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Percy Mahendra "Mahinda" Rajapaksa (Sinhala: මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂ, pronounced [maˈhində ˈraːɟəˌpakʂə], Tamil: மகிந்த ராசபக்ச; born November 18, 1945) is the 6th President of Sri Lanka and Commander in Chief of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. A lawyer by profession, Rajapaksa was first elected to the Parliament of Sri Lanka in 1970, and served as Prime Minister from April 6, 2004 until his victory in the 2005 Presidential election. He was sworn in for a six-year term as president on November 19, 2005. He was re-elected for a second term in office on January 27, 2010.
Early life and career
Rajapaksa was born in Weerakatiya in the southern rural district of Hambantota. He hails from a well known political family in Sri Lanka. His father, D. A. Rajapaksa, was a prominent politician, independence agitator, Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister of Agriculture and Land in Wijeyananda Dahanayake's government. D.M. Rajapaksa, his uncle, was a State Councillor for Hambantota in the 1930s who started wearing the earthy brown shawl to represent kurakkan (finger millet) cultivated by the people of his area, whose cause he championed throughout his life. It is from his example that Rajapaksa wears his characteristic shawl.
Rajapaksa was educated at Richmond College, Galle before moving to Nalanda College Colombo and later Thurstan College, Colombo. He also had a few cameo roles as a movie actor in Sinhalese movies and worked as a library assistant at Vidyodaya University.
Following the death of his father in 1967, Rajapaksa took over as the SLFP candidate for Beliatta constituency and was elected to Parliament in 1970 as the youngest Member of Parliament at just 24. Later he studied law at the Sri Lanka Law College and took oaths as an attorney-at-law in November 1977. Throughout his parliamentary career, except for the period from 1994–2001 when he was a minister, he continued his law practice in Tangalle.
Member of Parliament
Losing his parliamentary seat in the landslide defeat of the SLFP in 1977, he was re-elected in 1989 to Parliament to represent Hambantota District under Proportional Representation. He came into prominence as a leader, together with Manorani Saravanamuttu, of the Mothers Front, which organised the mothers of the "disappeared" in the white terror of 1988–90 instigated by a rebel group that called themselves Deshapremi Jathika Vyaparaya or 'Patriotic National Movement'.
Appointment as cabinet minister
In 1994, following the election victory of the People's Alliance a political front led by Sri Lanka Freedom Party and headed by Chandrika Kumaratunga, Rajapaksa was appointed Minister of Labour. He held this post until 1997 when, following a cabinet reshuffle, his portfolio was changed to Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Leader of the Opposition
When the United National Party (UNP) defeated the People's Alliance in the 2001 elections, Rajapaksa lost his position in the Government. He was however appointed as Leader of the Opposition in March 2002.
After the Parliamentary Elections of 2004, in which the United People's Freedom Alliance gained a slim majority in Parliament. Rajapaksa was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s 13th Prime Minister on April 6, 2004. While Rajapaksa was the Prime Minister, he also held the Ministry of Highways.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was chosen by Sri Lanka Freedom Party to contest with former Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, Ranil Wickremasinghe, the leader of the United National Party in this Presidential Election held on November 17, 2005. Despite the huge election campaign led by UNP, Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to gain a narrow victory by 190,000 votes. The Opposition claimed that LTTE calling for a boycott of the polls in the North and East from Tamil voters in areas within their control lead to their defeat. Most voters in these areas were forcibly restrained from voting, and it is said that they would have favored Ranil Wickremasignhe and his UNP party in the said election. Rajapaksa received 50.3% of the vote.
After becoming President of Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa reshuffled the cabinet and took the portfolios of Defence and Finance in the new cabinet, which was sworn on November 23, 2005.
Media groups have alleged that media freedom has been curtailed in Sri Lanka during Rajapaksa's term as President. In 2008 Reporters Without Borders ranked Sri Lanka 165th among 173 countries in its annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. The next year, the country was ranked 162. By 2010, following the end of the war, the RSF ranking was 158th. However these ranking have been questioned by independent Sri Lanka newspapers.
RSF’s 2010 Press Freedom Index has Sri Lanka at number 158, nearly tied with Saudi Arabia. This makes the rankings somewhat suspect. In Saudi Arabia, all newspapers are owned by the royal family or their associates. All TV and radio stations are government owned. Saudi journalists are forbidden by law to criticise the royal family or religious authorities and writers and bloggers are routinely arrested. Sri Lanka is obviously not this bad. – Indi Samarajiva, The Sunday Leader
Allegations of war crimes
WikiLeaks made public of secret US cables (Contents of the United States diplomatic cables leak (Sri Lanka)) from 2009–10, stating that American diplomats including Patricia Butenis believed that Mahinda Rajapaksa was responsible for the massacres of Tamil civilians and captured LTTE fighters at the end of the war with the LTTE. The cable also states the responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa, his brothers and General Fonseka.
In April 2011, Ban Ki-moon published a report by a UN-appointed panel of experts, which concluded that as many as 40,000 people were killed in the final weeks of the war between the Tamil Tigers and government forces.
