“Blessed is the nation which in its moment of greatest challenge and peril can produce a moral and intellectual leadership that has the vision and the courage to meet and overcome both.” These prophetic lines were penned in the 1980s by the then Lanka Guardian Editor Mervyn de Silva, widely seen as one of the doyens of journalism in Sri Lanka.
It all began on January 8, when people from all corners of Sri Lanka yearning for a palpable change in governance elected Maithripala Sirisena as Sri Lanka’s new Executive President, and by virtue of this office he was vested with absolute power through the 1978 Constitution and subsequent changes, especially the 18th Amendment. What happened thereafter will feature prominently in the history books of Sri Lanka.
April 28 was the momentous day on which Sri Lanka changed course marking another milestone in its history. Amid great expectations, hopes, a people’s mandate on the one hand, and attempts at sabotage, disruption and uncertainty on the other; the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was approved with a two-thirds majority after its third reading in Parliament at 11.15 p.m.
The kudos should undoubtedly go to President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who stood up strong and unwavering, and led the government to achieve its objective in the midst of all the flak, bickering and relentless pressure by the opposition to thwart the 19A.
The consensus reached after a busy day of arguments and counter-arguments ended up as an occasion for all Sri Lankans to breathe a deep sigh of relief and say hurrah for freedom unlike some others who preferred slavery to freedom and continue being sycophants of the autocratic regime that was toppled, just over 100 days ago.
It was outrageously funny to see the parliamentarians, who without a whimper had paid homage to the Rajapaksa Regime for nearly ten years and had unhesitatingly raised their hands and opted for slavery under the 18th Amendment tabled in the then Parliament, do their utmost to block the 19A.
With the breath of fresh air that pervaded the country on January 8, came a new-found freedom for these pseudo patriots, who at every turn attempted to obstruct this government by launching a relentless attack on the people’s mandate to abolish or prune the absolute powers of the executive presidency.
Dinesh Gunawardene, G.L. Peiris, Bandula Gunawardene, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Wimal Weerawansa were the most vociferous of the opposition parliamentarians. They said little or nothing against the Casino Bill or the Port City Project the details of which were not revealed in the Cabinet or in Parliament. Their silence as members of the then Rajapaksa government was ear-splitting.
We saw how the State media - electronic and print-lambasted and character-assassinated the common opposition candidate and the then Opposition Leader slinging buckets of mud morning, evening and night. What these pseudo patriots did best during the previous regime was to sing the praises of the autocratic Rajapaksa regime and ‘describe the colours of the emperor’s new clothes’ till the bubble burst, when the then Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena quit the government and stepped into the unknown - at the risk of his life to challenge the then all-powerful President Mahinda Rajapaksa whom many thought was invincible.
President Maithripala Sirisena was the only President of Sri Lanka, and probably in the world, who consistently, consciously and conscientiously died to selfishness, self-centredness and the greed for power while vowing to voluntarily relinquish the absolute powers bestowed on him as President of Sri Lanka.
He has practised what he preached and walked the talk unlike other world leaders barring the late and great Nelson Mandela, who also died to self-centredness and the greed for power. It is the duty of all Sri Lankans to make certain that President Maithripala Sirisena’s sacrifice is not wasted, and will be an opportunity for the people to enjoy the fruits of justice, peace and harmony which was heralded on January 8, and reinforced on April 28. Let us be ever vigilant to foil the attempts by the forces of destruction to sow seeds of hatred, division and disharmony.
“It was the worst of times, it is the best of times; it was the age of foolishness, it is the age of wisdom; it was the age of incredulity, it is the age of belief; it was the season of darkness, it is the season of light; it was the winter of despair, it is the spring of hope; we had nothing before us, we have everything before us….” It’s from the preamble to the Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens but in a slightly reversed order.