“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
At present, Sri Lanka is going through a tough time. While the country is politically unstable, it is dangerously economically weak, and almost on the verge of collapsing. As citizens of this country, this is indeed an extremely heartbreaking situation, and we have to somehow save our mother country and be partners in saving her, whilst not destroying her any further. We believe that it is the duty and responsibility of all citizens to contribute to paving the path towards a brighter Sri Lanka.
This new series of articles Ceylon Today started last week is to enlighten our readers about Sri Lanka’s recent political history, in order to get a better understanding of the causes of the mess we are in today. We need to know where and how things went wrong, to find solutions for them.
To know more about the political mess we are facing today, we contacted an expert on this subject, Kaushalya Abeywickrama, who is a journalist, author, and researcher on Political Communication. She is also a woman and child rights activist, a motivational speaker, and a life coach. She holds two post-graduate degrees in Mass Communication, and Conflict, Peace, and Development Studies.
Former leader of the Sri Lankan Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party, former Minister of Finance and Leader of the Opposition, and also a former mayor of Colombo, Dr. N.M. Perera (6 June 1904 – 14 August 1979) once stated that, “The presidential system provides the opportunity to wield unlimited power in a limited period of time, but the unlimited desire for power cannot be easily quenched. It is tragic and unfortunate that a State like Sri Lanka which successfully overcame many obstacles and has a great amount of experience with the parliamentary system is now sinking into the depths of a constitutional crisis ultimately endangering even democracy.”
“Studying the recent political history of the country (from 1978 – 2022), we realise how obviously true and timely this statement of Dr. N.M.Perera’s is,” started Abeywickrama.
As she explained it was former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who experienced the immense power of the executive presidency to the fullest, after former President J.R. Jayewardene, who established this office in Sri Lanka.
At the end of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second tenure, a majority of people united together against the immense power of the executive presidency with the aim of demolishing it. The United National Party (UNP), the parent party that established the executive presidency in Sri Lanka, vehemently rejected and criticized it, which shows the grave damage the executive presidency has caused to Sri Lanka.
The 2015 presidential election that elected Maithripala Sirisena as the President proved that the son of an ordinary farmer who didn’t come from a political family could also become the Executive President of the country. Accordingly, it is clear that Sri Lankans were ready and attentive to band together for a common goal of reconciliation and unity.
“Although former President Chandrika Bandaranaike attempted to demolish the executive presidency during her tenure, it was an unsuccessful attempt.”
If the UNP and socialist groups including the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), had formed an alliance and abolished the Executive Presidency’s powers, they would not have known about the immense power the position holds.
“They also wanted to enjoy the power of the executive presidency and therefore, none of them took serious and practical efforts to demolish it.”
Mahinda Rajapaksa and his executive powers
Former President Rajapaksa utilised his executive powers to give leadership to the three-decade war, to put an end to the armed conflict of the LTTE, which is highly appreciated, said Abeywickrama.
However, afterward, it was seen that he was misusing his powers and that the aura of a dictatorial king was forming around him.
As a country and nation that was torn apart by terrorism, ending it, gave enormous power to Rajapaksa; yet, without maintaining this honour, his greed for more and more power and wealth carved a destructive path for him and more importantly for the country.
Those who were around him including political henchmen, biased media, and artists, created a false image of kingship or royalty around Mahinda Rajapaksa. Hence, this enormous power and greed took him on a journey of corruption and nepotism which could have actually ended in glory.
After the war against terrorism, Sri Lanka entered an economic war, specifically during the second tenure of Rajapaksa. The economic pressure on people was notably high.
“While the infrastructure development of the country was progressive, parallelly, corruption was also rising high, far beyond justifiable limits. People accused that all the wealth and power of the country were gathered around one family. Nepotism was practiced to extreme levels.”
The progress of development was received bitterly by the public as the unbearable expenses were seen as unnecessary by the majority of the citizens. Also, meanwhile, certain groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena acted in spreading hatred among communities and fuelling racism and instilling Islamophobia in the Sinhala people’s minds.
“They forgot that Sri Lanka is a country where Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim communities live together. The Rajapaksa regime also ignored the fact that the support of the Tamils and Muslims had aided them to be in power.”
The Muslim Congress (Rauff Hakeem), the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (Thondaman), Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan a.k.a. Karuna Amman, and Chandrakanth Pilleyan had supported Rajapaksa during his time in Parliament.
She further explained that in 2015 he brought the 18th Amendment, and got it approved in Parliament merely to get legal approval to be a presidential candidate for the third time. His unquenchable greed for power led him to do so and the Members of Parliament approved it.
Good Governance or the change that came to power ending the second tenure of Rajapaksa in 2015 was also another unsuccessful regime that failed to straighten the path of the country. As a result of this failure, once again, the Rajapaksas came into power in 2019. Decades of corruption and nepotism, and people’s anger, frustration, and oppression led towards rising of a great public protest.
One must closely study all these to understand the present situation. It is now the time to defeat all the forces that fooled the people of this country for 207 years.
Those who are currently in power, and those who are planning to enter into politics in the future, should remember this; Sri Lanka was a monarchy before 1815 and the Parliament system was established for 207 years and now the Executive Presidency is established in the country. This should be a tool that will create leaders, not dictators or kings.
Sri Lanka needs a true leader, a visionary. The objective of those who are planning to come into power should not be driven by the thirst for power. Politicians who were after power, although they rose into fame, in no time fell out of grace and were loathed by people. You should let power follow you, instead of you running after power. Such power will be a true victory and even after death, such leaders will be remembered fondly by citizens for centuries.
To be continued…
By Ama H. Vanniarachchy