Peace | Speeches

Building One United Nation

56th Anniversary of Independence

Colombo, Sri Lanka

February 4, 2004

Ven. Maha Sangha,
Members of the Clergy,
Your Excellencies,
Hon. Prime Minister / Hon. Members of Parliament,
Distinguished Invitees,
Fellow citizens,

We are here today to celebrate the 56th Anniversary of our beloved Motherland gaining Independence from colonial rule. At the outset I, on behalf of the whole nation, wish to pay homage to our past leaders who so selflessly worked to secure that noble victory and to the thousands of other patriotic citizens who sacrificed their lives in war and those who shed their blood, sweat and tears to gain that priceless victory.

We should never forget those men and women who laid down their lives for the wellbeing of the nation and its prosperity and development.

On this occasion I also would like to remember those many thousands of young men and women of the South and the North who, though taking a wrong path, they sacrificed their lives for the realization of social justice, a national identity, equality, democracy, freedom and human rights. I, on behalf of these young men and women wish and hope that at last we now would be able to join hands in the task of building of a society, where the ideals of mutual understanding, respect for each other’s freedoms, brotherhood and peace would be given high priority overcoming the feelings of hatred that have been created in their minds, due to long years of injustice and disrespect suffered by them.

I honestly think that there is hardly any other occasion more suitable than the National Independence Day to reflect on the path we have traversed and appreciate the mistakes we have made, and correct such mistakes. During the past 56 years, many are the valuable achievements that stand to our credit. We have gained much as a nation; these achievements have contributed to the development of the country and to the welfare of our people. But we have to admit that we have so far failed to achieve the vital objective of building our country as one united nation. I deeply regret that it has become necessary to remind ourselves of this fact even on this occasion.

When compared with other countries which gained Independence together with us, it becomes clear, that we have not been able so far to rise up as one united nation. Today we are faced with a serious crisis; we have not been able to realize the vision of our past leaders who fought for our freedom. The resolution of the ethnic question, strengthening of democratic institutions, ensuring good governance and realizing economic prosperity are some of the main problems that still remain to be resolved.

Out of these the most serious problem facing us today is the ethnic question. The cruel war that ravaged our country during the past two decades has now come to a halt. I know fully well that no one wants to resume this war. This shows that all the communities and people with different shades of political opinion consider this problem should be resolved without recourse to war. This is a virtual total commitment to peace.

But the absence of war is not peace. We are now faced with the challenge of realizing permanent peace.

It is a matter for satisfaction that the peace programme launched by my first government in 1994 is being pursued by the present government. But, if this negotiated settlement is to be put into effect successfully, it should be a collective and united effort, without limiting it to a few groups. With the objective of realizing a negotiated settlement to this problem we are today engaged in a dialogue with a number of groups which hold widely differing views. It is my view that we would be able to find an enduring and honourable peace, if only all the political forces take part in this exchange of views. At the least there should be a considerable measure of understanding between the main political parties. These political parties should join hands at least to resolve our National Question.

My Dear Countrymen and Women.

This is not a view that I have placed before the country in the recent past. I have made this appeal continuously during the past several years. On December 22nd 1999 when I was re elected, I appealed to the then Leader of the Opposition, I quote;.

“I stretch out my hands to you to join this government - both you and your supporters. I call upon you and your supporters to honour now by your action, the commitment to which you gave yourself throughout your election campaign”.

In that same speech I also appealed to my Tamil brothers and sisters:

“In particular, I stretch out my hand to all our Tamil brothers and sisters who believed, mistakenly, in the benevolence of Mr.Prabhakaran, to reject for once and for all, the LTTE and all the violence and hatred they stand for. You must see the light of peace. I urge you to use every ounce of influence at your disposal to bring Mr.Prabhakaran to the negotiating table without any further delay. I urge you to persuade with every conceivable argument anyone who is a member or a supporter of the LTTE to renounce violence and join us in establishing peace”.

I made this appeal only 3 days after the LTTE made an effort to assassinate me. At the National Independence Day Commemoration that followed in the year 2000, I made the same appeal in the following terms:

“Who ever may be the persons who rule the country there is one fact we must all remember on this day. It is that we all belong to one nation”.

The majority of Sri Lankans desire consensual politics and governance. I am aware that they wish to see a change in the intensely partisan nature of contemporary Sri Lankan public life. Partisan rivalries continue to curse our media, our politics, our elections and even our public institutions. These rivalries do nothing to strengthen us. Instead, they weaken us and expose us to destruction”.

On the Independence Day of 2001, I did not forget to make this same appeal to you. This is what I said on that day.

‘Hence, I appeal to all of you once again on this Independence Day to shed political differences and unite to solve out problems which are inextricably connected with our National Independence’.

Later, when the Independence Commemoration of 2002 approached, we remained poised to usher in a different political culture, one which we were not accustomed to. That was an era of ruling this country by political cohabitation between the various political forces of this country which held widely differing views. Through the post of the President and the Cabinet the two main political parties of the country were brought together into one government. On the Independence Day 2002 I announced that this was a golden opportunity that we were afforded to nurture a different political culture. I said that it was a golden opportunity especially to resolve the ethnic conflict – the war that was going on and the ethnic question that was facing us.

