President Sirisena's speech marking 100 days since election
On this occasion that marks 100 days since my election as President, I think it is proper that I address you as your first servant, appointed by you. Following the results of the Presidential Election on January 8 this year, you gave me the opportunity of being sworn in as the Head of State or President of this country.
In the 100 days since then, we have as a new government, taken many important steps with regard to the country’s economy, politics, development and international relations.
I think that when the people of this country voted on January 8 they clearly carried out both a transformation, and revolution through the use of their democratic right. The manner in which the freedom and democracy obtained by this transformation and revolution has been used by certain elements in the past three months, their political decisions and activities, brings to my mind the occasions in world history when in countries that carried out revolutions were later faced with counter-revolutions.
We are aware that very often it is a common occurrence in countries for counter-revolution to follow a revolution. One could see a similar scenario following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990-91. Similarly, following the fall of Communist states in Eastern Europe, when a political transformation took place in those societies that had moved towards political extremism, there was a period of political turmoil and uncertainty till the people of these countries could enjoy their entitlement to freedom and democracy. When the great humanitarian leader Abraham Lincoln of the United States took action to abolish slavery and introduced legislations for this purpose, for some time after this some of the people in slavery stated that they preferred the condition of slavery. This is because they thought that going forward in life in slavery was better than enjoying the freedom given and building themselves on their own strength, as they were used to living under conditions of slavery. This is the reality of human society. It is therefore essential that we understand this.
Today there are some who asked what was done in these 100 days. I say, there was much done in these 100 days. Some of these valuable actions are neither physical in nature nor visible to the eye.
You will recall the international situation facing our country at the time I was sworn in as President on January 9th. The international community was divided over us. You will remember what took place at the United Nations, the Human Rights Commission and the Security Council. However, after January 9th, because of the faith you placed in me and elected this government, the international community that was divided over us, now place their trust in me and this government, just as you did, and believe that as Head of State I would protect the freedom of this country and its Democracy, Human Rights and Fundamental Rights.
My recent visits abroad started with our friendly neighbor India and later to Britain to participate in the Commonwealth Day events. Even more than my participation in the Commonwealth Day events was the opportunity to meet with the British Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Secretary of Defense and Her Majesty the Queen, on behalf of our country. By this it is my belief that we have the support not only of Britain, but also of the wider European Union.
My next visit was to China. As a friendly state that gave support for national development and made much investment in this country, I had the opportunity to further strengthen the friendship that existed between our two countries. I next went to Pakistan, which is one of our very close friends. I believe that trough these visits to India, China, Pakistan and Britain we have achieve a much towards winning over the entire world. Through the close friendship displayed by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Indian Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chinese President Xi Jingping have confirmed their trust placed in us for the protection and growth of freedom and democracy.
I remember how close the world was to us at the time of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike with the foreign policy of Nonalignment, which my government too clearly follows today. This leads to strengthening friendship with all states.
I also recall the good wishes conveyed to me when I was elected President by the UN Secretary General, whose Special Representative came to our country recently. Similarly, a large number of foreign ministers from Western countries and a large number of other diplomatic representatives visited our country and expressed their confidence in us.
Therefore I wish to emphasize to those who question what we have done in the past 100 days that we have regained the international friendship and trust that had considerably declined under the previous government, and that my government and I were able to win over and strengthen this friendship for the benefit of the people of this country. We must greatly value this new trust we have won which will provide us with cooperation for national development, especially for development of national resources and effective participation in international affairs.
You are fully aware of the conditions under which you brought me to this office. I recall that prior to January 8 if I spoke to one of our own Pradesheeya Sabha Members by telephone they would shout and ask me not to speak because the telephones were tapped. The government officers did not speak freely. Ordinary people in the country would not speak freely. Members of the armed forces, the lower ranks of the police could also not speak freely on the telephone. None of them had the freedom to speak freely by telephone.
In the past 3 months this freedom has been restored and strengthened. This was similar with media freedom, too. I recall how prior to January 8 those who yielded political power spoke to the heads of media institutions, news directors and news editors. That included intimidation, threats and mental pressure. Today, the media is free of all this.
