The Sunday Times Editorial

3rd November 1996

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End of an Era

Tomorrow the nation will bid farewell to Junius Richard Jayewardene, President of the Republic for 12 years (1977 - 88), a man who trod the political stage of this country like a colossus for more than half a century.

J. R. Jayewardene was loved and hated in equal measure by the people who voted him in or out of office throughout that tumultuous span of five decades. His politics aroused various passions among his people but they all respected him.

He propelled us into the 20th century though we were 75 years too late. Of course he received a mandate which helped him do it, but he had already fixed his objectives and planned meticulously as how he was to achieve them.

Margaret Thatcher in her biography said that her government was the application of a philosophy, not the implementation of an administrative program.

"Long term economic decline and the debilitating effects of socialism had to be reversed."

"A fundamental change of direction was needed. We stood for a new beginning, not more of the same."

Her words could accurately have reflected J. R. Jayewardene's thinking.

In the process of moving towards his perception of governance to reach his objectives, Parliament was devalued, MPs gave their undated letters of resignation to JR and almost every other institution was coaxed or cajoled into submission.

He changed the Constitution largely to suit his own vision, stripped his rival Sirimavo Bandaranaike of her civic rights and held a controversial referendum to extend the life of parliament without an election.

And yet, Mr. Jayewardene will be remembered as the leader who defeated a run-down socialist government and introduced free market policies which resulted in an immediate resuscitation of the economy.

President Jayewardene was proud to say that he introduced a Glasnost and Perestroika in Sri Lanka long before Gorbachev made the words fashionable in the former Soviet Union.

Sri Lanka soon became a model third world country as the economy "took-off" and people enjoyed better living standards. That was until 1983 when Mr. Jayewardene mis-read the under-currents of a Tamil separatist movement. The riots of that year turned the clock back and Sri Lanka slid again.

Mr. Jayewardene desperately tried to solve the separatist crisis by signing a peace pact with India whom he had earlier accused of funding the separatist guerrillas of Sri Lanka. The pact introduced temporary peace but opened a new front of violence in the South.

Towards the latter stages of Mr. Jayewardene's rule the LTTE in the North and the JVP in the South were at war with the government and two parallel insurgencies plagued the country. President Jayewardene lacked the will to govern.

But by then, Mr. Jayewardene had groomed a line of leaders to succeed him, something no other had done in Sri Lankan politics other than D.S. Senanayake who groomed his son.

Then Prime Minister R. Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake, Lalith Athulathmudali were his chosen successors to be followed by Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The violent politics that has tortured this land has seen Mr. Wickremesinghe thrust before his time to lead the UNP.

Unlike many of his breed who plundered and pillaged the wealth of this country, J. R. Jayewardene and his wife Elena have donated much of their wealth to public trusts. The couple were a shining example of elegance, simple living and right conduct so seldom seen in our public life.

He leaves behind the faithful Elena, son Ravi and a heritage that will be long remembered.

A man who once reigned supreme over everything in this country, now lies silent having served his country and its people with genuine affection.

Everything is transient, impermanent, JR would always say quoting the Buddha.

Aniccavata Sankaara!

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