(Full Text of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Address Via Electronic Technology to the May Day Rally held by the United National Party(UNP) at Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium on may 1st 2023)
“After assuming the presidency, I have had the opportunity to address the United National Party and all of you who support the party.
When I took office as president, the country was experiencing its worst economic crisis in 30 years. The economy had completely collapsed, and people were suffering from shortages of food and fuel, leading to protests on the streets. Additionally, some individuals attempted to exploit this crisis to undermine the democratic system and the parliament.
Today, the country’s economy has achieved stability, with no shortage of food, and a functional democratic system where the parliament operates without any threats. Furthermore, everyone has the opportunity to carry out their work without hindrance.
Prior to assuming the presidency, I reflected on one thing: the United National Party prioritizes the welfare of the country. The United National Party is a political party that is close to my heart. In fact, in the United National Party’s 2020 election manifesto, we explicitly stated our intention to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with a goal of securing $7 billion. As a party, we were the only ones who mentioned these critical points. On the other hand, other parties made empty promises they could not fulfil despite knowing the existence of the country’s economic problem.
After honestly sharing our party’s policies, the United National Party ended up in the national list. Our policy is to be transparent with the people, even if it means conveying unpleasant truths. We announced our goals for 2020 and 2021 without hesitation. As the economic crisis deepened in 2022, I met with the former President, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and recommended that he seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund.
During the discussions on this matter, the former President summoned a meeting of the party leaders in parliament. While other opposition groups refused to attend, I, along with the Tamil National Alliance, actively participated in the discussions.
My motivation was not rooted in politics, but in properly managing the country’s economy and alleviating the burdens on its citizens. For this reason, I took on the role of the presidency, as I had faith in my ability to revive the economy and work alongside supportive ministers to achieve these outcomes.
My self-assuredness stemmed from my previous experience in successfully rebuilding the country’s economy after the government’s collapse in 2001. During that time, I not only managed to revive the economy but also strengthened it. Similarly, in 2015, when the country’s economy faced a setback, I saw an opportunity to bolster it and achieve a primary budget surplus.
With this confidence in mind, I accepted the responsibility to face the current economic crisis head-on. By now, we have been able to stabilize the country’s economy and establish a sense of political stability. The parliament is functioning smoothly, and many individuals are working within the frameworks of democracy and law. I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to the ministers, MPs, political parties, organizations, and, most of all, the United National Party who have supported me throughout this process.
Our progress thus far has been made possible through our agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which was recently approved by a majority vote in parliament last Friday. I would like to express my gratitude to MP Wajira Abeywardena, who represented the United National Party, as well as Ministers Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara, for their unwavering support in this matter. Without their contributions, we would not have been able to move forward.
Our next step is to execute the IMF agreement and put in place the necessary rules and regulations to restore the country’s economy to a stable state by 2024. However, I am not content with just returning to the status quo.
It is imperative that we move beyond our current economic system and establish an economy that can achieve a rapid GDP growth rate of 6% – 7% annually. To illustrate this point, I have two examples: one is from the time of DS Senanayake, where we had the second strongest economy in Asia and were even able to lend to England. The other is from the tenure of JR Jayawardena, where we advanced with an open economy, and Sri Lanka became the second country in Asia to adopt this system. After our success, China followed suit.
Therefore, I am determined to pursue a new economic model that will elevate Sri Lanka’s economy to new heights and foster continued growth and prosperity for our citizens.
Against this backdrop, Sri Lanka must forge ahead once again. It is futile to compete with Afghanistan to determine who has the weakest economy. Instead, we must focus on building a robust and developed economy. Similar to the approach taken by J.R. Jayawardene, we must pursue numerous new projects and embrace the new economy to achieve our goals. Failure to do so will leave us with no future to look forward to.
We must not only consider our own future but also that of our country’s youth. It is our responsibility to ensure that they inherit a prosperous and thriving Sri Lanka. Therefore, let us work together to implement new strategies and policies that will lay the foundation for a thriving economy and a better future for our citizens.
As we approach the centenary of our independence in 2048, our goal should be to become a country with a developed economy, just like India aims to achieve in 2047 and China in 2049. Let 2048 be the year of development for Sri Lanka. We are not only building this economy for the present generation but also for the youth and children of the future. Our economy should be highly competitive, open, and based on social justice. It should incorporate a green and digital economy, as well as a competitive export market. We are making efforts to reach that stage, and we seek the support of everyone to make it a reality.
Do not focus on short-term politics; instead, let us think about the future, specifically 2048, and work towards making Sri Lanka a developed country. We must not repeat the mistake of making false promises to win support for today and tomorrow.
Instead, we must adopt a new path towards a competitive, open, green, and digital economy that is socially just, especially focused on the export market, and built for the benefit of today’s youth and children. To achieve this goal, we must break away from the old political system and embrace change. As members of the United National Party, we must become a party of the future, thinking anew and striving to transform Sri Lanka. This is my appeal to all of you.
My intention is to address the ethnic problem in the country while implementing the agreement with the International Monetary Fund. We are currently in discussions and I hope to reach a mutually agreeable solution by the end of this year. It is important for us to move forward while respecting and protecting the rights of all communities including the majority Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, and Burgher minorities without marginalizing anyone. We are all committed to achieving this goal.
Another issue that we need to address is the growing demand for change in our political and economic systems, particularly from the youth. As leaders, it is our responsibility to listen to their voices and take action. To this end, we have decided to appoint five youth representatives to both the Selection Committees and Monitoring Committees of the Parliament, which will be completed by May. Additionally, we plan to submit the Jana Sabha draft to the Parliament, following former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s proposal.
Let us work together towards building a new, competitive, and sustainable economy that is inclusive and just for all communities in Sri Lanka. As we strive towards this common goal, we must also move forward with a new constitution that reflects our shared values and aspirations. I call on everyone to join hands and build a better future for our beloved country.
Hence, I urge all members of the United National Party to embark on this new path. During the last election, some MPs from the SJB chose to abstain from voting. We all share the same goal of building an open economy. Therefore, let us unite and work together by forming a parliament and a government.
To the Tamil parties, I say that it is futile to distance oneself from this endeavor. If we are to address the issues faced by the Tamil community in this country, let us collaborate within this system, particularly in the Parliament as part of the government.
After sharing the Cabinet proposals on the new program with the parties and discussing them with the National Councils of the Parliament, we have now achieved a broad consensus on the matter. This twenty-five-year program is an ambitious one, but with the support and cooperation of all, we can move forward without fear. It is our commitment to implement this program and develop our country to its fullest potential. As we embark on this journey, I hope to have the support of all of you.”
(Excerpted from Press Release Issued by the Presidents Media Division)