Sri Lanka’s war crimes accused president announced that a new constitution and electoral system for the island “will be delivered within the next year”, in a speech he delivered to the Gajaba Regiment to mark the army’s 72nd anniversary.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived at the regiment’s headquarters in Saliyapura last week, with a set of military’s medals on his chest and flanked by the head of Sri Lanka’s army Shavendra Silva. Silva remains barred from entry to the USA over his involvement in war crimes.
Rajapaksa’s speech was delivered to his old Gajaba Regiment, which Silva and current defence secretary Kamal Gunaratne also served, and marked possibly the first time that a sitting Sri Lankan president has chosen to address just one unit on the army anniversary.
After inspecting troops who marched before him, Rajapaksa went on to deliver a speech punctuated with several new government initiatives.
“The bringing in of a new Constitution, as I promised then, will be delivered within the next year,” he told troops. “In particular, I will also establish the new electoral system that the people have been expecting.”
It remains to be seen what Sri Lanka’s newly proposed constitution will entail, but Rajapaksa’s staunchly Sinhala nationalist politics, in which he has pardoned a soldier convicted for slitting the throats of Tamil children and vowed never to prosecute those accused of war crimes, has left many fearful of what may be in store.
In his address, Rajapaksa went on to praise the Sri Lankan military and his old regiment in particular. As a young officer, I spent most of my time serving the Gajaba Regiment,” he said. “Coming to this place makes me feel like I came home.”
“For the first time in the history of our country, I am proud to say that I was able to become the Commander-in-Chief and the President of the country without being a politician,” he continued. “I was able to do that, because as an army officer I fulfilled my respective duties towards the country. As the Secretary of Defence, I rendered my service to the country. That is why the people trusted me and elected me as the President of this country. I believe that all of you too can be proud of that.”
He went on to speak of how he has strengthened the Sri Lankan military during his tenure, which comes as a raised ministry of defence budget was also announced last week.
“When I came to power I said that I would give priority to the national security of this country,” Rajapaksa declared.
“I have taken the necessary steps to ensure national security, taking it as a matter of policy. I have also taken steps to appoint most suitable officers for their respective appropriate places as the Secretary of Defence or as the Commanders of the Armed Forces or as Intelligence Officers. Also, I have elevated the mentality of the Tri-forces and the intelligence services.”
“Levelling allegations against military personnel and intelligence officers have been stopped and they have been given the necessary powers to carry out their duties,” he added. “It is our paramount responsibility to ensure that there is no room for recurrence of terrorism in this country. We defeated the separatist terrorism. Now we need to stabilize the security thus achieved.”
“A good parade was held today,” Rajapaksa concluded. “It deserves my praise. As an Army, it’s about services as well as the training. All the armies in the world today are engaged not only in combat but also in nation building. You fulfill many tasks towards that and I hope you will continue to do so in the future as well.”
The Sri Lankan president also inaugurated a newly constructed drill ground at the Gajaba Regiment Camp, with inscriptions in English and Sinhala only.