COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena came to power nearly six years after the country's brutal civil war ended. He, however, faces several challenges including frictions of coalition politics in Lanka's first national unity government. Stating that he is satisfied with his performance, Sirisena cited his success in getting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution a big feather in his cap. "We actually proposed that the executive powers of the President be reduced immediately. The Supreme Court said major clauses cannot be deleted without referendum. Furthermore, the Supreme Court told us what could be done with two-thirds majority in Parliament. So we have changed clauses to the maximum extent possible with two-thirds majority in Parliament," he said.
"Earlier the President could dissolve the Parliament after completion of one year, but now under the provisions of the 19th Amendment, it has been extended to four and a half years. Establishment of independent commissions is another reason. It was essential for the country to ensure human rights, democratic rights, fundamental rights, and the freedom of the people." Sirisena said the international community was satisfied with his performance which has helped change the impression of the country. "Now there is no threat of international courts, now we don't have to talk about electric chairs, there is no problem. I have told the international community that I cannot accept any proposal that allows foreign judges to probe our domestic matters."
When asked how his government intends to promote economic growth while safeguarding living standards and social welfare, Siri said, "We have a consensual government of the two major parties. There are similarities as well as differences in the vision and policies of these two parties. The problems we face today are not the ones we faced 50 years ago. My vision is social democracy. Your question is how compatible is liberal democracy with social democracy. Both the parties have agreed on a consensual formula, a common plan of action has been agreed upon to continue and implement the programme. There is a broad agreement between the parties on this. We need large-scale investments. We cannot come out of the economic crisis without such investments. At the same time, enhancing social welfare and subsidies is also essential. The poor man is the one badly affected by a market economy. We have to protect the welfare and economy of the ordinary man. For that purpose, there is an agreement between the two parties. We have a strong government. Some people believe that is about to be toppled, which is a pipe dream."
Later addressing India-Sri Lanka ties, and signing of the Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement, Sirisena said the agreement will be signed after the approval of the Cabinet and will also be submitted to the Parliament. "Since ancient times we have very close relations with India. There are many similarities between the two countries. We have similar cultures. This relationship has been built on Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. We expect to sign trade agreement with quite a number of countries. These agreements are aimed at benefiting both the signatory countries and we don't intend signing any agreement that could be detrimental to any one country."
He added, "The proposal for India and Sri Lanka to sign a fresh agreement has been there for the last 10-15 years. Deliberations and discussions continued under different names. We will enter into an agreement which is not harmful to either party. The agreement will be signed after the approval of the Cabinet and will also be submitted to Parliament. We cannot do anything in secrecy, we are transparent and accountable to the people."