With the Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe administration completing one week today, we have seen more political, attitudinal and structural changes in one week than during the past ten years.
The latest move yesterday was a major political and administrative change which is seen as a significant step towards finding a just and fair political solution to the ethnic conflict. President Maithripala Sirisena announced he was appointing the former Foreign Secretary, veteran diplomat and international human rights activist H.M.G.S. Palihakkara as the Governor of the Northern Province. He will replace former Governor Major General G. A. Chandrasiri who, according to independent analysts, was widely seen as running a parallel provincial administration since his appointment after the war ended in 2009. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is supporting the new National Unity Government, has for several years asked for the appointment of a civilian Governor and yesterday’s move is likely to open the door for a political dialogue to bring about lasting peace and sustainable development in all parts of the country.
Another major event this week was the visit of Pope Francis with more than 1.3 million people taking part in the three major events -- the ceremonial motorcade from the BIA to Colombo on Tuesday, the Holy Mass at the Galle Face Green on Wednesday for the canonisation of Sri Lanka’s first saint Joseph Vaz and the visit to the hallowed shrine of Madhu in the Mannar District. It was the biggest-ever turn out for any public event in Sri Lanka’s history, though one of the most significant and unannounced events of the Pope’s journey of peace received relatively little publicity. On the way from the BIA in Katunayake to Colombo, the Pope made a surprise stop at the Agrashravaka Temple in Maradana. This was at the request of the Sri Lanka Mahabodhi Society Leader the Ven. Banagala Upatissa Nayaka Thera who had greeted the Pope at the airport and requested him to visit the temple. The Pope oblidged and, like others do, he removed his shoes and went barefoot to the temple where he listened to the chanting of pirith. The Mahabodhi Society Prelate, known to be involved in inter-religious dialogue then paid the highest honour to Pope Francis by having a special exposition of the Sacred Relics of two of the Chief Disciples of the Buddha. Such expositions are normally conducted only once a year.
As Pope Francis left Sri Lanka yesterday, millions of people were sad but he left behind a hallowed message to abide in love through a spirit of servant leadership where the leaders act justly, show mercy and walk the talk with humility. Sri Lanka’s new administration was also moving towards servant leadership through a simple and humble lifestyle or ‘Alpechchathawaya’.
The Cabinet of the National Unity Government was slashed from the earlier regime’s 70 to 27, with President Sirisena telling the ministers and top public officials that they need to lead by example, walk the talk and live in a simple and humble way. He and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have repeatedly warned that anyone who did not uphold the rule of law or indulged in any corruption will be strictly dealt with. As an important step towards this, the new government will introduce a Code of Conduct for MPs next month and anyone found guilty of violating this code will be sacked from Parliament.
On Wednesday the new Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera accompanied by a team of top lawyers made an official complaint to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) that the Rajapaksa regime had allegedly attempted to indulge in undemocratic illegal methods and to stage a coup to suspend the election. He also said that the new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe when he went to Temple Trees before dawn on January 9 to defuse the crisis had seen Chief Justice Mohan Peiris there. The Foreign Minister has asked the CID to conduct a full probe and check the close circuit television cameras to see who was doing what at Temple Trees on that night of destiny.
With former President Mahinda Rajapaksa saying on Wednesday night he was ready to hand over the leadership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party to President Sirisena, people are now eagerly awaiting the next meeting of Parliament on January 19 and the January 29 interim Budget which is expected to substantially reduce the cost of living including a 50 per cent cut in fuel prices. May all beings be happy.