Unveiling his election manifesto with national security at its top priority, Presidential hopeful Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised today, among other things, a non-aligned foreign policy, corruption-free governance and constitutional reform that gives pride of place to the will of the people.
At a glittering ceremony held at the Nellum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre in Colombo this morning, candidate Rajapaksa outlined his policy framework for a future Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)-led government.
“We see national security is a foremost obligation of the government,” he said, adding that security forces, police and civil defence personnel will be protected on his watch.
Protecting the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will also be high on the Rajapaksa agenda.
“We will not allow any foreign entity to influence our sovereignty,” he said.
Rajapaksa also promised governance that is free of corruption and respects the rule of law.
” We all respect democracy and universal franchise and bow down to the will of the people,” he said.
Repeating the SLPP’s “one law, one country” mantra, Rajapaksa said the law ought to apply to everyone equally. He also promised to develop bureaucratic infrastructure to expedite pending court proceedings.
The SLPP’s 10-point manifesto can be broken down thus (as translated from Sinhala): A prioritised national security agenda; a non-confrontational, non-aligned foreign policy; clean, corruption-free governance, constitutional reform answerable to the people; human resource development with a focus on increased productivity; a people-centric economy; a technological society; physical resource development; a new environment policy with a focus on law reform; establishing a disciplined and lawful society.
In addition to these, Rajapaksa highlighted key issues that he said need immediate resolution, chief among which is the cost of living.
“Many people are suffering due to the high cost of living. A relief package will be unveiled soon to address this,” he said.
Poverty alleviation will also figure prominently on the Rajapaksa agenda, he said.
“Economic stability for every citizen is our goal, which will see an end to using poverty for political gain and instead focus on eradicating poverty completely. We envision a future generation that is productive and doesn’t depend on anyone,” he said.
One area that received much attention in Rajapaksa’s speech was education.
“The 21st century is a knowledge century. The centre of gravity of the global economy is now shifting towards Asia. To take the maximum benefit out of this trend, we need knowledgeable youth with the capacity to find gainful employment or engage in entrepreneurship – not just in the local job market, but internationally too. Education is key in this regard. This we shall achieve through education reform,” he said.
Repeating a promise he had made on the campaign trail, Rajapaksa said every student who passes the GCE Advanced Level examination will be offered a university education, and investments will be made to make this goal a reality.
The candidate also promised a four-year nursing degree, with employment opportunities abroad.
In other promises, Rajapaksa said debt incurred by farmers in natural disasters will be forgiven, and the highly politicised fertiliser subsidy will be given free of charge. Farmers will also be encouraged to make the switch to organic fertiliser, he said.
On the fiscal front, Rajapaksa promised to reduce Value Added Tax (VAT) by 8% and also to discontinue PAYE tax paid by state and private sector employees.
“We are expecting much development in the services sector. We have a plan to boost tourism into a USD 10 billion industry,” he said, adding that Sri Lanka’s strategic location will be made use of in developing aviation and ports along with other transport infrastructure development.
“One of our first priorities is to add value to our exports. There will be no exports without value addition. Innovation will also be encouraged,” he said, adding that reexporting of agriculture products will be prohibited under an SLPP government.
Expressing a desire to see Sri Lanka become a business hub in the region, Rajapaksa also made a promise of creating one million jobs over the next 10 years.
Under a Rajapaksa presidency, he went on to say, the drugs menace will come to an end in a short period of time, though he did not elaborate on the methods. Political and institutional corruption, he said, will be prevented through a robust mechanism.
“There will be no room for corruption in a government led by me,” he said.
“None of these ideas expressed in this manifesto is an empty political promise. As someone who has always carried out all duties entrusted to me, I promise to do the same this time,” he added, calling on the public to take the first step towards ushering in a new, developed Sri Lanka on 16 November.