Changing the democratic landscape
A rare breed of a gentleman politician with an impeccable track
record, untainted by either violence or corruption President Maithripala
Sirisena changed the political landscape at the January 8, 2015
Presidential Election and became the sixth Executive President of Sri
Lanka after a silent revolution.
During his short span of one year, President Maithripala Sirisena as
a political leader with a genuine national interest, has introduced a
number of democratic reforms in the country which the people had been
clamouring for years.
President Sirisena, the longest serving general secretary of the SLFP
announced his surprise decision on November 21, 2014 to quit his party
and contest the 2015 Presidential Election as the Common Opposition
In his longstanding political career, the President had practised
moderate and clean politics which became a rallying point for the
politically distraught Sri Lankans to change the regime and herald good
governance in the country.
He reached consensus with 49 organisations, political parties and
civil society groups to draft his election manifesto and the election
campaign. They were the UNP, Democratic Party, SLMC, TNA and the JVP.
President Sirisena defeated his predecessor who was seeking an
unprecedented third term as Executive President.
Maithripala Sirisena was the first member of the rural agricultural
peasantry to be elected Executive President of Sri Lanka. He hails from
Polonnaruwa, the second ancient kingdom in the country.
The President being a friendly and unassuming political figure ended
authoritarianism and nepotism and has shown a sense of commitment to
duty and service to the people with emphasis on simplicity.
President Sirisena during his short tenure in office has fostered the
ideals of democracy, freedom, fundamental rights, human rights and media
freedom and won a strong public mandate to set up a new government at
the General Elections on August 17, 2015.
Another epoch-making event took place soon after the August 17
General Election when the Central Committee of the SLFP, the main
constituent of the UPFA agreed to form a National Government with the
UNP for two years and signed an MoU between two parties on August 20,
As pledged in his Election Manifesto 'Maithree Palanayak', the
President introduced the Hundred-Day program soon after he assumed
office. The Hundred-Day program introduced socio- democratic reforms
such as pruning down the powers of the Executive Presidency, 19th
Amendment to the Constitution, summoning an All Party Representative
Committee, investigating allegations of massive corruption, a National
Drug Policy and the Constitutional Council.
Parliament also passed legislation to 'Assist and Protect Victims of
Crime and Witnesses' on February 19, 2015, another landmark.
Under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, initiatives were taken
to set up several independent commissions such as the National Police
Commission, Judicial Services Commission, Public Service Commission,
Elections Commission, Bribery Commission and Human Rights Commission.
The Government will also enact the Right to Information (RTI) Act and
a code of conduct for MPs. The President also granted a pay hike for
public servants and reduced fuel and gas prices. Under President
Sirisena's stewardship, the SLFP and the UPFA collaborated to fulfill
the tasks in his election manifesto to restore good governance-
Regrettably, there is widespread public disillusionment with the
Yahapalanaya government's failure to ensure any of the big-time
political fraudsters involved in massive financial scams are convicted.
The much-awaited RTI has not been passed by the legislature, despite
assurances made during the election time.
When the President was the Health Minister in the former UPFA
government, he fought tooth and nail with multinational tobacco
companies, both in and outside the court, to introduce pictorial
warnings on cigarette packets to educate the public on the adverse
effects of smoking. During the two and a half year legal battle, there
were occasions when he had to wait for hours on end, watching court
proceedings. Finally he won. Every cigarette packet carried pictorial
warnings on 60 percent of its surface from January 2015.
President Sirisena came to power with the backing of minority Tamils
and Muslims and pledged to ensure ethnic reconciliation and end
corruption and nepotism that plagued his predecessor's rule.
After his election, the President ordered the Security Forces to
return thousands of acres of private land they occupied in the Jaffna
peninsula to their owners. A couple of days ago, the President had said
that nearly 100,000 people still live in camps, six years after the end
of the ethnic war. In six months they will be given land to build homes.
The President will hand over the tile deeds for a 600-acre land in
Jaffna to their rightful owners on Thai Pongal Day, January 15.
The human rights record has improved significantly since President
Sirisena took office. Under the President's leadership, the government
took positive steps to address human rights and democracy concerns
including the setting up of new institutions and undertaking legal
This led to the improvement of freedom of expression, while exiled
journalists were invited to return to the country and several banned
websites were unblocked. The President has shown his government's
sincere desire to investigate allegations of war crimes in the final
stages of the conflict. In addition, the government also announced the
reopening of investigations into several high-profile murders, including
those of Parliamentarians D.M Dassanayake, Joseph Pararajasinghan,
Nadarajah Raviraj and T. Maheshwaran as well as the assassination of
Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickremetunga and the disappearance of
journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda.
He made state visits to India, the UK, China, Pakistan, Maldives,
United States, Thailand, Malta, France and Vatican City following the
invitation extended by the leaders of those countries.
The President made his first overseas visit to India from February 15
to 18, 2015 on the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The President addressed the 70 th session of the United Nations General
Assembly on September 30, 2015 and Leaders' Summit on Peace Keeping, New
York on September 28, 2015. During his time in New York, the President
held bilateral talks with US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime
Minister Narendra Modhi and leaders of Malta, Pakistan, New Zealand and
President Sirisena also had a special meetings with UN Secretary
General Ban Ki Moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry. President
Srisena addressing the UN General Assembly said that a new era of
democracy dawned on Sri Lanka on January 8, 2015 ushering in justice,
freedom and equality. Our social and human development approach is
founded on pluralism, reconciliation and sustainable development.
The President has called for proposals to draft a new Constitution
while a resolution was moved in Parliament yesterday ( January 9) to
convert the House into a Constituent Assembly.
After the draft constitution is passed by Parliament with a
two-thirds majority, it will be endorsed at an islandwide referendum.