Are we to transform these freedoms we have obtained to that of the wild ass? I see some of the media institutions behave today. I am surprise how they use these freedoms in a wrong manner. It must be noted that we have firmly established the democratic rights of the people and the freedom of the media.
Let us take the Judiciary. You are aware of how the rule of law was so badly damaged. Did the people have confidence in the Judiciary? The Commission on Bribery or Corruption, the Supreme Court and all these institutions were subjected to telephone calls of those who were in power. You know very well how persons associated with various crimes obtained freedom at that time; how judgments in cases were obtained. Did the Attorney General have the power at the time to act according to his office? Today, with the appointment of the Chief Justice, the Commander of Army, all who serve in those sections have a clear acceptance that these appointments had been made on seniority and suitability for such positions. Therefore, we have strengthened the Rule of Law, which is essential for freedom and democracy.
National Security has now been strengthened. I informed the Tri-Forces and the Police at the Security Council that we need a new plan of action on national security. That work is now being done better than it was done earlier. This is only a beginning. We have to go much further in this regard.
My dear people, there is another thing I wish to bring to your notice. There are some who have made various criticisms with regards to my performance during these 100 days. Some say I lack strength. Some say it is weak. Some say I am no leader. However, I wish to tell all such critics, and you, my people, that my behavior in the last 100 days was not to use the unlimited powers that are available to this office. Why, because you elected me to distribute this power. I came for that purpose. I came to remove the unlimited powers of an Executive President. There could be many analyses about this. I wish to state clearly that my election manifesto states very clearly that my election would be to remove the unlimited powers held by Executive President. I wish to mention how flexible I have been on this matter.
From the time the 1978 Constitution was adopted, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party had been opposed to the Executive Presidential system. Therefore, since 1994 at every Presidential Election our candidates stated in their manifestos that the unlimited powers of the Executive Presidency would be removed. Yet, no one was able to do that.
Similarly, the SLFP has from the beginning opposed the ‘Manape’ electoral system that came with the 1978 Constitution. The Leftwing and progressive political parties are opposed to both of these. As I recall in 1999 the United National Party adopted a resolution at their convention against this. The UNP has been opposed to this since1999. This is a dialogue that prevailed among the common people that went together with their knowledge, wisdom, understanding and experience. Therefore, this must be done. This is the 19th Amendment.
In order to build a democratic and civilized society, it is necessary to prevent the emergence of dictatorship and taking control of state power, state assets, the judiciary, parliament and all of this to one’s own control that comes from the Executive Presidential system.
This should be immediately changed. I have worked towards this in the past three months. I am not aware of any leader in the world who had obtained an office with all these powers but has been as flexible in trying to get rid of those powers that had been bestowed on such a leader.
The Attorney General informed the Supreme Court that in keeping with my advise these powers should be removed. My Constitutional Adviser also informed the Supreme Court that these powers should be removed. We took a political decision on this. The Supreme Court has given a decision on this.
It is now necessary for us to act in accordance with the decision of the Supreme Court. We cannot go beyond this. Therefore, in the past few days there were certain obstacles with regard to presenting of this 19th Amendment to Parliament. It is my respectful appeal to the honourable representatives of the people to consider this as a historic occasion that has come to you. Voting for this will bring respect in history to you. Therefore, in order to ensure that we build the country that protects the people’s freedom, democracy, promotes civilized society and helps build a disciplined country, it is my belief that every one of you will vote to adopt the 19th Amendment. I call on you to use your valuable vote for this and be a partner in firmly establishing freedom and democracy in this country.
In addition to the 19th Amendment, a draft bill has been presented to the Cabinet to change the electoral system. Action is being taken to present this to Parliament for adoption.
In keeping with the promises we gave to the people, we have appointed a Presidential Task Force to inquire into corruption and fraud and work on this matter is proceeding effectively.
