“History repeats itself but in such cunning disguise that we never detect the resemblance until the damage is done”
- Sydney J. Harris
Saturday, the 26th of October 2019 marked the 1st anniversary of last year’s infamous conspiracy, which shook and shocked the entire country and the international community. On this the darkest day in the political history of Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his government and replaced it with a Mahinda Rajapaksa-led government. The President then prorogued Parliament before subsequently dissolving it and declaring a general election thereafter.
This resulted in the country’s democratic forces of various political hues and civil society groups banding themselves together and standing firm against the insidious attack on democracy and the rule of law. A petition jointly filed in the Supreme Court by all government parliamentarians resulted in the Apex Court, in a landmark judgement, ruling that the sacking of the government and dissolution of parliament was a blatant violation of the Constitution.
The 52-day government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to disband and make an ignominious exit while the Ranil Wickremesinghe-led government was re-instated though the repercussions and the ramifications of the conspiracy haunted Sri Lanka, the government and the economy for months on end.
In a special statement on the 1st anniversary, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the victory against the 52-day coup was achieved because of the strengthening of democracy through the 19th Amendment, which helped create a free and independent environment and reaffirm the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law and the other democratic institutions in the country
He pointed out that the successful outcome after 52 days of constitutional crisis was not a personal victory, not a victory for the government or the people who contributed to overcome the crisis, but a victory for the entire country.
“A government that had a majority in parliament was removed without any reason. But after 52 days we were able to quell the coup and re-establish democracy. I take this opportunity to thank all those who contributed to this exercise,” the Prime Minister said. “What I ask of you, therefore, is to commit yourselves to safeguard our hard-won democratic freedoms and the future of this country, regardless of your political views.”
In a parallel event to mark the victory over anti-democratic forces, a collective of civil society groups and trade unions held a vigil under the theme “Pahan Pelahera” at Independence Square on Saturday evening to mark the day that uncertainty, turmoil and chaos was overcome by all those who refused to be cowed down but fearlessly stood up to take a stand to safeguard the democratic values which were under pressure and tested to the core.
Meanwhile, the All-party Parliamentary Select Committee (APC) was appointed on May 22, 2019 to inquire into the April 21 Easter Sunday suicide attacks at three churches and three luxury hotels killing nearly 277 devotees and hotel guests including some 40 foreigners and about 45 children with more than 400 injured, some of them maimed and disfigured for life.
The nine-member PSC, headed by Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri comprised Ministers Rauff Hakeem, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and Ravi Karunanayake and parliamentarians M.A. Sumanthiram, Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka, Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, Dr. Jayampathi Wickramaratne and Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, submitted its 272-page report to Parliament on October 23. (The full report can be accessed from the parliamentary website)
We must not allow these past events amid several others to be forgotten and thus given an opportunity to be repeated at moments when our guard is down while underpinning the truism that if we do not learn from the past, the tendency is to repeat it, which is what we can least afford to do having suffered immensely from such lapses resulting in the tragic incidents which blighted this Island Nation of ours during the past several years
With these two incidents – the October 26 conspiracy and the carnage left behind by the suicide attacks on Easter Sunday, the main focus of this article is to underscore the fact that history is an impersonal but a willing teacher and if we fail to learn the glaring lessons it teaches, history is bound to repeat itself in various disguises with none to blame except ourselves.