Four transformative years | Daily News

Four transformative years

Four years ago to this day, a “Rainbow Coalition” of political parties backed Common Presidential Candidate Maithripala Sirisena to take on the powerful incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Election. Defying the predictions of both political analysts and certain astrologers, Sirisena emerged victorious and took oaths as the Executive President of Sri Lanka the very next day.

This was a momentous event in post-independence history. Rajapaksa had ambitions to rule for life as President, having got the term limits abolished via the 18th Amendment. The State media and other State machinery were extensively used to boost Rajapaksa’s image. The odds were really stacked against Sirisena’s victory but he surmounted all these obstacles.

The victory also paved the way for a formal cohabitation between the country’s two main political parties – the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) for the first time ever. This Government was alternatively called the National Unity or Good Governance Government. Although it would not last the full five-year term, it was a fresh beginning in local politics. Much of the credit for this transformation should go to President Sirisena and Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Cracks began to appear in the Government over a variety of issues over the course of two-three years and differences of opinion surfaced between the two leaders as well. One of the first signals came from the February 10, 2018 poll for local bodies which was won by the nascent Sri Lanka Podujana Party or the Pohottuwa Party de facto led by former President Rajapaksa. A little while later, 16 SLFP/UPFA Ministers resigned from the National Unity Government.

Then, in a dramatic move, President Sirisena “sacked” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed former President Rajapaksa in his place on October 26, 2018. While the President maintained that he was constitutionally empowered to do so, many others argued that under the terms of the 19th Amendment this could not be done. The President then dissolved Parliament and set General Elections for January 5, but this was immediately challenged in Court. In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court ruled that the dissolution of Parliament was illegal, which led to the collapse of the interim of 51-day Government. Ranil Wickremesinghe was back on December 16 as the legally appointed Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for a record fifth time.

Whatever the reasons that led to this move, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe are mature statesmen who know that the past is another country. Now the challenge is to put these events behind us and make up lost time (51 days). It is therefore heartening to note that or the most part, the two leaders have not shown any hint of discord thereafter. This is the way forward. This must be thought of as a second lease of life for the 2015 mandate for both the President and the Prime Minister Government to work towards realizing people’s aspirations.

To the eternal credit of both leaders, we now live in a country that is free of fear and suspicion. The Government has ensured the freedom of expression, media freedom and the right to live without fear. President Sirisena as pledged in his political manifesto took measures to curtail the powers of the Executive Presidency. The enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution helped to re-establish Independent Commissions which function outside the influence of the Executive and handle key areas of governance like elections, public service, Police, judiciary and others.

President Sirisena also adopted a tough stance on corruption – a Presidential probe was conducted into the Bond issue, where even the sitting Prime Minister was called in to give evidence, while another Presidential Commission is probing SriLankan and Mihin. Special courts were recently established to expedite the hearing of pending corruption cases.

President Sirisena has also helmed a massive development drive during the last four years including Moragahakanda-Kaluganga project in which he has taken a personal interest. On Sunday, a train ran for the first time on the new Matara-Beliatta line, which is to be extended to Kataragama soon. Being a former health minister himself, he led a vast transformation in the health sector, including many new hospitals.

The Government that came to power on January 8, 2015 has taken a genuine interest in achieving reconciliation among all communities and religious groups in the country. Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have been personally committed to fostering reconciliation among all communities from day one.

When President Sirisena came to power, our international image was at its nadir. However, both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe visited many countries that were previously hostile to us and won the admiration of the global community. The Government opened up to the world, addressing their criticisms and engaging constructively with the International Community.

There is no time now for petty politics. We have suffered enough as a result of the 51-day drama. Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe must now take the lead in guiding the Nation towards the next phase of prosperity and unity, putting aside any differences. 


 

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