On Tuesday August 9, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe paid his first official visit to the Army HQ in the outskirts of Colombo and addressed the troops even as protesters were planning to renew the agitation to oust him from the Presidency.
As it turned out, the function at the Army HQ went off without a hitch and calm prevailed in the island with no sign of the planned stir.
But it did appear as if Wickremesinghe had deliberately chosen August 9 to make a ceremonial first visit to the Army HQ. It symbolically challenged the protestors’ bid to launch another wave of their agitation to bring down his government and force fresh elections.
In his address at the Army HQ, the President praised the troops for the sagacious way in which they protected parliament from a group determined to storm and seize it. By preventing the seizure, the troops had saved the constitution of Sri Lanka, he said. If the violent crowd had barged into parliament, government would have fallen and the course of Sri Lanka’s history would have been different, he noted. But the troops on duty managed to prevent the catastrophe, and he was grateful to them for that.
“Many people do not know the significance of this. Therefore, I wish to dwell in it. There are three pillars on which the constitution of the country rests – the Executive, the Judiciary and Parliament. If these are disabled, the country will go out of control, the constitution will be in tatters and democracy will be destroyed,” Wickremesinghe said.
He recalled that on July 9, the President’s’ official residence and the Presidential Secretariat were occupied. Therefore, the Executive could not function. In the evening, the Prime Minister’s office was occupied. “Then, fearing that I could take over the Presidency, violent elements set fire to my residence. Only the Prime Minister’s office at Earnest de Silva Mawatha was left. But on July 13 that too was stormed and taken over. There was no place for me to function from. In the evening, they tried to surround parliament. If parliament had been disabled, there could be no government.”
“A party leaders’ meeting was on in parliament at the time. Sensing the gravity of the situation, the Speaker suspended the meeting and there was a realization that if parliament was disabled, the constitution too would go. I called a meeting of the Security Council and spoke to Gen. Shavendra Silva and Army Commander Lt. Gen.Liyanage. Aware of the consequences of a disabled parliament, they acted. Without opening fire, the troops quelled those who were attempting to seize parliament. For that I express my gratitude. Just as you saved the country from terrorism, you saved the constitution of the country,” Wickremesinghe told the men.
“It is now up to the 225 members of parliament to unite and find solutions to the problems facing the country,” the President added.