove the president to keep all of this in mind. The Rajapaksas are not unifiers, now or ever.
This article first appeared in The Huffington Post.