By Mangala Samaraweera, M.P.
It is with great alarm that the peace loving people of the civilised world witness the despotic regime of Muammar Gaddafi killing his own people, using heavy weapons and even fighter aircraft to bomb civilian targets in a desperate attempt to retain power. Looking at the brutal suppression of peaceful civilian protests in Libya by its megalomaniac leader and his sons we cannot but draw parallels to the dynastic path the Rajapaksa regime has taken here at home.
For the last 42 years Gaddafi has ruled Libya with an iron fist, destroying all forms of opposition, stifling dissent, silencing free speech and paving the way for his sons to take over once he is no more. During this time he and his family amassed billions of dollars and siphoned the country’s oil wealth. Oil rich Libya with its population of just six million is run by a handful of family members and cronies loyal to the first family. Gaddafi’s sons Saif, Mutassim and Hannibal hold key positions in government and the military running the country as if it were their personal fiefdom.
Only the blind or those who refuse to see, in my opinion, cannot draw the obvious parallels between the Gaddafis of Libya and the Rajapaksas of Medamulana. Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has often been pictured on the world stage with his arm around his best pal, Muammar Gaddafi has imposed single family rule in Sri Lanka and through the passing of legislation such as the 18th Amendment ensured that Sri Lanka is well on the path to dictatorship by the removal of term limits for the all powerful executive presidency.
Col. Gaddafi also disabled every democratic institution in Libya to ensure his political survival and while many might not be able to put all the pieces together right now, history will record how Mahinda Rajapaksa and his kith and kin single-handedly brought Asia’s oldest democracy to its knees and introduced her citizens to the insidious evils of an increasingly fascist political regime.
Whether it is the government, military, civil or the diplomatic service it is apparent that the Rajapaksa regime is playing according to the Gaddafi playbook, and the rules upheld by all autocratic regimes world over, now being systematically deposed in the Middle East region, with revolution spreading throughout the globe, from Zimbabwe to Iran. The Libyan President now under siege also packed all positions of power with incompetent, uneducated and corrupt stooges whose sole qualification to hold these positions was their loyalty to the first family.
Saif Gaddafi, the heir apparent to the throne of Libya appeared on state television a few days ago to threaten his countrymen with bloodshed if they try to topple his father’s regime. Desperate people who are only demanding that the four decade old oligarchy be ended have been threatened with arrest, torture and ‘rivers of blood’ if they dare to dream of freedom. Saif like all cronies of a tyrant stated that it is only the Gaddafi family that can deliver on the promise of development. He warned that foreign investors will leave Libya if the ruling family is thrown out. That Libya will fall to ‘imperialist’ forces and descend into anarchy.
Anyone who is playing close attention to the Rajapaksa rhetoric in Sri Lanka will recognise the chilling familiarity of Saif Gaddafi’s words. We are told that we should look the other way at the blatant corruption that is happening in the name of development. We are to turn a blind eye while the nation’s wealth is being amassed by a single family. We are told it is in the name of development that the Rajapaksa family has its members running the economy, military, and parliament. It is in the name of stability that democracy is being destroyed, our freedom of speech revoked and dissent quashed.
These are the same lies propagated by all dictators, whether they reign over an ancient country beside the Nile, or a military junta in Buddhist Burma holding a true democratic leader under house arrest since 1989 – or in fact a moustached politician from the deep south of a South Asian island and his siblings who are systematically turning the lights out in Asia’s oldest democracy.
All these dictators not only wish to rule till they die but dream of passing on their kingdoms to their offspring, making a mockery of the people’s will to elect their own leaders. Eighty two year old Hosni Mubarak dreamt that he could pass on power to his son Gamal, while Gaddafi still harbours dreams of making his son Saif, leader of Libya after him, even while protestors wrest control of the country’s cities and march towards Tripoli.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is no exception to this rule. Not only do his family tentacles spread over every arm of governance and state, but he foists his grinning visage upon Sri Lankans on every street corner, the faces of his sons are adorned on lampposts in the town of Hambantota, and his heir apparent, First Son Namal sporting his rock-star hairdo is a presenter at Cricket World Cup ceremonies. Sri Lanka is the Rajapaksas and for the Rajapaksas. They believe their rule is immortal, their power ever-lasting.
Vanity is one of the best ways to spot a despotic ruler. Hosni Mubarak who ruled Egypt for over 30 years, before being ushered out by a peoples’ revolt, thought he was a new age pharaoh destined to rule for life. Gaddafi in neighbouring Libya called himself the “King of Kings,” a title he bestowed upon himself to satisfy his bloated ego. Their narcissistic megalomania knows no bounds. Here too, the Rajapaksas are not to be outdone. Mahinda Rajapaksa is a self-proclaimed ‘Maha Raja’, Sri Lanka Raja Wansha Vibhushana Dharmadveepa Chakravarthi and Thiri Sinhalaatheeswara. This is a common disease among self obsessed tyrants who need constant reassurances over their own claims of greatness.
The fundamental principle of the current Rajapaksa regime’s foreign policy has been to ally our country with the worst tyrants in the world. In order to see who Sri Lanka has made friends with in recent years in the international sphere, one has to only look for the worst human rights violators, despotic and corrupt tyrants. The “Mad Dog of Africa” Gaddafi, Than Shwe, the military dictator of Burma and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the autocratic president of Iran are all Mahinda Rajapaksa’s close personal friends. Today the people of Sri Lanka are haunted by the image of Gaddafi placing his arm around Rajapaksa while both observed a military parade in Tripoli recently, not only signalling the similarities of these two leaders but also warning Sri Lankans of things to come.
It was only last month that our Foreign Ministry proudly released pictures of MP Namal Rajapaksa, the heir to the ruling dynasty warmly embracing the Libyan tyrant. Last year our government laid out a red carpet welcome to the Burmese military leader who had brutally crushed an uprising in his country in 2006, killing and torturing hundreds of Buddhist priests. This is a regime which the whole world recognises as one of the worst bastions of tyranny, imprisoning democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi for 20 years.
Also recent revelations indicated that our government has been carrying out illegal arms deals with the Dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, considered one of the worst tyrants of all time, one who starves his own people. The old idiom “birds of a feather flock together” is the best way to describe the Medamulana diplomacy that has made Sri Lanka an ally of the worst human rights violators and a pariah amongst the civilised nations of the world.
Amidst the death and destruction that is now engulfing Libya there is a message of hope which can inspire us. Despite unprecedented violence unleashed by a desperate government and the somewhat poor odds of success, the people of Libya have proven that dictators also have their day of reckoning. They may rule for decades using fear to suppress the masses but every human being has a breaking point, when they say to themselves it is better to die fighting for freedom rather than live forever upon their knees. When that day comes, when the masses realise that they deserve better than the occasional crumbs thrown at them by tin pot dictators, then surely the days of tyranny will be numbered.
The moral force of people who have rejected tyranny will be too powerful to quell even by tanks and aircraft as we are now witnessing in Libya. Let this be a lesson to our own leaders who are currently intoxicated by their seemingly limitless power and hope to rule through fear and intimidation forever, eventually passing down the right to rule to their children. Their day of reckoning may be sooner than they think.