A number of foreign journalists and news teams, such as the UK's Channel Four News, have reported and filmed evidence of targeted shelling of civilians, executions and atrocities. Dead female Tamil fighters appeared to have been raped or sexually assaulted, abused and murdered.
For their part, Rajapaska and his government have denied all allegations of war crimes. Former Sri Lankan Army chief Sarath Fonseka was later prosecuted for an interview which he gave to Frederica Jansz, editor of the Sunday Leader, in which he is stated to have said that surrendering LTTE fighters were executed on the orders of Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Relations with Sarath Fonseka
Immediately following his election in 2005, Rajapaka extended the term of the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army Sarath Fonseka, less that 30 days before he was scheduled to retire. Over the next three and a half years Fonseka and Rajapaksa's brother and Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa led the country's armed forces in their battle against the LTTE, ultimately defeating the Tigers and killing their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Following the end of the conflict, a rift emerged between Rajapaksa and Fonseka, over reasons which are still disputed. On November 15, 2009, Rajapaksa ordered Fonseka to leave his post as Chief of the Defence Staff with immediate effect through a letter from his secretary. Fonseka then joined opposition as the candidate against Rajapaksa in the 2010 Presidential election, at which Rajapaksa emerged victory. Fonseka was subsequently sentenced to two years in jail for various offenses by a Military court martial, a sentence he is currently serving as a result of Sr Lankan governments revenge.
Sri Lankan Civil War
Although styling himself as a man of peace and a willing negotiator, Rajapaksa signaled his intention to end the peace process once in power by forging an alliance with the Sinhalese nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the Jathika Hela Urumaya. The JVP had opposed the original 2002 peace process as treasonous.
The agreement made with Rajapaksa included provisions which called for a revision of the ceasefire agreement to give the military broader powers against the LTTE, as well as ruling out of any devolution of power to the Tamil people. Furthermore, the cessation of aid to the Tsunami struck LTTE occupied areas, and the sidelining of the Norwegian facilitators due to their alleged bias were included.
Immediately following his election victory, a series of mine blasts blamed on the LTTE in the country claimed the lives of many off-duty servicemen and civilians, pushing the country back to the brink of war. Following the closure by the LTTE of a reservoir supplying water to 15,000 people named "Mavil Aru" in government controlled areas on July 21, 2006, the Sri Lankan military launched an offensive against the LTTE, bringing the entire reservoir under government control. Further military engagements have led to the LTTE been driven out of the entire Eastern Province of Sri Lanka and loss of 95% of the territory they controlled.
The content of the President's historic speech in Tamil at the UN was an effort to establish that he is a people's leader representing all the peoples of Sri Lanka, including the Tamil minority.
While my mother tongue is Sinhala, let me elaborate a few thoughts in Tamil. Sinhala and Tamil are the two languages of the people of Sri Lanka. Both these have been used through the centuries, are rich in literature, and are widely used in my country, with recognition as Official Languages.
He said in Tamil adding,
With the widening of democracy in our country, the bonds between the Sinhala and Tamil people of Sri Lanka will grow stronger and remain a major force for its future development. We will march towards a richer freedom and lasting unity that await us as a nation.
He was conferred with two Honorary Doctorates. The first one is a Doctor of Law from the University of Colombo on September 6, 2009. The second degree was awarded by the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia on February 6, 2010 for his contribution for world peace and outstanding success in defeating terrorism.
He was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Peoples’ Friendship University of the Russian Federation in February, 2010 at its 50th anniversary celebrations.
The Visva Bharati University of Calcutta in India conferred on him the title Professor Emeritus for his record on human rights.
Family and personal life
In 1983 Rajapaksa married Shiranthi Wickremasinghe, a child-psychologist and educator. Shiranthi Rajapaksa is the daughter of E. P. Wickramasinghe, a retired Commodore of the Sri Lanka Navy. The Rajapaksas have three sons, Namal, Yoshitha and Rohitha. In April 2010 Namal Rajapaksa was elected as a Member of Parliament for the Hambantota District, obtaining the highest number of preferential votes in his father's former district. Yoshitha was commissioned as an Acting Sub Lieutenant in the Sri Lanka Navy in March 2009.
A number of members of Rajapaksa's family are currently active in politics. One brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa a former military officer who served in the Sri Lanka Army for 20 years is the current secretary of the Ministry of Defense. Another brother Basil Rajapaksa, was elected to the Parliament of Sri Lanka from the Gampaha District obtaining the largest number of votes by any candidate in the April 2010 general election, and was appointed Minister of Economic Development. His eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa has been a Member of Parliament since 1989, and was elected Speaker of the 14th (current) Parliament of Sri Lanka.
Other family members involved in politics include his nephew, Shashindra Rajapaksa, who is the Chief Minister of the Uva Province. Shameendra Rajapaksa (second son of Chamal Rajapaksa), Director SriLankan Airlines, his cousins Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka's ambassador to the United States, Udayanga Weeratunga, Sri Lanka's ambassador to Russia, Prasanna Wickramasuriya, Chairman Airport & Aviation Services Limited Sri Lanka and Rajapaksa's brother-in-law Nishantha Wickramasinghe is the Chairman of SriLankan Airlines.
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