Democracy & Human Rights | Speeches

Cohabitation and Democracy

Address to the Nation

Colombo, Sri Lanka

August 9, 2002

I have had occasion during the past 08 years as your President to address you on numerous occasions through television and radio, regarding National Issues and other matters of concern to the Nation and to the people. At times I have carried on a dialogue with you, listening to your questions and discussing them with you.

As I have not done so for sometime, since I handed over the administration of the Government to the UNP last December after its victory at the elections, I believe it is time that I address my people on some important and immediate issues.

They are issues that affect the lives of the people, the defence of our nation and its sovereignty, as well as democratic rule. As the President elected by you I consider it my sovereign duty and obligation to clarify certain facts relating to these issues.

As Executive President I have the duty to work in cohabitation with a Cabinet comprised of a different party, elected under a constitution enacted in 1978 and emended 16 times thereafter, by a previous United National Party Government.

This Constitution provides for the person holding the office of the President to be, the Head of State, Head of Government, Head of the Cabinet and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. Under the present Constitution where the President and the Cabinet are from two different political parties, it becomes obligatory to adopt a policy of cohabitation and reconciliation, which demands mutual cooperation between the President and the Cabinet.

Statesmanship and the ability to put country before self, become essential pre-requisites, in the political leadership of both sides. As your President, I have acted as always, in the interest of the Nation and my peoples, laying aside all personal interests.

I am pleased that the New Government is carrying forward the peace process initiated by my previous government. Throughout my political career I have remained resolute that the ethnic issue requires a negotiated political settlement. Accordingly, I have extended my fullest support to the Peace Process undertaken by even those who obstructed my peace efforts previously. This is only because I have never forgotten that the country’s interests must outweigh all else. When the Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Prime Minister and LTTE, I refrained from undertaking any action that would harm the newly initiated Peace Process, although it was signed in a questionable manner. I drew the Prime Minister’s attention to certain clauses in it that were disadvantageous to us and required reconsideration.

The Peace we all strive for, should be attained within a framework that would ensure equal rights and protect democratic freedoms for all communities living in this country. We should also safeguard the self- respect and dignity of our servicemen who defended the unity of this country at the risk of their lives.

I have reliable reports that while the ceasefire agreement is in force the LTTE is engaged in establishing its own law courts and legal systems, police stations, prisons, banks and various other institutions in the North and East. They are also involved in arms smuggling and the conscription of children.

I am also informed that the LTTE is harassing especially the Muslims, as well as the Sinhala people, living in the Eastern Province. I have drawn the attention of the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and the Security Council and given advice with regard to these incidents.

I have urged the Prime Minister that talks with the LTTE should begin without further delay on the core issues that led to the ethnic conflict and the war.

Negotiations should aim at arriving at a permanent solution to the ethnic conflict through a reform of the structure of the State in a manner that will help to resolve the problems of the Tamil people, while providing justice to the Sinhala and Muslim peoples. This is the core issue. Negotiations should also take into account the concerns and views of all interested parties.
I also note that the freedom of the media is being suppressed to a large extent. The politics of terror and intimidation that raised its ugly head for the first time between 1977 and 1994 has begun once again to be practised since December 2001, since 1994 my first government put an end to the regime of state terror perpetrated against Tamil and Sinhala youth in the decade of the 1980s.

Finding solutions to the economic problems facing us today is also an urgent and essential task. It is no secret that during the past several months or so the people of our country have had to face serious economic difficulties. Prices of essential commodities and the cost of living have increased. Various relief measures to the poor have been slashed, such as Samurdhi, the fertiliser subsidy and school uniforms. My last government increased the salaries of all Government servants and provided relief to pensioners. Every effort was made to bring down the cost of living. I appointed a second Salaries Commission because public service salaries required to be further increased. We have to find ways of implementing the recommendations of the Salaries Commission.

I do not intend to spell out the development activities of my first government. We implemented a large number of development programmes in the fields of education, health, highways, electricity and telecommunications. Education Reforms achieved remarkably good results. We implemented special programmes to save our people and the youth from the dangers of alcohol, drugs and tobacco. As a result of our concerted efforts there was a drastic drop in suicide rates. A good deal of work is being done under the Ranaviru Seva Authority and the Child Protection Authority for the welfare of services personnel and children. The present Government must continue this good work.

I wish to say a few words now, about some unfortunate incidents that have occurred during the past 8 months. After the General Election of 1994 we converted our Election Committees into Peace Committees and protected the lives, properties and jobs of our political adversaries. We did not indulge in political vengeance. But the violence unleashed after the last General Election and Local Government Elections were unprecedented… 61 PA activists were killed. About 3500 supporters of the opposition suffered and were physically injured. Many were deprived of their homes and property. Thousands of employees in government institutions were politically victimised. Although my proposal to grant relief to all those politically victimized, irrespective of party affiliations was approved by Cabinet, however, the government has not implemented the proposals so far.

We were able to govern and successfully win 09 elections in 08 years, building a new system of governance based on justice and humanitarian values. I sincerely believed that whoever took over the Government thereafter, would continue to govern justly and fairly. I am extremely saddened to note that this has not been so. Once again the Police especially the CID, is being employed for the abuse and misuse of the law against democratic political opponents. As the Head of State and also as a citizen who truly loves this country and even or more so as a woman and a mother with special affection for all children, I view very seriously the dangers presented to democracy and the peoples freedom by this trend of events.

