Looking back | Daily News

Looking back

Exactly three years ago, the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Maithripala Sirisena, took a giant step in his personal, and, political life that was to transform the political landscape of this country, perhaps irrevocably so. Taking the whole country by surprise, Sirisena, sporting a jubilant smile, was shown on television, walking to the Town Hall, to the tumultuous ovation of UNP supporters, flanked by then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, and, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Joining them were ministers in the Rajapaksa government, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Duminda Dissanayake, M.K.D. S. Gunawardena, MPs Arjuna Ranatunga, Rajiva Wijesinha and Wasantha Senanayake.

The die had been the cast for a monumental transformation in the country’s political landscape, with Sirisena being the standard bearer in that change. In war they say, it is the element of surprise, that, more than anything else, which contributes to the defeat of the enemy, and, so it proved to be the case, with Maithripala Sirisena, who played his cards close to his chest, until the eleventh hour, before delivering the sucker punch.

But, it was only the beginning. Much needed to be done, monumental challenges to be overcome, if victory was ultimately going to be his. Walking out of the government, as a minister, and, General Secretary of the SLFP, to consort with the enemy, certainly was not going to be viewed kindly, by Mahinda Rajapaksa. The climb to the peak, was, by no means going to be a cake walk. There were mountainous obstructions, and, obstacles, to overcome, for the Common Candidate.

But the challenge was accepted in earnest. There was a surge of public opinion, calling for change, in the existing setup, that added a spur to the forward journey of Maithripala Sirisena. He had the solid backing of the UNP, and, all the forces that were marshaled against family rule. The Rajapaksa brigade, perhaps, for the first time, in their decade long rule, started seeing red and took every step to queer the pitch of their formidable opponent.

The political rallies of the Common Candidate were attacked, stages burned down, meeting venues withdrawn, at the eleventh hour. Worse, scurrilous material were manufactured, to vilify the CC, curtsy the state media, blatant falsehoods propagated, calumny heaped, and, every possible trick in the book, and, out of it, tried, to blacken the image of the man, who defied the odds and took on the might of an oligarchy.

That he prevailed against the odds was a telling endorsement of the calibre of the man, particularly, given his subsequent remark, that, had the enemy had his way, he would have been six feet under terra firma.

President Sirisena, no doubt, will be the first to acknowledge his indebtedness to the UNP, and, its leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, for providing the solid backing that made him emerge victor. The Grand Old Party made a tremendous sacrifice, by forfeiting its turn to field it’s leader as candidate. He also owes a massive debt to the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, whose Movement for Social Justice provided the core element, in the campaign to oust the Rajapaksas.

True, not all the pledges made to the people have been realised, and, admittedly, there have been instances where the Yahapalanaya Government had veered from the ideals of good governance, expounded by the late Sobitha Thera. There has also been tardiness in the prosecution of cases against the former VVIPs, which formed the chief plank of the election platform of the Common Candidate. Also, there have been bickering between the partners of the Unity Government, that have caused confusion in the minds of the public and threatened stability.

The scales, though, are weighted heavily, on the plus side of the balance sheet. Today, undeniably, there is a climate of peace, the people are free from fear, freedom of expression has been restored to unprecedented levels, with the certain news channels taking the government to the cleaners, so to speak. No white Van roams the streets, no journos abducted, tortured, murdered or made to disappear, nor are media institutions torched, or, newspaper editors knifed. There are also no Safe Houses, operated by military personnel, in the heart of the Colombo city.

The country’s image, which received a severe battering, internationally, has been completely restored, with world leaders, and, top foreign dignitaries making visits with monotonous regularity, the high point being the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry, soon after the election of the new government - the first time in 40 plus years that a US Secretary of State visited this country. President Sirisena is also readily accepted internationally, his visits to top nations confirming this, a far cry from the past, where his predecessor was concerned.

Most of all, President Sirisena will be commended for forging a Unity Government, between arch rivals, the UNP, and, the SLFP, and, changing the culture of the vituperative, and, contentions politics, that had been the bane of this country, since Independence, paving the way for economic development, and, progress. 


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