By Soraya M. Deen –
In late October, you, took Sri Lanka by surprise. The news was terrifying and alarming. 71 years after Independence you singlehandedly threw Sri Lanka into the darkest hour of its history. You ignored and disregarded the supreme law of the country. You abruptly sacked the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, calling him inept and corrupt and in a clandestine meeting you then appointed a new prime minister: Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former president who was your arch rival. When the members of Parliament opposed this, you casually dissolved Parliament.
After many promises not honored, many deadlines not met, on December 15th you reinstated Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, ending a seven-week long standoff that crippled Sri Lanka. You vowed that you will never reinstate him, you publicly blamed and shamed him. You even said that if he is reappointed you will resign from your job and not remain in office even for an hour. Days, weeks and months have passed and you have not resigned.
Today, the country is upset not that you have lied to them, but that they are unable to believe you anymore.
For the past three months your words and your actions have emboldened a dangerous new growing politically corrupt leadership. You have legitimized lying and deceit. You have spoken about Buddhist values, and Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage. You have spoken about Mandela and the Pope. Yet, you say one thing but do something else. Perhaps you might not agree that it is better to bite ones tongue than eat ones words.
You speak eloquently about all matters that need to change, but fail to change just one thing – that is you.
Credible leaders have integrity. They practice what they preach. They do what they say and say what they do.
I write this letter because I believe in a Sri Lanka devoid of hypocrisy, corruption and fear. I also write this letter because I believe in a Sri Lanka that can produce visionary leaders who could restore trust, abandon hidden agendas and guide us to achieve unity, prosperity and peaceful co-existence.
Ever since we have called ourselves a Buddhist nation, the world has looked up to us to embody the teachings of the Buddha. The loving kindness and the hospitality of the majority Buddhist citizens towards the minority citizens when devoid of political manipulation has always been exemplary. But the shield is cracking. Leaders such as you who should promote unity and harmony have embarked on a very narrow path of hate and aversion, that today even our youth are no longer influenced and protected by the dharma.
You are not suitable to lead our country until you fully acknowledge that you have lied and misled the nation. You have not only targeted Ranil Wickremesinghe, a man you said who has violated you, you have deliberately and with utmost callousness undermined truth and violated the supreme law of this land – The Constitution.
No one is holding you accountable nor is anyone speaking the truth to you. Danish author Hans Christian Anderson in his short tale “The emperor’s new clothes,” writes about two weavers who promise the emperor a new suit that they say is invisible, while in reality they make no clothes. The emperor parades before his subjects in his new “clothes” no one dares to say that they do not see any clothes on him for hear that they will be seen as stupid.
Are the people around you afraid that they will be seen as stupid or are they truly afraid of you?
The founding principles of our country, and the core values of our nation are held together and protected by our constitution. These values have no political and personal affiliations. They are Sri Lankan ideologies. They are sacred. They hold our nation together. They provide safety and security in upholding human rights and the dignities of our people.
The Constitution is the safe keeper of our liberties. As an Attorney at Law of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, I pledged to uphold and defend the constitution. I am sure you did the same, when you took the oath of your office.
Any willful violation or desecration of the constitution must be challenged by every patriotic citizen with great fervor and urgency. Protecting the constitution is not only the function of the Executive, but that of all Sri Lankans.
Your willful refusal to respond to the concerns of the nation regarding the unconstitutional dissolution of parliament, dragged to the streets scores of women who notwithstanding the rain and sun showed up to make their voices heard. They pleaded with you to restore the status quo. They demanded the truth, because the women of Lanka mothers and sisters, verily believed that the truth is not negotiable. To some it was a value they taught their children every day and they showed up to stand up to that value, when you chose deliberately to ignore it.
You are not fit to lead our country until you stop your assault on the United National Party. This is the party that brought you to power and made you the President.
Have you forgotten one of the Buddha’s Jataka Stories – “The Bodhisattva Sage and the Ungrateful Prince? This Jataka story conveys to all of us the fact that people who are sincerely appreciative of the help and kindness which they receive from others will ultimately enjoy success and happiness.
On the other hand, ungrateful people who fail to appreciate the help, kindness, and generosity which they receive from others will ultimately perish from their own degeneracy, ignominy, and disgrace.”
You may have grave issues with the UNP leadership and with other matters pertaining to governance. Why have you not worked it out? Please note that you have the freedom and the right not to choose to love them must also know that you have a duty and an obligation not to harm them.
You are not fit to be our president until you, who is a Buddhist, commit to practicing what you preach. Perhaps you can begin by, practicing some basics of Buddhist philosophy. Our country is devoid of unity. From communal reconciliation now we are focusing on political reconciliation. What a burden you have imposed on the nation? The whole country is held hostage by political bickering, fighting and divisive narratives. You have led the charge in making this the norm. Please instill into Sri Lankan lives at least some of what the Buddha taught. We Sri Lankans want to be happy. No one can achieve happiness in isolation. All life is interdependent. The happiness of one depends upon the happiness of all and the happiness of all depends upon the happiness of one.
Can you begin by practicing the four great virtues, known as the four “Brahmaviharas”, the four Immeasurable’s;
Maitri – Loving-kindness,
Karuna – Compassion,
Mudita – Appreciative Joy
Upeksha – Equanimity
Set an example, lead us to cultivate wholesome attitudes towards others in society and towards all sentient beings. Our children are watching. We may not be able to repair older men, but we can raise happy, peace loving children.
The highest courts of law, almost all the governments of the world, have denounced your actions. The brave women of Lanka, men, activists, youth, poets, writers, the elderly and even people who are physically challenged have shown up at rally’s and have made their morally strong, but often powerfully weak voices heard. They have walked in the rain and the glaring sun, to give us hope and speak renewed possibilities when the very foundations of our democracy was being desecrated by you.
In a clandestine meeting late into the night, you appointed as Prime Minister, a man whom you yourself have exposed to be the most corrupt and ruthless leader Sri Lanka ever had. How could you betray your country and the people this way?
Leadership is a challenging responsibility. Leaders who impose their will on the people are many. Leaders who indulge in self-glorification and promote anger, hatred, fear, ill will, cruelty, jealousy, clinging and aversion are also in plenty.
But leadership built on vision, right action, right speech, trust, love, humility and understanding demands a high degree of personal integrity.
One of the greatest lessons in leadership I learned from Buddhism – Practice what you preach and preach what you practice – Yathavadi- Tathakari, Yathakari-Tathavadi.
And I say President Sirisena- you have enormous power and you have abused that power. You are not suitable to lead our country.
*Soraya M. Deen is an award winning International Activist, Interfaith Consultant, advocate for Restorative Justice, lawyer and author. She trains women in Public Leadership and encourages women to participate effectively in the political, social and economic decisions that impact their lives.