If there were any miracles wrought during these last four years to transform Lanka from a pathetic failed state of democracy, tottering on the brink of anarchy and economic despair, into one that had all the new found potential to transcend the vicissitudes of her impish fates and enable her once again to take her [...]


The Miracle of Maithri dawns


If there were any miracles wrought during these last four years to transform Lanka from a pathetic failed state of democracy, tottering on the brink of anarchy and economic despair, into one that had all the new found potential to transcend the vicissitudes of her impish fates and enable her once again to take her rightful seat amongst the civilised nations of the world; then the marvel dawned on Friday evening at the auspicious hour of 6.21 when Maithripala Sirisena was sworn in as the new President of Sri Lanka; and, taking her proffered hand, vowed to lead her to that Elysian Field where bloom the roses of liberty, justice and freedom to all, with its economic fruits served in equal measure.

At that moment in time, resolve born in the depths of a nation’s darkness saw ethereal light as the commitment to halt the nation’s slide down the slippery slope and instead charter a new course to steer her forward in the right direction, crystallised and took substantial form when the triumphant victor was enthroned in office and robed with the legal wherewithal to translate a people’s aspirations to meaningful realisation.

Today, the hundred day honeymoon begins for Maithripala and how he will perform, conceive and deliver the promised bundle of realised goals during this idyllic period when ardour for change is at its peak, when desire for fulfillment is most intense and a people’s pregnant hopes most inspired will determine his own future fate. He must not forget that the nuptial knot is a frail fickle tie that binds him to the nation as president.
The final tally of the election result doesn’t adequately reflect the true extent of Maithripala’s extraordinary achievement. It has been no mean effort on his part to have weathered the tempests that blew and braced the violence that flared during the checkered course of his campaign trail.
As he said in his inauguration speech on Friday, “I had to endure many difficulties, challenges and obstacles during my election campaign. No other presidential candidate had been subjected to such a hate campaign carried out by the state media. Violence was unleashed in several parts

New President Maithripala Sirisena

of the country including the Kahawatta shooting that killed one of my supporters. The time is now right to introduce an enlightened political culture to the country.”

So much for the difficulties encountered once he had decided to run the gauntlet. But three months ago the prospect of anyone defeating the then incumbent president would have been unthinkable. And it would have been considered audacious in the extreme for one in to have even pondered over the matter. Only Ranil Wickremesinghe would have been excused since it would be held he was duty bound to contest as the leader of the opposition and provide Mahinda Rajapaksa with a sparring partner to go through the motions and give the contest the seeming appearance of credibility.

Ever since Prabhakaran was killed on the banks of the Nandikadal lagoon, Mahinda Rajapaksa had been in the uplands of power. Having arrogated to himself all the credit of ending the terrorist war and zealously guarding his kudos hoard like a miser holds his gold, his daily public bath of war glory had succeeded in gaining for him a deathless place of gratitude in the people’s depthless hearts. This in turn created the armour of invincibility no mortal could dent. Ultimately it was not that Maithri won for any imagined ability but that Mahinda lost for his failure to reap the rewards of peace.

Many reasons have been advanced and many more will be advanced in the days to come to account for Mahinda’s election catastrophe. Here he was the incumbent president, who had been in the all powerful office for nine years and was supremely confident of victory to go for a snap election, even though he had two more years of tenure to run.

All the trappings of his high office were his to command and be utilised to influence the electorate. The state propaganda machinery was at his exclusive disposal to promote him ad nauseam and keep him constantly in the public eye. Every lamppost and every culvert on every traversed street and road was reserved to adorn his giant cutouts and posters and, as alleged by the opposition, even state resources were there to be used to further his election successes. Why, he had even the comforting blessings of his in-house personal astrologer to go for gold and hold the election. He could set and did set the date most auspicious for him to win. Plus, along with the carpeted roads and the express highways, the Hambantota port and the Mattala airport, he had the evergreen wreath of laurels earned with the war victory to adorn and crown his head. So why did he lose?
The opposition’s main war cry had been the abolition of the executive presidency. While it served to rally political parties together to form a common ground of agreement, it is doubtful whether it possessed sufficient emotive appeal to dislodge Mahinda from Sinhala hearts. Suffice to say for the present that the complex issue of the executive presidency, along with a host of other factors such as the high cost of living and lack of basic facilities notably in schools and hospitals in rural areas may have contributed to take the sheen off the war glory to a certain significant extent.

But what may perhaps have most shifted the scale of public opinion is the utter breakdown of law and order made more glaring with the introduction of the much decried 18th Amendment to the Constitution. In these last few years injustice is not only been done but is seen to be done. The ex-President’s proud proclamation that the country was no longer divided on Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim lines and that there were only two communities in Sri Lanka, namely those who are patriotic and those who are traitors had increasingly come to mean those who are with the Rajapaksa regime and those who are not.

This had led to scandalous instances where law enforcement has been done on a selective basis. The police have studiously looked askance when offences are committed by those loyal to the regime while moving swiftly to hound those not overtly flying the Rajapaksa flag, To mention an example, an SLFP mayor was allowed to run amok toting a pistol on a public road without fear of arrest and his lame duck excuse that it was a toy pistol was at first calmly accept without question. The murderer of a British tourist and the rapists of his Russian girlfriend were allowed to enjoy the broad acres of the land because the main suspect was the UPFA chairman of the Tangalle Pradesiya Sabha and it took the intervention of the British prime minister to force the Rajapaksa Government to have the chairman arrested and indicted in court.

