Delivering his first-ever address to Parliament since taking oaths, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sent out a strong message today to all parties representing the legislature on, among other things, his vision for the country, his values as a Rajapaksa family member, the role of minority parties and the importance of constitutional reform.
Dressed in a Western suit offset by a familiarly maroon tie, Rajapaksa inaugurated the fourth session of the eighth parliament this morning in a nearly 35-minute speech that outlined his policy proposals for his term as President.
Having thanked all citizens, institutions and political parties for ensuring a peaceful election, the President began his speech with a flashback to the early days of the Rajapaksa clan.
“I have served this nation as an Army Officer for 20 years, and as Secretary of Defence for nearly another 10 years. Though I was not actively engaged in politics, I have experienced what service to the people is, from an early age.
“My father’s elder brother D M Rajapaksa began his political career in the State Council in 1936, representing the Hambantota electorate. Following his demise in 1945, the people of Hambantota elected my father D A Rajapaksa to the State Council. Later, he was elected through the popular vote as a Member of the country’s first Parliament.
“From then on, many members of the Rajapaksa family, hailing from the rural village of Medamulana in Giruvapaththuwa, Ruhuna, have served as elected public representatives. There have not only been Members of Parliament, Deputy Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, a Deputy Speaker of Parliament, a Speaker of Parliament, a Leader of the Opposition and a Prime Minister, but also two Presidents elected to office by the people, who reposed their trust in us,” he said.
Rajapaksa also addressed his decision to abandon the family’s traditional maroon shawl in favour of a more Western style of attire.
“From the first day honourable D M Rajapaksa, known as the Lion of Ruhuna, appeared in the State Council, he wore a maroon coloured shawl. What he symbolised through this maroon shawl were the millet farmers of Giruvapaththuwa. Following D M Rajapaksa, my father D A Rajapaksa and each member of the Rajapaksa family who was elected to Parliament wore the maroon shawl. Though I do not wear this shawl, I stand for the same profound philosophy of constant dedication to the poor that is symbolised by the maroon shawl,” he said.
“It is this same philosophy that is embodied in the policy statement I presented during my presidential election campaign,” he added, tabling the ‘Visions of Prosperity and Splendour’ manifesto.
Pledging that he will honour the trust his voters had placed in him, Rajapaksa said he and his government are committed to implementing the “programme of developing a prosperous nation”.
The remarks that came immediately after appeared to be directed at minority parties that did not support Rajapaksa’s election campaign.
“The people who elected me to office desired a profound change in the political culture of this country. They rejected political agendas founded on race. The majority of the people proved that it is no longer possible for anyone to manipulate and control the politics of this country by playing the role of king-maker.
“I invite the politicians concerned to understand this reality. I call upon all to join together in the national undertaking to develop this country and to reject the politics based on petty agendas that have sown division in our society in the past.
“We must always respect the aspirations of the majority of the people. It is only then that the sovereignty of the people will be safeguarded,” he said.
The President also called for constitutional reform which he said is essential to safeguard the security, sovereignty, stability and integrity of the country.
“The success of a democracy rests upon its Constitution. The 1978 Constitution, which has since been amended on 19 occasions, has given rise to many problems at the present time because of its inherent ambiguities and confusions,” he said.
He also highlighted the need for electoral reform.
“Whilst preserving the positive characteristics of the proportional representation system, electoral reforms are needed to ensure the stability of the Parliament and to ensure the direct representation of the people.
“Though elections can be won through numbers, an unstable Parliament that cannot take clear decisions and remains constantly under the influence of extremism is not one that suits the country. We can solve this problem through constitutional reforms that will establish a strong executive, legislature and an independent judiciary that can ensure the sovereignty of the people,” he said.