|Thursday, 2 September 2004|
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SLFP's forward march
As the Sri Lanka Freedom Party reaches another milestone in its eventful history - today being the 53rd anniversary of its founding - it is only right that we focus on some of the principal personalities of the party who gave it direction and guidance over the years.
As is well known, the founding of the SLFP by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike in 1951 was a historical necessity. Essentially, the SLFP was the crucial catalyst in the establishment of what has come to be known as the "Common Man's" era. Until 1956, when the SLFP was swept to power by an unprecedented people's mandate, it was the Anglicized intelligentsia of Sri Lanka which wielded power through its pet political party, the UNP.
With the insight of genius, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike realised that the people could never come into their own as long as they didn't have an alternative political party to the UNP. Hence the formation of the SLFP and its subsequent, historic triumph at the 1956 poll.
It was left for Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike to take forward the unfinished agenda of 1956. This was largely a Social Democratic agenda which envisaged a prominent role for the State in the fulfilment of the socio-economic aspirations of the people. Equally significantly, the people needed to be empowered through a republican form of government.
The foundation for this was established through the Republican Constitution of 1971. The ULF Government which ushered in this change was presided over by former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
While the gains for the people were considerable through these ground-breaking political changes, sections of the Tamil community perceived reasons for dissatisfaction. Had their lot been changed for the better by the Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam pact of 1958, their grievances could have been prevented from aggravating. However, the opportunistic opposition to the pact which was spearheaded by the UNP, ensured still-born status for the B-C pact. The ethnic conflict was thus left rankling within our body politic.
It was left to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to kickstart the peace process and take it forward. The non-communal, egalitarian and impartial mindset of President Kumaratunga is proved by the fact that Sri Lanka has not experienced any communal violence since 1994.
The PA Government's draft constitution of 2000, which promised an unprecedented degree of empowerment for the Tamil people, was aborted by the UNP, once again. However, the President's peace exertions have not ceased. Efforts are underway to get the peace process moving. In fact, the UPFA Government is on record that it is for tolerance and peace and is absolutely against war. A new Constituent Assembly and a new constitution are also high on the Government's agenda.
President Kumaratunga has inherited a Sri Lanka which is vastly different to that of her parents. The challenges of the early 21st century are different to those of the fifties and sixties and the outlook of the SLFP too has been changed accordingly.
With immense clarity of vision, President Kumaratunga has been attaching priority to educational reforms and scientific and technological advancement. Today the teaching of English and ICT take pride of place in the Government's educational agenda. The President's educational reforms were stymied by the former UNP regime but they are now back on track.
Women and children have a special place in the President's heart. This is why the welfare of our migrant women is being looked into by State agencies and Task Forces. The National Child Protection Authority, a brainchild of the President, is doing yeoman service for our children.
The people's welfare has never escaped the President's attention. Today, drought victims are receiving unheard of benefits from the State.
The SLFP under President Kumaratunga, then, has come a very long way. With the President at the helm, we are certain, the SLFP would continue to break new ground.
Produced by Lake House