“The Prime Minister and the Cabinet are on their part, bound by the Constitution to act in accordance with its spirit and abide by its legal stipulations. The long years of practice of confrontational politics makes it perhaps difficult for some to accept the new attitudes required for the formulation of new systems of cohabitational governance. I wish to stress here that the responsibility for ensuring that the existing negative political culture ends, lies with the leadership of the two main political parties”.

In 2003 at the 55th Independence Commemoration I further pursued this theme. I said:

“The new Government has selected Peace as its major platform. While congratulating the Prime Minister and his team for the positive results achieved, I recommend a deep study of the causes for the setbacks and failures encountered in the past one year, a transparent and democratic approach to the peace process must be adopted. All the stake holders in Government and Parliament, as much as all our peoples must be kept informed of the policy framework the Government wishes to employ to achieve Peace. In short, the vision and the action plan must even now be clearly formulated and presented to the country”.

From that day onwards to this Commemoration - in the past one year - I have been observing the policy that was followed in regard to the peace process, democracy, good administration and economic prosperity.

Three months ago on 4th November 2003 I was compelled to take over three ministries of the government. That was because the things that happened during that one year period contributed to create serious doubts and concerns in the minds of all our peoples about the security of the nation.

Honorable Prime Minister, Distinguished Guests and My dear Countrymen,

During the whole of my political carrier I have held the view that a negotiated settlement should be found to the ethnic question. I believe that position has not changed even slightly to this day. I do not think that my actions in any way contribute to weakening the current peace process. What happened on November 4th last year was a further step in the same direction of the very policy I have been following all along. That does not in any way indicate a political power struggle or a constitutional crisis. That was a step taken, on the one hand to ensure the security of the country and on the other to unite the main political forces and lead them towards finding a solution to the problem through discussion.

Again in November 2003 I put before the country the Prime Minister and the Government of the United National Front that all the main political parties should unite to find a solution to the ethnic problem. For that purpose I also suggested a broad programme.

I suggested that we should implement a clear programme with the agreement of all to resolve the national question to realize economic development, re-establish democracy and good governance. But I regret that I have not been able so far secure the agreement of the government for this proposal.

I believe that all political forces should be united to find solutions to the serious political problems of our nation. Although the task of forming an alliance between the People’s Alliance and the United National Front for this purpose has failed so far, it has been possible for the People’s Alliance to rally around it several other political forces with this view. This is the first step we have been able to take towards forming a grander national alliance.

When we first took office well neigh 10 years ago our vision was based on the re-establishment of democracy, respect for human rights and ensuring the freedoms and rights of every citizen, irrespective of race, religion or political belief. This vision entailed policies and programmes for good governance. We addressed the twin issues of corruption and inefficiency in the public sector. In the sphere of economic development, we set ourselves a massive programme of work; we achieved a considerable number of the targets we set. We believe that we need to invest in our people and deliver results for the many, and not only for the few. For this we need to revitalize our agriculture and local industrial sectors by means of according maximum benefits to national entrepreneurs, in order that they utilize our human & material resources. The rural, small and medium scale entrepreneurs must be brought actively into the economy to play a role in its reconstruction. We believe that true economic development cannot take place without investment in building human-capital through education and health reforms, in addition to investing in children, women and all those sectors of the population that are socially and physically handicapped. In short, we believe in a Market Economy with a human face. For this we need a dynamic and strong private sector which could become the driving force of our economy without dependence on handouts from the State.

In order to strengthen democratic institutions, it is essential that we undertake reform of the present electoral system that has caused much conflict and destruction.

The Nation appreciates the ceasefire arrangements that have continued for two years. Yet, let us not forget that the absence of War is not Peace. We have to move forward with wisdom, honesty and commitment to the Nation, setting aside all personal and party interests to achieve a durable peace. The process of dialogue must be inclusive and must work towards a pluralist and democratic solution, within a united Sri Lanka. We must appreciate the commitment shown by the LTTE and all political parties, to Peace through the continuation of the ceasefire. We must also note with appreciation that all political forces of the South have now rejected war and armed conflict as a resolution of political conflict and are willing to tread the path of negotiation, dialogue and reconciliation.

This is a moment, as we have never seen before, in post Independent Sri Lanka, when all political forces and their leaders seem to agree on one policy for the resolution of the problem that has dogged us for half a century. If we are to reap productive results from this golden opportunity, we must learn to set aside considerations of a narrow and personal nature.

I on this important and noble day in our life would like to again appeal to all leaders of the main political forces to unite in order to achieve our common objectives and set aside party differences personal likes and dislikes. I am fully aware that some fringe elements of our society are now actively propagating hatred with in our society, particularly religious hatred. Our Government I assure you will not tolerate individuals or groups which stir up religious strife in any form for their petty gains, political or otherwise.

Let not our children inherit the problems our nation, problems which have blighted both our personal and national life, for nearly half the period of our life since independence. At this juncture we need leaders with real statesmanship and maturity in the art of governance capable of serving our country with sincere dedication.

On this 56th Independence Commemoration I appeal to you to join hands to achieve these noble and laudable national objectives.

May the blessings of the Triple Gem be with you! Wannakkam! Assalamu Alaikum!.