Reflection on Eleven Years as President
Farewell Address to the Nation
Colombo, Sri Lanka
December 2, 2005
Some days ago, after 33 years in service to our country, I laid down the responsibilities of office when the Presidency of Sri Lanka was vested in my successor.
Today I come to you with a message of farewell and to express my deep appreciation of the confidence and trust you placed in me for many long years. We have together walked thorny paths, strewn with the most trying challenges, tribulations, hatred and unearned abuse. At other times we have also walked along the path of healing, of forgiveness and noble achievements. All this was possible only because you, all the peoples of Sri Lanka, gave me your unstinted confidence and support. I thank you, one and all, from the very bottom of my heart for giving me the privilege of serving this great Nation and to lead it from the darkness of hatred, killing, and the horrors of a fractured and divided Nation, away into a path of healing, understanding, brotherhood, harmony and Peace.
I extend to the new President and the Government, my best wishes and pray that the future years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all and that the new government will have the strength and wisdom to continue along the path commenced during my Presidency – the path of transparent, honest and professional governance where political victimization will have no place. I pray that we will continue down the path of peace, freedom and prosperity which I walked with you. 12 victories in 14 rounds of elections during my Presidency was and is, a solid endorsement by our peoples of our aims, philosophies and achievements.
We may first take justifiable pride that this Presidential Election and its aftermath were most peaceful, like all 10 rounds of elections, excepting one, which was held during my Presidency. It is my duty to extend my sincere gratitude and that of my governments to the Elections Commissioner and his officers, all officers of the Public Service and especially the Police and the Armed Forces for their assistance in making the promise of a free and fair election – made by me 11 years ago to the country, a reality.
Now that the electoral contest is over, the bitterness and conflict must end and the real work must begin. All the people of Sri Lanka, in the diversity of their political views, must now unite again to work together in order that we face the difficult challenges of the future. I earnestly request you, the citizens of Sri Lanka, to unite once again under the leadership of the new President and extend to him your support and advice, as you did for me.
A moment of farewell is also one for deep reflection, of assessment of achievements and failures.
At the time I took the reins of government, many things that this country had valued and nurtured for millennia were at serious risk of destruction. I promised our Nation that we would build a new Sri Lanka. In our agenda for change, we gave absolute priority to the restoration of decency, democracy and peace within a framework of humane, caring, honest and professional governance.
I know that we are better prepared, better equipped and better poised to work together as the united peoples of Sri Lanka, than at any previous moment in the history of our independence. Further, I believe that this is the living heart of the legacy I leave behind, a combination of the new capacity, the professionalism, the regenerated will to take the next decisive steps down the path of tolerance, peace and prosperity which I, my party and its allies have been walking these last eleven years.
When I came to serve the people of Sri Lanka as President eleven years ago, I promised four things.
- I promised to re-establish democracy and the guarantee of human rights,
- To develop the economy in a planned and an equitable manner where the fruits of development will be fairly distributed amongst all sections of our people,
- Good governance and
- I also promised peace for all with dignity.
Clearly, we have progressed much in all these areas. Yet it must be remembered that each of these areas constitute a process and not a single event. No government can ever claim to have finally arrived, as there will always be room for improvement.
Much of what I and my governments promised has been delivered:
01. Democracy was restored in the form of a free society, free of arbitrary acts of the State. Freedom of the Press was firmly established. There is no more killings of press persons. Even the Executive Presidency only used the normal law of the land to defend herself against media institutions indulging in constant defamation of her. Our achievements in this area have won world-wide acclaim from the inception of my governments.
02. Development was achieved equitably, based upon principles of social justice, with a combination of pro-poor policies, institutional reforms and infrastructure development. With our focus on rural development and poverty alleviation, we ensured that no community and no sector was forgotten in the development process. We achieved unprecedented successes in all spheres of the economy, even while we had to engage in a hugely destructive military conflict.
Large infrastructure projects were initiated for the first time eg. Express Highways & Railways, Coal Power, Scientific exploitation of our natural resources such as phosphate and Now we have found Oil.
03. Good governance was instituted with a combination of new systems and procedures, many of which were implemented in areas where they previously did not exist. This was backed by a steadfast commitment from the Head of State and the Government, to the elimination of waste and corruption and to rendering our public sector modern and professional. Blatant plunder of state assets was stopped. Bankrupt State institutions such as the Banks, Airlines, industries were restructured and rendered profitable.
