n yet another historic event for Sri Lanka in this new era of a new political culture beyond party politics, President Maithripala Sirisena who is also the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) yesterday attended the 69th anniversary convention of the United National Party (UNP), to give the keynote address.
This new chapter in Sri Lanka’s history began on January 8 this year with the silent people’s revolution whereby President Sirisena was elected by the sovereign people to lead a yahapalana Government for democracy, transparency and accountability and social justice for a more equitable distribution of the country’s resources. After more than six months of a transitional Government, often plagued by party political turmoil, Sri Lanka’s new journey was stabilised on August 17 when the sovereign people again gave a mandate for the President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a National Government.
For two weeks after that, there was a vacuum with most people wondering whether it was a case of good governance, bad governance or worse still no governance. Yet the President, the Prime Minister and others including former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge worked with patience and perseverance, courage and conviction to lay the foundation for Sri Lanka’s first National Government since Independence in 1948.
Last week was one of the most historic weeks in Sri Lanka. On Tuesday September 1, the new MPs of the 225-member Parliament took their oaths before the unanimously elected Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. At 3.00 p.m. the same evening, President Sirisena from the Speaker’s chair, made the policy statement of the new Government and outlined its vision and goals for multi-religious, multi-racial and multi-cultural unity in diversity. On Thursday, the Prime Minister moved a motion seeking Parliament’s approval to set up the National Government with a larger Cabinet, more than the 30 stipulated in terms of the 19th Amendment. After an intensive and sometimes heated debate, the motion was approved with a huge majority – 143 voting for it and only 16 against while the rest were not present.
On Friday, the new Cabinet was sworn in with President Sirisena reminding the Ministers and all MPs of a gem of wisdom from the Buddha Dhamma. He told them that Gautama the Buddha has said they must not only refrain from corruption, frauds, bribery or any other crimes – they must also refrain from even thinking of any and all such crimes. We hope the Ministers, Ministers of State, Deputy Ministers and MPs will remember this every day and every hour because the Buddha has also said that those who lived according to the Dhamma will be protected by it. Other major religions also proclaim this truth. The fate of the leaders who did not do so in the former regime and the consequences they are facing should also serve as a lesson that those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.
As we enter this new era, the Government needs to remember that we are moving from a promise-giving era to a promise-keeping era. The President and the Premier have pledged that during the next five years, the promises made in the manifestos of the UNP-led alliance, the SLFP, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) would be fulfilled. Words and promises are cheap. The hard and honest work of fulfilling these promises has now started and we hope the new Government will go beyond words, beyond preaching and pontification, and start practising. As the President and the Premier have pledged, all politicians need to now enter into the hallowed principle of a simple and humble lifestyle. Wasteful expenditure, luxuries and vulgar extravagance must be avoided and will not be tolerated by the people. It was reported yesterday that Sri Lanka’s mission at the United Nations in New York was planning another big show, similar to the Rajapaksa era, when the President goes there to address the UN General Assembly sessions. We urge the President to order that this big show be cancelled and the event be made an occasion to demonstrate Sri Lanka’s hallowed culture of ‘alpechchathavaya.’
Constant vigilance is the price of liberty. The media and the people have a major role to play in the coming months and years. The media need to spotlight and expose any event or act that goes against the precepts of good governance, simplicity and honesty. The sovereign people also need to be aware that while their huge turnout at the August 17 elections was commendable, their mission has not ended. The people need to be aware of what is happening and keep a close watch to ensure that the new Government and new Parliament go beyond the desire for personal gain or party glory and act sincerely and sacrificially for the common good of the people.
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