Call for unity and reconciliation
If there is one central theme
that stood out from the first few days of the Maithripala Sirisena
Presidency, it is unity and reconciliation. The last regime squandered
every opportunity that came its way to achieve these noble objectives
and as a result, alienated most Lankans who wished to see a truly united
In fact, in his very first address to the Nation from the precincts
of the Sacred Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, President Maithripala
Sirisena made an impassioned plea to all political parties in and out of
Parliament to join him to achieve peace and prosperity in Mother Lanka.
We are already seeing the results of this appeal with many political and
civil society figures transcending party barriers to support the
President's 100 days program.
The Cabinet that was appointed last week also reflects the
multi-ethnic dimension of our nation with ministers from all communities
coming together with the express purpose of developing the country. The
SLFP, itself, a party that has always stood for religious and ethnic
amity, is now fully backing President Sirisena, who was also elected
This is a marked departure from the divisive politics that had caused
enormous harm to Sri Lanka over the years. President Sirisena entered
the polls with the backing of the broadest socio-political alliance in
this country since 1948.
Apart from the UNP and sections of the SLFP, it contained over 40
political parties and movements including the NMSJ, JHU, DP, TNA, SLMC,
ACMC and the JVP extended its support through a separate campaign which
educated voters on the perils of dictatorship. Now it is the turn of all
other political parties and groups to heed this clarion call and extend
their fullest support to the President and his team to realise the goal
of building a prosperous Sri Lanka.
Reconciliation was also the prominent theme the other most
significant event of last week- the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis
to Sri Lanka. It was not only Catholics that turned out in large numbers
to greet him - people from all faiths and all walks of life joined in
welcoming and listening to him. In all his speeches and sermons
delivered at various locations in the island including the Galle Face
Green and Madhu shrine in the North, he called upon the faithful and all
others in Sri Lanka to follow the words of Jesus in co-existing
peacefully in this small island.
"For many years the people of this country have been victims of civil
strife and violence. What is needed now is healing and unity, not
further conflict and division. The fostering of healing and unity is a
noble task incumbent upon all those who have at heart the good of the
nation," Pope Francis told the Inter-religious meeting held at the BMICH.
The Pope told the ceremony at the Bandaranaike International Airport
to welcome him, that "the inability to reconcile differences and
disagreements, whether old or new, has given rise to ethnic and
religious tensions, frequently accompanied by outbreaks of violence. Sri
Lanka for many years knew the horrors of civil strife, and is now
seeking to consolidate peace and to heal the scars of those years.
It is no easy task to overcome the bitter legacy of injustices,
hostility and mistrust left by the conflict. It can only be done by
overcoming evil with good and by cultivating those virtues which foster
reconciliation, solidarity and peace.
The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth,
not for the sake of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means
of promoting justice, healing and unity. Whenever people listen to one
another humbly and openly, their shared values and aspirations become
all the more apparent. Diversity is no longer seen as a threat, but as a
source of enrichment. The path to justice, reconciliation and social
harmony becomes all the more clearly seen."
Welcoming Pope Francis, President Sirisena stressed the need to
achieve lasting peace and reconciliation. "Your visit to Sri Lanka is of
special significance, as my government is progressing on promoting
dialogue and reconciliation among people, as a means of consolidating
the peace dividend. We are a people who believe in religious tolerance
and co-existence based on our centuries-old spiritual heritage. The
significant contribution that Your Holiness is making to bring about
peace and reconciliation among nations and communities is gratifying,
and this visit will contribute to Sri Lanka's domestic efforts."
These are inspiring words indeed. The time has now dawned to think of
ourselves as Sri Lankans, cutting across all barriers. Even at this
election, some observers referred to Sinhala votes, Tamil votes, Muslim
votes and Christian votes. This is an affront to the very multi-cultural
fabric that binds our nation together. We have never heard Indians or
Singaporeans describing elections in this manner. We must overcome this
stone-age tribal mentality.
Sri Lankans elected a new President, not Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims
or Hindus. It was Sri Lankans from far-flung areas who voted for
Maithripala Sirisena, Mahinda Rajapaksa and the other 17 candidates. It
is thus heartening to hear President Sirisena dwelling on the need to
achieve religious and ethnic reconciliation in our motherland scarred by
a three-decade old conflict. If we can forge a truly Sri Lankan identity
in the next few years that will perhaps be the biggest achievement of
President Sirisena. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)
has recommended many steps that can lay a firm foundation for this
Reconciliation cannot be a strictly local exercise. Given the
globalised outlook of international geopolitics, it is vital to engage
constructively with some of the nations that we have been at loggerheads
One of the most important points made by the President in his address
in his first address to the Nation was the dire need to improve the
country's international image and create a better foreign service.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has lost many friends in the international
arena due to the mismanagement of the Foreign Service and certain wrong
attitudes adopted by the previous regime. We can no longer live in
isolation and steps must be taken to cultivate good relations with all
countries. It is especially important to mend our relations with the
It is also vital to tell all Sri Lankans everywhere in the world to
come back and see for themselves the efforts being made to foster
harmony in their island. There are misguided elements in the Tamil
diaspora who still cling on to the impractical dream of a so-called
Tamil Eelam which will never materialise. All local representatives of
the Tamil community have eschewed this concept in any case.
With a new Government in place that is firmly committed to protecting
all communities, they too have an opportunity to shed their
stereotypical thinking and return to the motherland to serve especially
the Northern community emerging out of the darkest chapter in Sri
As the President has rightly pointed out in a recent speech, the
first step to reconciliation is building a cultured human being who
upholds moral values. We may have lost sight of this aspect in the
relentless pursuit of material gains.
If all of us become good human beings, a just, righteous society will
be within easy reach. We must embrace peace and brotherhood. This will
help build a new Sri Lanka which will be second to none in the world.