04. Peace was given top priority on our list of tasks. For the first time Peace was brought into the political vocabulary of our country becoming today a household word. As the Leader of my Party, the SLFP and PA, I realized I had to take the full responsibility together with the ensuing dangers, if we were to speak the truth to the country, the truth that we have to replace the certain agony of the battlefield with the negotiations table, that the weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as we do, protected by accepted moral and ethical strengths, as well as the security of the State. As your leader I knew I had to summon up the courage to tell you that the negotiations process marked by many failures and frustrations, must not and cannot be abandoned for the certain horrors of a terrorist war.
I know that the task I chose was a Herculean one, yet I was aware that the vast majority of our peoples, when told the truth and not half truths and lies, have the definite ability and the political acumen to differentiate between facts and lies. I was supported in these policies by my entire party and my colleagues in the government.
01. It was not an easy task to bring together a deeply fractured party, which had lost all elections for 17 years and did not possess a clear vision on the resolution of this country’s most serious problem. Sincerity, commitment, hard work and the confidence you placed in me gave us success.
02. My government had to also undertake massive programmes to take the message of peace to the people, especially to the Sinhala majority. 11 years ago, less than a quarter of the majority community were aware that a negotiated settlement to the ethnic problem could be possible. Within 5 years our efforts convinced over three quarters of the Sinhala people.
03. Another factor, I would with humility acknowledge, is that the second major political party of Sri Lanka has at last accepted my policy of a negotiated settlement with devolution of power within a united Sri Lanka. This policy I enunciated as the vision of my government from the very outset 11 years ago.
04. For well nigh 04 years we have been able to cease warfare. The LTTE has traveled some distance in accepting to “consider” a federal power sharing arrangement in place of a separate state. They even went further to sign an agreement for a minimal power sharing agreement, with the government, in the form of the P-TOMS.
05. History will surely record that we have successfully ensured that the dark days of July ‘83 have irrevocably passed. I, as Head of State, made a National apology to the Tamil people who were the victims of the holocaust of 1983. I appointed a Truth Commission to inquire into and compensate these victims. We implemented many other programmes which have today commenced the process of spiritual healing between the different ethnic communities. Yet, much remains to be done.
06. I take deep pride in our success in convincing the vast majority of our peoples, together with the two major political parties which account for over ¾ of the voters of the country, that the only viable solution to the ethnic question and the subsequent military conflict, lies along the path of a politically negotiated settlement, in which all partners to the process - the majority as well as the minority, are afforded the privilege of equal rights and dignity of the person, within the framework of a democratic, pluralist, sovereign and united country.
I would say that the single most important lesson to be learnt from the recent Presidential Election is that over 90% of Sri Lankans used their vote in support of one or the other of the candidates of our two main political parties, both of who promised to take forward the process of peace begun under my Presidency 11 years ago. We can therefore say with pride that we Sri Lankans have once again elected peace into our lives and into the mandate given to our new President.
I have done this with great personal sacrifice, but yet happy in the knowledge that this was in the ultimate service of my country. I now pass the torch to my successor, President Rajapakse, with my best wishes that he may complete the task with success.
Eleven years is a short period in the life of a Nation. In this short time we have been able to make these massive achievements. In 12 out of 14 elections in the country the people have endorsed my policies including the one for Peace.
I would with humility say, that the hallmark of my Presidency was the re-establishment of a humane and caring government; an economy where social justice, honesty and transparency prevailed, whilst investment in people, especially our children through education and health sector reforms was the focus. We established for the first time, a powerful authority under the President for protection of children – The National Child Protection Authority – which successfully implemented several excellent programmes. I also led the programmes for the prevention of alcoholism, and tobacco and drug abuse. We established that a negotiated settlement was the alternative to the terrible destruction of war.