I continue to make every effort to facilitate cohabitation. It is regrettable that many obstacles are being placed in the path of this process. While preaching reconciliatory politics numerous fabricated and false charges have been levelled against political opponents. Institutions such as the Police and the CID have been brought under heavy political pressure to act unjustly and even unlawfully. Opposition Parliamentarians, Provincial Councillors, Pradesheeya Sabha Members and candidates have been arrested on baseless allegations. A campaign to incapacitate the opposition is afoot by keeping them in remand indefinitely.

We understand that taking necessary steps to stop organised violence against opposition activists and supporters is being deliberately delayed.

At a time when priority needs to be given to the successful conclusion of the peace process and resolving serious economic problems that have arisen, some Ministers have begun a vicious campaign against me with unfounded allegations perhaps to divert public attention. There is also a surreptitious scheme designed to harass through the CID, officers of my security staff and even senior officers of the public service serving in the President’s Office.

Need I ask you whether cohabitation could be made to function unilaterally under the circumstances I have mentioned? People ask me whether this is another red-herring to divert attention from the burning issues of the day.

Despite all these difficulties I have for my part continued to cooperate for the sake of my country, and I am prepared to extend that support even in the future. But for cohabitation to be a success, the other party has to reciprocate.

Even though no constructive steps have been taken during the past 8 months to address the core issues facing the country, we do hear of talks of amendments to the Constitution. You are aware that 17 amendments were made thus far to the 1978 Constitution. Most of those amendments were made to achieve the narrow political gains of those who ruled the country at that time. Therefore instead of chipping away at the constitution with numerous amendments, it is imperative to pay immediate attention to the burning issues in the country. Priority should be given to promote the well- being of the people.

Ad-hoc amendments to one or the other of the clauses of the Constitution, according to the whims and fancies of someone, could prove dangerous to democracy. As I have often stated the Constitution of Sri Lanka needs to be amended. But, it should be done in a comprehensive manner together with the abolition of the Executive Presidency, the reform of electoral systems and should contain solutions to the ethnic problem.

According to the Constitution, Parliament can be dissolved only by the President. Many respected citizens including the Reverend members of the Maha Sangha, Clergymen of other religions, a large number of people’s representatives and the Business Community tell me that the country does not need or could afford another election now. I am sure that most of you would agree with this view. The most essential and urgent task today is to find solutions to the economic issues and to seek out Peace. The present Constitution obliged us to hold 12 elections in a period of 09 years.

I am not prepared to aggravate the state of political confusion prevailing today by holding another election. I am also not inclined to further aggravate the Crisis faced by the economy and by business, which would invariably happen during an election campaign. I am also clearly of the view that it would be most unsatisfactory to hold an election in a climate of political violence, before setting up the Elections Commission and the Police Commission and giving them time to function effectively, as was proposed in the 17th Amendment to the Constitution brought in by the People’s Alliance Government.

I therefore wish to state to you, the people of this country, that I have no intention to dissolve Parliament at this point of time.

The governing party has commenced a campaign of insulting me in the most lowly fashion, while making absolutely wild and false allegations against me. In the past 08 months State owned and private electronic media have indulged in this exercise 2342 times, at the rate of several times a day. Cabinet Ministers, and media personnel directly connected to the UNP, are employed to hurl these abuses at me. Their statements are almost totally false. In addition the daily newspapers have published over 700 false news reports about me or my actions. For instance, some lying report about me has been telecast or broadcast over 30 times, whilst the correction sent by my office has only been broadcast once or twice. After I was insulted and abused thousands of times a statement I made jokingly at an internal, party, confidential discussion telecast 3 to 4 times a day for the past 18 days.

I have stood and watched all this silently. How long more I should watch this mockery of democracy will have to be decided soon.

I wish to state to my countrymen on this occasion, that despite all the threats and intimidation, insult and abuse and mud-slinging hurled at me, I will not run away from the responsibilities entrusted to me by the people. The people of this country know well that I cannot be subdued by threat and intimidation. I wish to declare firmly, that I shall act as always in terms of the powers vested in me under the constitution. As some have done before me, I have never misused or abused the excessive powers vested in the President. I have also not utilised many of those powers.

The most precious political heritage handed down to me by my parents is the respect for democracy, human freedoms and humane values. We have had an unshaken and constant commitment to these principles. We do not believe in perpetrating conspiracies against democracy and the people’s will. My party has never and shall never, engage in conspiracies against the Constitution and against the law of the land.

Yet, the people of this country have not forgotten the long and infamous history of numerous conspiracies perpetrated against the Government of my party; the assassination of Prime Minister Bandaranaike in 1959; the attempted coup d’etat of 1962 against the duly elected SLFP government; the conspiracy to topple the same government through monetary corruption of 14 Members of the Parliament; the lengthy and insidious conspiracy against the United Front Government of 1970; the conspiracy to snatch the civic rights of party leader Hon.Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Felix Dias Bandaranaike followed by the imaginary naxalite allegation by which means more than 3000 democratic opposition activists were imprisoned including former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and my late husband Wijaya Kumaratunga and many thousands more harassed, making way for the infamous referendum of 1982 by which the life of the UNP government was extended by an additional 7 years unlawfully; and finally the conspiracy to engineer the fall of the People’s Alliance government in October 2001 by the use of corruption, are all striking examples of the policy of conspiracy employed by one particular political party in this country, when they failed to obtain sufficient peoples power to come into government honestly and fairly.

Before I conclude I wish make another pledge to my people, who have twice elected me resoundingly to the supreme office of President. I shall not hesitate to adopt every necessary measure in terms of the powers entrusted to me under the constitution, in the event of any threat to the unity of our motherland or the security and safety of its citizens.

I affirm to the people of this country that I will not hesitate for a moment to exercise the executive powers vested in me to prevent the dismemberment of this country and to avert any serious dangers that the country may be called upon to face.

Thank you.

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