he new era of democracy, freedom and good governance, social justice, mercy and humility was launched yesterday by Sri Lanka’s sixth Executive President Maithripala Sirisena with a nationwide address from the historic Buddhist shrine of the Sri Dalada Maligawa.
In a short but farsighted address of deep substance and solemn pledges to fulfil the main pledges in the100-day programme of the new National Unity Government, President Sirisena said Sri Lanka did not need an all-powerful king but servant leaders and he would be the chief servant of the people and a good steward of the country’s wealth and resources, including nature.
President Sirisena, watched live by millions of people, called on all political parties and members of Parliament to co-operate with him in setting up a National Unity Government to build a new Sri Lanka, where there would be multi-religious and multi-racial unity in diversity.
Rising beyond the usual political rhetoric, where promises are made but seldom kept, President Sirisena vowed that the foremost priority of the National Unity Government would be poverty alleviation through social justice to bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources among all the people of the country. He reiterated the pledge that to achieve this goal, the all-party government would take immediate steps to bring down the cost of living by reducing substantially the prices of essential items including fuel.
During the election campaign Mr. Sirisena and other New Democratic Front leaders repeatedly pledged that the cost of fuel would be reduced in line with world market prices, which have plunged from more than 100 US dollars a barrel last year to less than 50 US dollars a barrel last week. That means prices of fuel are likely to be reduced by about 50 per cent soon and this will substantially reduce transport cost and prices of hundreds of other items.
President Sirisena, vowing that he intended to serve not two but only one fixed-year term instead of the notorious third term, pledged that high priority would be given to a constitutional amendment and for changes in the executive presidential system, which gives absolute powers to the President with drastic if not disastrous consequences as we have seen since 1978.
He said he hoped to obtain a two-thirds majority in Parliament for this amendment, whereby the President’s sweeping executive powers would be devolved to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament, so that there would be collective servant leadership for the common good of all the people, sustainable development, lasting peace and unity. President Sirisena said the 17th Amendment—widely believed to be one of the most progressive laws in Sri Lanka—would be re-enacted and the dangerous 18th Amendment revoked.
Through the revival of the 17th Amendment, he said the Government hoped there would be a vibrant, efficient and independent public service, where also the employees would be public servants of the people and an independent, impartial Police service which would be people-friendly and be a refuge for people who were in trouble or needed a help. To revive an independent Judiciary, which was undermined and sabotaged by the 18th Amendment, an independent Judicial Services Commission would also be set up whereby an all-party Constitutional Council would nominate members to the Commission and the independence of the Judiciary would be guaranteed.
This comes in the aftermath of serious events last week, where attempts were made to overturn an order given by the Kaduwela District Judge Wasantha Jinadasa directing State television networks to stop a programme to boost former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in a blatant violation of election laws last Monday. According to our sister newspaper the Sunday Times, very senior judicial officers were at Temple Trees during a pre-dawn operation to stop the counting of votes, when it became obvious that Mr. Rajapaksa was losing. There was also an alleged attempt to get an order that Mr. Rajapaksa could remain as the executive president for two more years, in what a senior lawyer described as “an abortive coup of sorts”.
But thankfully the Elections Commissioner and his staff and most members of the security forces decided to uphold the law while the new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe rushed to Temple Trees and defused the crisis, with Mr. Rajapaksa agreeing to leave Temple Trees by 6.30 a.m. President Sirisena also pledged that the multi-million-dollar corruption and mega deals and the criminalisation of politics would be stopped immediately and with media freedom being revived through the Right to Information Act, any rogues in politics and the State media or elsewhere would have enough rope to hang themselves.
We wish blessings for the all-party National Unity Government that will build a new Sri Lanka as a model for the world.