Mangala Through the Eyes of His Colleagues

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By Methmalie Dissanayake

Parliament moved a motion of condolence with respect to the Late Minister Mangala Samaraweera on Friday (11), after suspending the Standing Orders for the day. The MPs in both Government and Opposition recalled fond moments they shared with the outspoken politician. Samaraweera’s family members were in the visitors’ gallery in the Chamber when the condolence messages were read. 

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa

“Mangala maintained a unique political vision until his demise.” 

The late Mangala Samaraweera will be in the hearts of the people for a long time. He received education from Royal College, Colombo and obtained his first degree from a university in London. After that, he came back to Sri Lanka and entered into political arena as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Matara District Organiser. He was elected to Parliament in 1989 for the first time. 

Since then, he represented Parliament for 31 years. Mangala maintained a unique vision throughout his political career, until his demise. He always worked hard to make his vision come true. He stayed true to his vision, what he believed despite many challenges. That becomes clear when studying his maiden parliamentary speech in 1983 and all the other speeches he made in Parliament until his last in 2020. 

He and I worked as Co-conveners in ‘Maw Peramuna’ (Mothers’ Front) during the 88/89 insurrection. He worked hard to end the 17-year rule that made the people suffer severely. Since he was appointed as a Cabinet Minister in 1994 for the first time he held significant ministerial portfolios including the Finance Ministry as well as the Media Ministry. Mangala always believed in reconciliation and came up with creative ideas in political arena. No matter, how many challenges came, he firmly stood true to what he believed. 

Later, he joined a different path of politics than mine. However, we stayed good friends even after that. When I contested the Presidential Election 2005, I went through many difficulties and I cannot ever forget the support he gave me to overcome those challenges. 

Mangala had identified the culture of Matara and served the people in the District whenever he was appointed as a minister. That is why he was very popular in Matara District. 

When he announced resignation from politics I called him and requested not to do so. Because, an opponent like Mangala is essential for Sri Lankan politics. The reason for that is he never mixed politics with personal affairs. He never launched personal attacks and revenges on his political opponents. 

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa 

“Mangala stood for media freedom and democracy.” 

Mangala Samaraweera was a politician who stood for the political view he believed in and never hesitated to leave whatever coalition he was in, in the event he could not maintain it. 

He believed in technology and modern approaches with regard to the development of both the country and the economy. Many criticisms were thrown against him, but he always managed to address such criticisms properly and bravely. It should be remembered that Mangala never suppressed or attacked critics but at times he corrected if there were flaws. He stood for media freedom and democracy, always. 

During the tenure of Yahapalana Government, Mangala allocated a colossal sum of money for the Housing Ministry. He supported me to continue housing projects for the people. Even before I was announced as the presidential candidate in 2019, there was a massive rally. Mangala was the one who had organised it. 

Mangala never forgot the Matara District and the electorate that elected him to Parliament. Anyone can see how he displayed gratitude for Matara District people by looking at the service he delivered to the people in the District. He was a politician who loved the environment. At the same time, he was a great diplomat and paved the way for the country to build international relations with crucial countries and persons. 

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe

“Mangala wanted to see reconciliation based on Sri Lankan identity.” 

I saw three phases in Mangala’s character, throughout his political journey. One was from 1989 to 2005. Mangala developed Sri Lanka Telecom and Colombo Port at that time. Then he worked with Mahinda Rajapaksa when the latter became President. As the Foreign Minister, Mangala worked hard to extend the international ban on the LTTE. He became an independent MP afterwards. 

Mangala was a politician who always believed in reconciliation which should be based on a Sri Lankan identity. 

I called Mangala Samaraweera on 23 August 2021 while he was receiving treatments for Covid-19 complications. Unfortunately, he passed away the following day. Everyone tried to save his life from Covid complications. 

The second phase of Mangala was seen in the period that he worked with the UNP. He coped with the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) as the Foreign Affairs Minister. He rendered a great service to the nation by doing so. He stood against the LTTE. However, he tried to move forward the content of the then President Rajapaksa and Ban Ki-moon’s Joint statement. 

Every one of us wanted to see reconciliation in the country. That was our common goal. However, we had our differences as to how the reconciliation should be achieved. Even then, we wanted to see a reconciliation based on one Sri Lankan identity. 

It cannot be forgotten as to how Mangala helped the youth to achieve their dreams through the ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ programme. 

The third phase I saw came after his resignation from parliamentary politics. He announced that he would not compete in the 2020 General Election. When I asked him about his decision to resign from politics, he said to me that he wanted to ponder over the developments in politics. Mangala was a brave politician who faced any kind of challenge that came across his way. 

Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando

“Mangala was a front-liner of king makers.” 

Mangala Samaraweera can undoubtedly be described as a political leader who had the political acumen and ability to read the minds of the people. He was one of the most creative and king-makers in Sri Lankan politics.

He was a politician who never changed his ideology. He was also a leader who maintained equal relations with all classes, religions, ages and all political groups in the society.

In terms of the ministerial posts he held in Sri Lankan politics and their powers and responsibilities, it was second only to the office of President and the post of Prime Minister. He was a close friend of all, regardless of his political affiliation.

JJB MP Vijitha Herath “Mangala was never a racist.” 

He presented his policy accurately. Mangala did not waver in his position despite the initial obstacles. That was the special characteristic of him. He was never a racist and was never afraid of challenges.

His political journey was challenged at many times. He had to face some challenges and retreat from politics, but he did not discourage. He continued the political journey with his policy. Although there were many policy differences between us, he was a close associate in politics as well as a good friend of ours. 

He had been in a clear position lately in establishing independent commissions for democracy in the country, especially for the abolition of the Executive Presidency. At first, he believed in the Executive Presidency, but he realised in practice that the Executive Presidency was a blow to democracy in our country.

He gave the fullest support in establishing the independent commissions in drafting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. He worked to make State institutions, the judiciary and the Police independent institutions. 

He was a controversial figure in politics with his revolutionary views. That is why the MPs have different views on the character of Mangala Samaraweera.

His contribution to the turning points in the politics of our country was invaluable. People will never forget him. We always appreciate how he worked for the country and society during his lifetime. He will be in our hearts forever.

SJB MP Rauff Hakeem

“Mangala spoke against discrimination against minorities, even when that affected his political career.”

Mangala Samaraweera had always been a voice for the rights of the minority communities in the country. He never hesitated to speak out against the statements made by some Buddhist leaders, against the Muslim community. Such personalities are very rare.

Samantha Power, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations wrote on her Twitter account that Mangala had good relations with international leaders. He always spoke for rights and spoke boldly against the views of those against the Muslim community. 

He also took to his Twitter page to protest against the views of some Buddhist religious leaders on discrimination against Muslim businessmen. 

That was when the Muslim population in the Matara District that he represents is only two per cent. Knowing that his statement would affect his political life, he did not hesitate to speak up for the truth. He did not have two-faces. 

He was not someone who ran away from the truth. He was firm in his principles.

IITAK MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam

“Mangala told me not to call him ‘sir’” 

Although I did not know Mangala Samaraweera personally, he had sent me a text message praising me after hearing one of my speeches. When I called him ‘Sir’, he told me not to address him like that, but to call him ‘Mangala’. He had the support of a large group of young people. My feeling is that if he is alive today, that group would have had the strength to make a bigger difference in this country. 

We hope that team will continue to play the role he hoped for. His vision for young Sri Lankans has been greatly appreciated. He had also expressed his displeasure over the manner in which the war had taken place during the 2005 era. It could have been one of the reasons as to why he was removed from the ministerial portfolio at that time. He had started discussions with some diaspora groups. But unfortunately he could not finish the discussions he started. 

However, he should be thanked on behalf of the people of the North and East for his service. He always stood up for his motherland after the war. Mangala Samaraweera should be introduced as a friend of the oppressed people of the North and East. I am saddened by the loss of a friend like him. 

SLFP MP, State Minister Dayasiri Jayaekara

“Respecting everyone despite their ethnicity is a great lesson that could be learnt from Mangala.” 

We are deeply saddened by the loss of someone like Mangala who should have been in Parliament. There was a time when we had to wait for years to get a telephone in Sri Lanka. People had to go after ministers and government MPs to request telephones. As the Minister of Telecommunication Mangala Samaraweera gave large number of telephones for rural areas and made a great revolution in telecommunication in the country. He did a lot of work as the Minister of Urban Development. The Galle Face Green, as well as the city of Matara and several other areas were developed under the guidance of him. He delivered a significant contribution to the media field as the Minister of Mass Media. Seeing that there were flaws and shortcomings in the media field at that time, he advocated for creativity in the media. 

He took part in programmes such as ‘Sudu Neluma’ (White Lotus) and ‘Thawalama’ and expanded them throughout the country. It was done to find the necessary political solution to the National Problem. Respecting Sinhala and Tamil languages equally was an important lesson learned from the life of Mangala Samaraweera. It must be said that he was a very democratic leader.

Mangala Samaraweera goes down as the first person in the history of Sri Lanka to request the people not to vote for him when contesting in a parliamentary election.