Mangala Samaraweera is no more | Sunday Observer

Mangala Samaraweera is no more

29 August, 2021

“Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak;
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust,” - William Shakespeare

This was how UNP Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe ended his short tribute to late Mangala Samaraweera, the former Minister who died of Covid-19 related complications while being treated at the Lanka Hospital last Wednesday (24).

Samaraweera, whose condition was deemed stable by the doctors, suffered ......a heart attack the previous night. His death was also blamed on his smoking habit and prolonged kidney disease.

Samaraweera had taken both the Covid-19 vaccines, it was revealed and he was a great promoter of the vaccine who encouraged all around him to get the jab.

The UNP Leader who spoke to him on the phone the previous day and promised to meet up, as part of his condolence message cum tribute wrote, “Mangala Samaraweera’s untimely demise is a great loss to the nation, the United National Party and to me, personally.

When I telephoned him yesterday afternoon, I told him that I was looking forward to meeting him on recovery. But it was not to be - as the uncontrolled pandemic raging in the country had claimed his life by this morning.”

Innovative mind

“He had an innovative mind, that could think out of the box and he was a great communicator who championed reconciliation amongst all,” he added.

Among the few who were able to take part in his funeral, performed within hours of his passing, due to Covid-19 health guidelines, were former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Ministers Dullas Alahapperuma, Wimal Weerawansa, Duminda Dissanayake and Dayasiri Jayasekera.

They were seen at the gate to the new crematorium of the Borella Kanatte, silently bidding farewell to a friend and a political comrade. The body was brought in a motorcade of a private funeral parlour in Borella.

MPs Tiran Alles, Eran Wickremaratne, Mujibar Rahuman and Prof. Harsha de Silva also joined former Minister Samaraweera’s sister Jayanthi and a few relatives gathered to pay him last respects.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa joined the long list of dignitaries who mourned the untimely death of Samaraweera.

In a condolence message posted on his facebook page, the President said, “I am deeply saddened to hear the sudden demise of Mangala Samaraweera, a former Minister of the United National Party and a former Member of Parliament, an honoured politician who made a significant service to the Sri Lankans by actively participating in many struggles and launching great transformations in the course of Sri Lankan politics.”

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in a twitter message said, “I am deeply saddened to hear of the untimely passing of my friend & colleague Mangala Samaraweera.

Today we have lost a great leader, a man who loved this nation. I thank him for his service to (Lanka). My condolences to his family. May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbhana.”

Former President Kumaratunga earlier released a tribute she penned hours after the demise of her political ally.

She wrote,”Magala, my dearest friend, brother, comrade-in-arms. You will live with every battle waged to build a better Sri Lanka. A country with a governance system that truely cares for its people and not its politicians.”

“I shall forever remember the monumental service you rendered in diverse ministerial posts. Most of all your impeccable personal ethics will be hard to match in Sri Lanka’s political arena.”

Media Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said, whatever his conviction is, Samaraweera stood firm for those convictions, and nothing could sway him from his resolve. “His party and his colour was his conscience. He never wanted to be part of the popular and favourable camp, that was his unique quality,” the Minister recalled.

Mangala was called a political misfit in Sri Lankan politics for his honest and liberal views. While he was a patriot for some, he was a traitor for others.

Born on April 21, 1956 in Matara, Samaraweera hailed from a political family. His father Mahanama Samaraweera was a cabinet Minister in the world’s first woman Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike’s Government and his mother Khema Samaraweera served as a member of the Matara Urban Council in the 50s.

Educated at Royal College, Colombo, he obtained a fashion and textile designing degree from Central St. Martins in London.

He was known for his extraordinary affection for his mother. Samaraweera once said,” My mother, Khema, was not a dreamer but a practical, earthly and compassionate person. If the people of Matara respected my father, they loved my mother.”

When Samaraweera first visited party activists in his home town Matara, as the newly appointed SLFP organiser in 1988, many introduced him as ‘Khema’s boy’. They told him if he needed their support, he should come back with his mother. “Even today, there are people who still refer to me as ‘Khema’s boy’, and I am always proud to be called that way,” he said.

His mother Khema was a much loved person at the Sunday Observer Editorial when she served as the Secretary to Editor in Chief, Harold Pieris before she moved on to the Editorial Administration Department.

It was Sirima Bandaranaike and Anura Bandaranaike who first noticed the politician in him. They invited him to become the SLFP organiser for Matara in 1988. He first entered Parliament as an MP for the Matara district in 1989.

He launched his book Khema’s Boy (Khemage Koluwa) to mark 30 years of his political career in March 2019. In his speech at the book launch, ‘I am a dreamer’, Samaraweera said, “At the very first meeting I attended at the Darley Rd., Head Quarters of the SLFP, it was Mahinda Rajapaksa who first welcomed me to the fold by introducing me to other organisers there.

We went on to form the Mother’s Front Movement at my home in Matara where we were elected Co-convenors and formed a friendship that I thought then would last forever. I was not to know then that my best political friend of that time was to be the reason for my departure from the SLFP many years later.

“Today, despite much water flowing under the bridge and us, standing in the opposing ends of the political spectrum, I still consider Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa a friend and I am very happy that he is here with us now.”

Key portfolios

Samaraweera held the key portfolios Post and Telecommunication, Urban Development, Construction and Public Utilities, Ports, Aviation and Media as well Deputy Minister of Finance during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s reign from 1994 to 2005.

He recalled with pride his service to restore the Jaffna Public Library which was destroyed during 1983 riots, co-chairing a committee with Lakshman Kadirgamar to initiate the ‘book and brick’ project. He took special pride in privatisation of Telecommunications sector and for the beautification of Colombo city during his time as Subject Minister

From 2005-2007, he was appointed the Foreign Minister under President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In 2010 Samaraweera joined the UNP after he was removed from the Cabinet, along with Anura Bandaranaike and Sripathi Sooriyarachchi, due to differences of opinion.

In his speech ‘I am a dreamer’ he said of his joining the UNP, “After a period of not daring to dream, it was in 2010 that I entered the UNP. Despite having said some pretty rude ‘things’ about its leader over the years, Ranil Wickremesinghe welcomed me graciously and warmly to the grand old party.

This made me feel that I had come home at last! In the UNP, I have found an inspiring leader and a team who share many of my political beliefs and values; in the UNP I have also found a party where I could ‘dare to dream’ again.”

In January 2015, Samaraweera was appointed Foreign Affairs Minister under the President Maithripala Sirisena led Yahapalana Government and in 2017 he became the Finance Minister following a cabinet reshuffle.

He joined the UNP breakaway faction Samagi Jana Balawegaya, after his party was defeated at the 2019 presidential election. He refrained from using racism and religious extremism to win elections and was an open champion for the rights of LGBTQ community in Sri Lanka.

His outspoken comments, criticising Buddhist clergy as a Minister in the last Yahapalana Government, and his stance at the UNHRC which led the then Government to co-sponsor a resolution deemed detrimental to Sri Lanka’s interests, did not augur well for his political career. He announced his retirement from party politics, weeks before the August 2020 general election.

Samaraweera returned recently with the ‘Radical Centre’ an apolitical youth movement comprising members who identified themselves as true patriots. At a media briefing announcing the launch of the movement in July, he said, the initiative was based on principles of democracy, freedom, equality and justice. He said the new initiative is not based on anti-Government sentiments alone and avoided media queries on political issues. The former Minister contracted the virus earlier this month and was being treated at Lanka Hospital for over a week at the time of his passing. He was 65.