It’s easy to offer advice after the fact. Mahinda Rajapaksa had many exit-options. He could have ruled in a way that he could go out, even in defeat, with head held high. He did not. And yet, he had enough popularity and even grudging respect from detractors, to go into quiet retirement, barring of course the possibility that ghosts of wrongs done might return to haunt him.
As the all-powerful executive president everything that happened during his rule either polished his status or took away the gloss. This is why he, more than anyone else, deserves the major share of the kudos for defeating the LTTE. It is also why he, more than anyone else including perpetrators, has to take responsibility for all the wrongdoings during his tenure.
If he wanted to make a come back, then (yes, it’s easy to say), he could have kept away from the circus. His backers needed him more than he needed them. Even in this election. They used him as pin-up boy in their campaign. They played him for a sucker. He got suckered.
Notwithstanding the antics of Wimal, Gammanpila et al Mahinda hadn’t lost too much ground in terms of popularity. He could have let the demand come to him. He was impatient or else absolutely off-mark in reading the political equation.
It was a long shot anyway. The ruling party has an edge. Mahinda ought to have known that President Maithripala Sirisena could hardly afford to have him, Mahinda, as Prime Minister. He, Sirisena, could and did do much damage to the UPFA campaign. Sirisena played hard. He played dirty. Mahinda’s game during his Presidency was hardly clean and for this reason Mahinda should have expected Sirisena to do the dirty on him, even at great cost to the party.
Had he at least pledged absolute support to the leader of his party in word and deed things might have been different. He did not. That’s a flaw. Humility would have taken him to a different kind of political afterlife. He lacked it. He still lacks it.
As former President he knows the sway of the powers vested in that office, even with the clipping effected by the 19th Amendment. Sirisena’s machinations should have taught him something anyway. He should know, now, that his stock is diminishing at an alarming rate and can only continue to fall given the political circumstances he finds himself in.
There’s very little he can do in the coming years as Leader of the Opposition, especially in what would be a diminished UPFA after Sirisena (as indicated) drags the SLFP out of the coalition. If he has any doubts he should give Ranil Wickremesinghe a call. Ranil knows all about being the Opposition Leader.
Under these circumstances, it is imperative that he be told the obvious. Retire.
Mahinda Rajapaksa can make a good speech. He can make the speech he ought to have made on January 9. He can say that too. He can also point to the huge credibility gap between word and deed as per democracy, good governance, decency and civil conduct as far as Maithripala and Ranil are concerned. He can flag certain things that the people should be vigilant about. Whatever it is, the break should be clean.
He should not fool himself that he would be letting down the people who voted for him. He certainly won’t be letting down those who preyed on his popularity. The people will understand. They’ll find new leaders to articulate their concerns. Those who feel left out by the August 17 result could be given reason by the new government to reconsider their position. If not, they can look for ways of recovering relevance. Mahinda Rajapaksa is no one’s babysitter. And if people think they are babies, then they need to grow up.
Mahinda Rajapaksa had his hour of glory. He will be remembered. There will be gratitude and there will be hatred. That’s a given anyway. He had his exit-moments. He has one right now. He can still go out with some dignity, less than he had of course, but enough to guarantee a decent retirement.