I would like to add a cautionary note. The history of nations has amply demonstrated that there are moments when leaders are called upon to effect revolutionary changes, which necessarily cause some dissatisfaction amongst some groups. We reached that point in the history of our Nation some decades ago. Whilst many governments floundered and drove us along the divisive and bloody paths of war, we now stand at a moment that marks the most promising period for harmony and unity amongst our peoples, and for ensuring a lasting Peace. It is with great satisfaction that I state, without hesitation, that the vast majority of our country espouses the middle path of brotherhood and tolerance, on which principles our political party was originally founded. Like in most countries we too have extremist groups on both sides of the divide. It is the sacred duty of those who govern to ensure that the voice of the majority is not allowed to be drowned by the politics of hatred and intolerance sown by the extremists groups. Statesmanship will be measured by our future generations by the successes achieved by us, in bringing the extremist fringe to march forward with us along the middle path which is the only one that will lead us to prosperity and peace.
The seeds of trust that have painstakingly been planted under the care of my Presidency are beginning to grow a little taller and a little stronger each day. Steady progress towards our ultimate goal has been made. I shall never cease to help in whatever little way I can, to ensure that this new climate of trust and mutual accommodation to which the current ceasefire stands witness, becomes a deep and permanent feature of our society.
I am happy to note that President Rajapakse in his address to Parliament has expressed as the desire of the new government to carry forward a large number of programmes started under my Presidency. I wish him and his government every success in their efforts.
On a personal note, I wish my people to know that I have never asked, nor partaken in any struggle for political positions in my entire political career. When I was called to take over the leadership of my party, I did so with great apprehension and little pleasure and absolutely no idea of personal gain. I agreed to take the reins of government at a time when there existed a huge vacuum in leadership, only and to pull the country out of its darkest days and lead it in whatever little way I could, towards a better future. At that time I promised my children and myself, very secretly, that I would under no circumstances continue to hold political position after a second term. I agreed and actively participated in efforts undertaken by my governments to abolish the Executive Presidency and reduce its excessive powers, only because I believe and still believe, that the Executive President of Sri Lanka has been accorded too much powers. In the hands of a deeply committed democrat these powers need not be used, but could be extremely dangerous in the hands of a self serving and shortsighted person. We have witnessed sometime ago the horrors that could ensue from this.
I stood and watched with great amusement, while I was abused by many in the media and others, that I was attempting to carve out another position for myself, in order to hang on to power forever. I had decided that even if we had succeeded in the attempt to restructure the Executive Presidential system that I would not be there to take up any positions of State. Some of my colleagues are fully aware of this unshakable decision taken 11 years ago, in 1994. Those of you, who wish to remember, will agree that 11 years ago I publicly stated that I would relinquish duties around the age of 60 years, as I believe all politicians should do. Like all the promises I have given to the people of this country I have kept this one too.
Finally, as I bid good bye, I wish to extend my deepest gratitude, first to the vast mass of our people of all communities, for the trust and confidence you placed in my sincerity and honesty despite massive campaigns of lies organized against me and for the unfailing support you gave me and my governments to carry forward our programmes. You know that ours was a government of the people, for the people.
I must extend a very special thank you to the Armed Forces and the Police for the constant support you gave me as your Commander in Chief, when I asked you to perform varied and difficult tasks, one moment for peace and another for war and then again peace. At my insistent request every one of you, from soldiers upwards heeded my call to act with caution and not indulge in violence against civilians nor even the terrorist once under arrest, even while, our wounded soldiers were subjected to the most horrendous terrorist violence. The incidents of human rights violations were minimal when compared with even more powerful countries. I salute you all and pay my hommage to you for the exemplary service and immense sacrifice you have rendered to the State, as well as the unflinching loyalty you have demonstrated to your Commander in Chief, during these 11 years. I wished earnestly to personally meet with you and thank you but this was not to be, for reasons unknown to me.
I did what I have to do to the maximum of my ability and commitment. No sacrifice was too great in the service of my country. I leave with my hands clean and my pockets empty, in the knowledge that I have done nothing against my conscience and the treasured values which marked my life. I only ask those who still sling mud at me with baseless allegations to achieve their narrow personal agendas to attempt to live by the decent values that I have done so much to establish in our society. I leave with malice towards none, with a song in my heart in the knowledge that we have achieved great things. I hand over this legacy to the new President and to you, my people, to carry forward towards completion.
As I bid Farewell, I want you to remember that this nation of ours has a great and noble heritage. Something somewhere has turned us away from that nobility, and I believe that I and my governments have laid the foundation strongly enough for the new President to build on it.
Let us together, as a nation, do all that is required to repossess that greatness which we truly deserve.