In order to build a strong democratic and equitable nation it is necessary to promote unity, friendship and coexistence among those who follow different religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity and also among communities such as Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays and Burghers, and by this means ensure reconciliation and brotherhood that will eliminate mistrust, doubt and fear among people. The developed countries of the world that are democratic and give an important place to freedom, have many different races, religions, languages and are multi-religious and multi-ethnic societies. It is therefore necessary for us to understand that while protecting the historic dignity and respect of the Sinhala Buddhist people, it is also necessary to ensure the brotherhood, friendship and coexistence among all communities and move towards a just society that will ensure the rights of the people.
Moving further towards reconciliation we have now appointed a Presidential Task Force and a Presidential Office for Reconciliation. Having understood the internal problems we face as a country we must take every action to prevent situations that led to the armed conflict that lasted three decades. For this the friendship among all people is essential. However, it is regrettable that our political opponents are using the Internet and some media to spread false information that the armed forces are to be reduced or removed from the North. That land had been given to LTTE terrorists in Sampur. That more rights had been given to the Tamils and Muslims than to the Sinhalese. Such stories are entirely spread by extreme racists. Please do not give such false information to the world. This leads to large-scale misleading of Sri Lankans living abroad.
I wish to clearly state that during the time of the armed conflict the armed forces took private land for their use not only in the North and East, but also in the city of Colombo. Therefore, is it wrong to give these lands back to their original owners? Should we not return the large extent of private property acquired in Colombo Fort near the President’s House, around Temple Trees without any compromise on national security or weakening of and security camps? However, there is wrong publicity given about this.
We have a clear policy on this regard. A special Presidential Task Force has been appointed to regain State assets. Similar action is taken to recover the State properties transferred to others and funds belonging to the country placed in foreign banks. Action is being taken to obtain cooperation both within the country and abroad for this purpose.
If we consider development, our country imports food worth Rs 400 billion from abroad annually. Therefore, are we self-sufficient? With the building of roads and other constructions under the development of physical resources, this question of self-sufficiency is not solved. The national economy must be strengthened.
Our country is one with a beautiful environment. The natural resources, climate and weather are blessings to this land. With such assets we do not need to import Rs 400 billion worth of food. We have the objective to strengthen the local agricultural economy.
Similarly, we are taking steps to strengthen the conditions of the public servants, workers and employees in the private sector. By addressing the needs of all these sections of the society we make our commitment to Good Governance as stated in our manifesto.
The freedom and democracy that comes with Good Governance should not be abused for personal gain. But our responsibility towards people of the country and for the children born tomorrow must be fulfilled.
Every action will be taken to reduce and eliminate corruption and fraud. To this moment I have not made a telephone call or spoken to any officer in the Commission on Bribery and Corruption. I have not spoken to any officer in the judiciary. That is a necessity in good governance. The State sector should be an example to the people.
When I took office the number of employees in Presidential Office was 1575. Now it has been reduced to 600. Reduction of a 1000. That is our example.
I very respectfully tell my people that I am committed to fully carry out the promises given in my election policy statement. I will leave no room for corruption, fraud, theft or waste. As I stated earlier when we are taking action against corruption and all these threats to society, there are people who like the slaves in America who were against the abolishing of slavery and said they preferred to remain as slaves, who seem to prefer a corrupt system and therefore mislead the public when action is taken to eliminate corruption and fraud.
I have kept my faith with the people. I know that the people will take the correct decision. We cannot allow the law of the jungle to supercede a good legal system. I do not hesitate to take required decisions. I will take every step possible, especially to protect and strengthen the people’s freedom and democracy and through these means eliminate corruption and fraud, and thereby protect the genuine rights of the people. It was with the possible sacrifice of my life that I contested the election. That was like a leap into the ocean with the lives of my children myself at stake. I am so even today.
I will conclude with the call to all my people to join in brotherhood and friendship to achieve the goals for which the people gave their mandate on January 8 and, therefore go forward to establish the society we seek for today and tomorrow.
“Let us think anew and creatively. Let us produce unique strategies for the new era. We must understand clearly our responsibilities and accountabilities. Sometimes we don’t clearly understand these factors. Particularly, politicians and government officers must clearly understand their responsibilities and accountabilities making everyone and everything accountable to the people and society,”