Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cult of personality grows around Sri Lanka's leader

Since the Tigers' defeat, the Buddhist majority sees Mahinda Rajapaksa as a living god

by Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail

As the President's motorcade passed slowly through Colombo Monday, 20-year-old university student Chaturi Waidyasekera pressed her head to the ground, then rose and chanted, “Praise our king.”

Dozens of others did the same, beneath billboards that pictured Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the white robes of a Buddhist deity. Ms. Waidyasekera explained, calmly, that she believes the elected leader of Sri Lanka should remain in office for life because last week he ended a 26-year civil war with the violent defeat of the Tamil Tigers.

“For once in our history we have a leader who has made our island into one kingdom,” she said. “Why do we need elections any more? He is the king we need.” She was actually one of the more moderate voices along the route: For others, the President was nothing less than a living god.

After the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were defeated last week, it seemed like this was simply a victory celebration, a mass depressurizing of a people made tense by years of war. Members of Sri Lanka's majority, Sinhalese-speaking Buddhists, took to the streets in a celebration that lasted days.

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