In a day’s time we will be ringing out the year 2019, and dawning the year 2020. It’s a good time to look back in 2019. A year which dawned with great expectancy that in the aftermath of the 2018 October drama, created by ex-president Sirisena when, having sacked the Prime Minister and dissolved the cabinet, he then again re-appointed the same PM and Cabinet.
The dawn of 2019 seemed like a new beginning, peaceful, with democratic procedures and traditions intact and no fear of violence raising its ugly head.
And so it seemed, the tourist trade was booming, with arrivals between Jan 2019 to March averaging over 240,000 persons a month.
Then out of nowhere on the 21st April (Easter Sunday) local terrorists, allied to the Islamic State exploded six bombs in three churches and three tourist hotels, while another went off at a small guest house at Dehiwela killing 259 people, injuring at least 500 with at least 45 foreigners among those killed.
In the immediate aftermath of the heinous attack, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith the Bishop of Colombo is widely credited by Buddhists and Muslims alike with saving the country from a bloodbath by making a strident call for calm, repeating Christ’s call from the cross when he was crucified by misguided Jews, “...father forgive them, for they know not what they do”
The Cardinal’s call to forgive the misguided bombers saved the country from an angry backlash against the Muslim community. Though the Cardinal called for forgiveness and reconciliation, leaders of the Christian world and even our giant neighbour warned their people against travel to the country.
By May, the country’s tourist trade lay in shambles, with only 37,802 tourist arrivals, a drop of over 70%. Many hotels cut down on staff, thousands of suppliers to large tourist hotels, handicraft manufacturers, and small industries –catering to tourist needs were put out of business.
One of the worst outcomes of the bombing was the polarization of society on religious lines. The worst was probably the betrayal of the people by politicians in positions of power who though having prior knowledge of an impending attack, did nothing to prevent the disaster...
A Minister of State publicly admitted he had been warned not to attend services that Sunday. Yet none of the country’s politicians from the President to MPs or law enforcement authorities saw it fit to warn the ordinary people of this country of the impending disaster. Even today, eight months after the event, no one in authority is yet to take responsibility for the breakdown in intelligence or for not warning ordinary citizens of a possible IS-style attack.
But despite being let down by self-serving politicians the country is limping forward, slowly but steadily. The tourist trade is slowly but surely improving, taxes have been lowered to encourage investment and prices of essential food have been brought down. A sign of hope is building
But the forces of nature conspired against the emerald isle. The rains during the Southwest Monsoon were not sufficient to fill the reservoirs on which power generation and paddy cultivation depend. Records of rainfall indicated a reduction in the rain over the hill country in May and June. The unexpectedly heavy rains and landslides between October and December played havoc with cultivation. It also de-housed thousands and left a trail of death in its path.
In September the Commissioner of Elections announced nominations for the presidential elections due in November. He added he would be accepting nominations between September 15 to October 15.
The announcement triggered a rift within the United National Party (UNP) over the party’s choice for a presidential candidate. The ensuing power struggle further weakened the already slim chances of the party’s nominee
Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) after the formation of the SLPP was unable to put forward a candidate to contest the presidential election.
The Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) were quick to announce their candidates -Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the SLPP and Ananda Kumara Dissanayake for the JVP. With the main political parties in disarray, the SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa steamrolled to victory at the 16 November presidential election. He was sworn in the President on 17 November 2019.
In the north and east UNP nominee swept the board, with Tamil and Muslim political parties supporting the candidate of the UNP -the political party which started the 3-decade-long war against a Tamil insurgency, which evolved into an insurgency due to oppressive measures taken by the UNP regime at that time
O Tempora! O Mores!