Standing at the top of the steps leading to the entrance of the old Parliament building, facing the Indian Ocean, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in for a second six-year term in a simple but colourful ceremony on Friday morning.
The oath of affirmation of the Office of President was administered by Chief Justice Asoka de Silva at the auspicious time 10.16 am, as the President’s wife, Mrs. Shiranthi Rajapaksa, and sons, Member of Parliament Namal, Sub-Lieutenant Yoshitha, and Rohitha, looked on.
The ceremony began shortly after the President arrived at the venue, at around 10.00 am, with the Maha Nayaka of the Asgiriya Chapter, the Most Venerable Udugama Sri Buddharakkitha, administering “pan sil.”
Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga, then read out in Sinhala, Tamil and English the notification from the Commissioner of Elections declaring President Rajapaksa as being duly elected at January’s Presidential polls.
|President Mahinda Rajapaksa greets the crowd after being sworn in for a second term. Pix by Gemunu Wellage
As the President signed the Oath of Affirmation, “seth prith” was chanted by monks in the background and invitees waved the national flag. The “Jayamangala Gatha” – Stanzas of Victory – was recited, after which the President inspected a tri-service guard of honour.
A 21-gun gun salute to the Head of State came next, while more than 1,000 traditional drummers lined up along the Galle Face Green to beat their drums in honour of the President. Students from three girls’ schools – Vishaka Vidyalaya, Sirimavo Bandaranaike Vidyalaya, Colombo, Tangalla Balika Vidyalaya – stood in formation to create the shape of a lotus flower.
President Rajapaksa then addressed the nation.
He said his second term in office would be an “era of development” and prosperity, having seen an end to the threat of separatism in his first term. “I believe the eradication of poverty is greater than the defeat of uprisings. This requires true bravery,” he said.
In a speech that did not exceed 20 minutes, the President touched on the development projects the government had undertaken, and the steps taken to restore democracy in the North and the East. He also refer-red to the government’s policy in regard to other countries.
|Coming down the steps of the Presidential Secretariat after the swearing-in ceremony.
On a more reflective note, the President said it would be his greatest honour to be told by the people some day that he had done his duty by the country.
“There is no higher position you could elevate me to,” he said. “I too do not see any higher position I could achieve in our Motherland. There is only one place I can think of. It is my home at Madamulana, where I will retire to. If, when I go there, the people of this country who meet me tell me with gratitude, ‘You have done your duty by the country’ – that shall be my greatest satisfaction,” the President said.
The ceremony ended with the singing of the national anthem. The President then greeted the special invitees, including the Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed; Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley, and Special Envoy of the Chinese President, Sang Giuowei.
Occupying places of prominence at the ceremony were members of the Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim clergy, the Commanders of the Sri Lanka Army, Navy and Air Force, and two of the President’s most trusted lieutenants – his brothers, Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakasa, and Economic Development Minister, Basil Rajapaksa.
Hundreds of air balloon were released as the First Family left the venue.
The day would not have been complete if the President had not lived up to his image as a “man of the masses.”
As the Presidential entourage was moving away from the venue, the President’s car stopped to allow the President to step out and exchange a few words with the hundreds of his supporters who had come for the historic event.
The main opposition United National Party (UNP) boycotted the Presidential inauguration, saying the accompanying celebrations were extravagant, and inappropriate at a time when the people were facing much economic hardship.