Asked by Japan Times about his future plans, Rajapaksa pointed out that now he is barred from seeking a third term as president, but, flashing his signature smile, did not rule out running for prime minister. “Politicians never retire,” he says.
Speaking about the war, Rajapaksa said that in his view, LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran misjudged the situation, hoping that international pressure in response to the carnage would force the state to back off. Prabhakaran, in Rajapaksa’s view, was “too full of himself,” failing to understand that this time the state had no intention of allowing the Tigers to regroup.
Although Rajapaksa eradicated terrorism and raised living standards, he lost the 2015 elections. He attributes his defeat to resentment against him from Muslims (9.7 percent of the population, according to a 2012 census) and Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils (15.2 percent), and to the Sinhalese harboring unrealistic expectations who took what he delivered for granted.
Asked if he had any regrets, Rajapaksa says he trusted people too much. Regarding the scars of war in this traumatized nation, he says that he has promoted reconciliation by returning land to the Tamils and investing heavily in infrastructure and development projects in the northeast, helping them to begin restoring their lives after three decades of war. Asked why the Sri Lankan Navy is operating luxury resorts on unreturned land, he says it is important to give them something to do.
Regarding Asian leaders, he says he admires authoritarians such as Singapore’s founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who both boosted the economies of their nations. But he is more skeptical about Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, another devout Buddhist leader presiding over a country troubled by endemic inter-ethnic conflict and religious tensions. I drew attention to her desire to attain freedom from fear, and how Sri Lanka’s lingering culture of war makes this goal elusive. He agreed it made sense in theory, but expressed uncertainty about how to proceed, adding that now she faces the burden of delivering on her promises.
He stopped short of condemning Sri Lanka’s militant monks and extremist Buddhist organizations for advocating and engaging in violence targeting Muslims, but did say that it is not consistent with public sentiments.
Asked about continued abductions and the silencing of critics by state forces, Rajapaksa maintained that this is no longer the case. A January 2016 report by the International Truth & Justice Project Sri Lanka — “Silenced: Survivors of Torture and Sexual Violence in 2015″ — provides compelling evidence to the contrary. (Colombo Gazette)