From 8.00 a.m. on January 8 last year more than 12 million of Sri Lanka’s sovereign people quietly began what turned out to be a silent people’s revolution of the highest historic proportions. The main lesson for Sri Lanka and the world was never underestimate the power of the people or scoff at Lincoln’s legendary statement that the Government is of the people, by the people and for the people.
Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya had quietly set the stage for it by ensuring a fair, free and peaceful vote in polling booths all over the country. Whatever may have happened before the presidential election – with some reports indicating the ruling party had plundered about Rs.250 billion in public resources for party propaganda or handouts – Mr. Devapriya on election day ensured there was no abuse of power. He instructed election officers that they must act without fear or favour. He was like the commander in chief that day but he was unarmed as is symbolic of a peaceful people’s revolution. So were thousands of senior presiding officers, junior presiding officers, other staff at polling stations, the returning officers and other staff at counting centers. The armed security forces were also under the orders of the Elections Commissioner on that day and he told them, perhaps only half jokingly that they could shoot to the head if necessary.
About three months before the historic January 8 presidential election last year the then minister and government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella had announced that the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa would call an early presidential election, about two years before the scheduled date. Most analysts said Mr. Rajapaksa had complete confidence that he could win an unprecedented third term with a comfortable majority, go on till 2018, 2024 or even later like Zimbabwe’s notorious Robert Mugabe and then perhaps hand over to his self-style crown prince Namal Rajapaksa.
So with supreme confidence if not reckless arrogance, Mr. Rajapaksa to mark his 69th birthday on November 20 last year, issued a proclamation directing the Elections Commissioner to hold an early presidential election. Some reports say Mr. Rajapaksa was influenced by his super star astrologer Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena. Other analysts believe Mr. Rajapaksa was looking more at the political stars and wanted a thumping mandate from the people so that he could tuck up his national outfit and take on the international community when the alleged war crimes resolution against Sri Lanka came up for a vote at the March session of United Nations Human Rights Council.
Whatever his short term or long term aims and agendas, close associates if not stooges remarked that Mr. Rajapaksa was so confident he believed even divine powers could not dethrone him.
On November 21 last year the Elections Commissioner duly issued a gazette notification announcing an early presidential election. What happened the next day has been described by author Dinesh Weerakkody as ‘The Great November Revolution’. The three principal figures in it were the then Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, the then United National Party opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga.
According to insiders, Mr. Wickremesinghe and Ms. Kumarathunga had held secret talks for several months and got away with it despite all the telephone tapping by the Rajapaksa dictatorship. Their great drama was to be put on stage the day after the blissfully ignorant Mr. Rajapaksa called for the early presidential election. Mr. Wickremesinghe and Mr. Sirisena were in parliament for the budget debate that year. Around noon with a wink from the opposition leader, Mr. Sirisena and he silently left parliament. Mr. Wickremesinghe called an emergency meeting of the UNP working committee, quickly explained the dramatic turn of events and got its backing for the UNP to support Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate for the presidential election. The drama was fast moving. By 3.00 p.m. Mr. Sirisena accompanied by Ms. Kumarathunga, ministers Rajitha Senaratne, MKDS Gunawardena and Duminda Dissanayake announced the news to an electrified nation.
The revolution openly began on that day till the objective was achieved on January 8 with the victory of Maithripala Sirisena to begin the rebuilding of Sri Lanka on a multi-ethnic, multi- religious and multi-cultural unity where diversity and plurality are not only respected and promoted but also celebrated. Today as we celebrate the first anniversary of this important turning point in our history we all need to recommit ourselves to the spirit of good governance, social justice and democracy with sustainable eco-friendly development. Namo Namo Matha.
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