Drugs rule Lanka and the overlords roam the land without the slightest dread of arrest. Chits are issued from the Prime Minister’s office asking Custom officials to release cargo which contain heroin worth millions but investigations produce no result; nor is anyone held responsible.

It is also to the policy of selective law enforcement determinedly followed by the police and gallantly defended by the police TV star each night that had enabled corruption and graft to thrive at an unprecedented level. How politicians who practise the profession in the name of serving the public have been able to purchase swank houses and land and even buy up big businesses on their meagre fixed incomes do not kindle the curiosity of income tax officials and the explanation of these political nouveau riche that they have other incomes from other businesses, are accepted as uttered on scouts’ honour without even an attempt to probe what those other businesses are and how those businesses are able to churn out such massive profits in so short a time? A good illustration of this is when Minister Mervyn Silva was asked on national television how his son could afford to own an expensive sports car as alleged by Rosy Senanayake. Mervyn Silva’s final answer to this was to tell the interviewer, “We have our private businesses. Don’t forget we are a business family.”

One of the first acts of President Maithripala Sirisena should be to appoint the commission he promised he would set up to deal with corruption. Every allegation of corruption and bribery against politicians must be probed and the offenders must be dealt with in accordance with the law. The daylight plunder of the public coffers must be stopped and unjust enrichments made must be refunded to the Treasury. If no action is taken against those who face charges now, it will be considered as blanket immunity granted to those now waiting in line to take office under Maithri regime to brazenly embezzle.

Had Mahinda Rajapaksa chosen to be content with the two terms of office the Constitution allowed him and had decided to graciously retire to private life, he would have been held as the uncrowned king of Lanka for being the architect of the triumph over terrorism. And even as the Pope arrives in Colombo on the 13th to canonise Father Joseph Vaz after his beatification in 1995, Lanka today would have had her own Saint in the making in the form of Mahinda. Elected by the masses in 2005, crowned by war glory in 2010 such a gracious noble stepping down would have beatified Mahinda Rajapaksa.

But alas, he chose to seek a third term. With the help of the 17 UNP members whom he had persuaded to turncoat in 2007, he was able to gain the necessary two-thirds majority to amend the Constitution in 2010, which abolished the two term limit.

In November last year he even sought an opinion from the Supreme Court as to his eligibility to contest for the third time merely to clear the air of any doubt. He received an ‘all clear’ judgment from the judges. And, with Heaven’s malice granting his ambition’s prayers, received a clear verdict of ignominious defeat from the people.

Now it’s time to raise a toast to the man who made possible the true miracle of Lanka: to President Maithripala Sirisena who has, no doubt, learnt from the follies of his predecessor, that genuine stability of the state is achieved only by securing democracy and strengthening the democratic institutions of government. Not by inflating the image and ego of the Head of State to bursting point when it only needs a pin prick for the bubble to burst and for the mirage to vanish.

Good health Mr. President; and may your every endeavour to transform Lanka to a truly democratic nation, a land where peace dwells and prosperity thrives truly succeed. May the Noble Triple Gem and the Gods bless you and Lanka.


Does a papal visit jinx Lankan leaders’ victory hopes?

Though any future Lankan President or Prime Minister may turn head over heels with blessed joy or go down on all fours and roll out the red carpet of welcome to any visiting future Pope to the country, yet, if he displays the slightest hesitation in extending the gilt edged invitation to the Holy Father to sojourn in Lanka, the Holy Father in the Holy See may well understand, forgive and sympathise with his predicament.
For who can blame any future Lankan Head of State or a Prime Minister if he expresses disquiet in having to extend the initial invite? In the backdrop of events in the past he may well be issuing his own invitation to attend his own funeral not in body but in spirit only and that too only from afar.

Pope Francis

Consider the series of events that have occurred in the past.

In 1970, Dudley Senanayake was the UNP Prime Minister of Ceylon when the arrangements were made regarding Pope Paul VI’s stopover visit to Lanka after a tour of Asia and Australia. This was the first visit of any Pope to Lanka and, though the mass was to be held on the airport’s tarmac on December 4 and the Pope was to fly home to Rome on the 5th, it was duly considered to be of historic importance to warrant national enthusiasm. At the General Election held on May 27, 1970, the SLFP’s Sirima Bandaranaike was swept to power and was Prime Minister of Ceylon when Pope Paul VI arrived in December.

Twenty four years later in 1994, it was the turn of the UNP President D. B. Wijetunge to extend an invitation to John Paul II to visit Lanka in January 1995. It was the second visit of a Pope to the island, an important one during which the Holy Father was to celebrate the beatification of Father Vaz. On November 9, 1994 presidential elections were held and Chandrika Bandaranaike became the President of Lanka. And once again, though a UNP president had invited the Pope, it was a SLFP President Chandrika who had the honour of welcoming the Pilgrim Pope to the country on the 20th of January 1995.

In October last year ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa flew to Rome with an entourage of Lankan Catholics to personally extend his invitation to Pope Francis to visit the island on January 13, 2015, not even a week after the presidential elections. Once again, history has repeated itself and it will not be the SLFP President Mahinda Rajapaksa who invited but the new NDF President of Lanka Maithripala Sirisena who will be the official host to welcome His Holiness Pope Francis.

If the first was a mere hiccup, and the second a coincidence, what do you call the third quirk where the invitee loses office to a challenger and it is the victorious challenger who welcomes the Pope and basks in the international glory of a papal visit? A jinx on the incumbent ruler, who is doomed to defeat?

Or, as the Good Book holds, there is no place in the divine order of things for a Third Coming even for the Almighty’s son.

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