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The election of a man of the masses

THE triumph of Mahinda Rajapakse at the Presidential election of November 17 would be best remembered as a popular endorsement of a common man's candidate for the highest public office in this land.

This memorable moment was quite rightly seen by the President-elect as evocative of the 1956 social revolution initiated by the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike when the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna which he ably led, changed the complexion of Lankan politics and made the seats of political power accessible to the common man.

Unlike many of those who have wielded political power in Sri Lanka, Rajapakse could not be described as descending from those who live in the lap of privilege and social prestige. This is because Mahinda has lived and walked with the people, both literally and figuratively.

Rajapakse was quite at home leading the people from the front in 'Pada Yatras' that spanned the length of Sri Lanka in the early Nineties when democracy was eclipsed by authoritarian rule and when the rights of the people were trampled by tyrannical feet which sought to keep them in subjection.

Those were bleak times for Sri Lanka when political dissent even earned death at the hands of State-linked vigilante death squads but Rajapakse stood-up dourly for the rights of the people in local courts.

His wholesome political lineage could be said to have accounted for this highly progressive orientation, being a son of the iconic D.A. Rajapakse, who, along with S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike established the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in 1951.

Having figured prominently in the struggle for the redemocratization of Sri Lanka, along with President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in the early and mid-Nineties, Mahinda Rajapakse held some of the most important portfolios in administrations led by President Kumaratunga since 1994.

His appointment to the position of Prime Minister in the UPFA Government of April 2004, marked Rajapakse's emergence as a political leader who would soon occupy the highest echelons of the country's power structure.

Without doubt, Rajapakse's election as the fifth Executive President of Sri Lanka is an epochal moment in the post-independence political history of this country because we are reminded as never before that the highest political office in Sri Lanka is not beyond the reach of a 'Son of the Soil', which Rajapakse truly is.

The country could take heart from the fact that the President-elect is not only intent on realising the provisions of the 'Mahinda Chinthanaya' - which has just won popular endorsement - but is also keen on kickstarting and taking forward the peace process.

Peace along with economic development were singled out by Rajapakse at the announcement of the final results of the Presidential election, as his twin priorities and we call on the rest of the polity to rally round the future Head-of-State in these vitally important endeavours.

As could be seen, Mahinda Rajapakse's rise to the foremost position in the land was not paved with roses, because he had to even stave off efforts by the opposition to besmirch his image.

However, Rajapakse could take heart from the fact that his honour has been vindicated by his election to the Presidency in a free and fair vote.

He is the people's choice and the people in their collective wisdom would not have ensured his election to the foremost political position in Sri Lanka if there was any basis to opposition mud-slinging.

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