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President D. B. Wijetunga

The final journey

It is with deep regret and sadness that the nation learns of the demise of former President D. B. Wijetunga. The late President has during tumultuous decades as a Parliamentarian as a Minister of the Cabinet, Prime Minister and as third Executive President of Sri Lanka provided a good example to others in public life and citizens of the country. He had no enemies but only rivals in politics. His life has been made more colourful because of them and how he encountered them with imperturbed ability brings to mind Abraham Lincoln's philosophy of life. 'With malice towards non and charity towards all.' President Wijetunga wished to preach not the doctrine of ignoble ease but the doctrine of the strenuous life.

The life of toil and effort, of labour and strife. He wished to impart the highest form of success which comes not to the man who desires mere easy peace but to the man who does not shrink from danger from hardship or from bitter toil and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph. Before he entered politics his path


President D. B. Wijetunga

 was not strewn with rose petals but thorns were aplenty.

But he maintained an untarnished reputation for honesty, integrity and public service which was its own record. Looking down those dusty corridors the political foes cannot accuse him of graft or dishonesty which is the Modus Operandi of the self seeking politician who is common enough in many parts of the world. He was humane and simple. He was naturally warm and homely in manner putting visitors at ease at once. D. B. Wijetunga's dynamism and personal charisma had helped to bind and strengthen the UNP. He often used his own inscrutable ways for arriving at popular decisions. He must be measured by some substantial values. He must be measured by the strength of his character, and his political convictions, his devotion to the democratic ideal and his sincerity to the cause and his love he had for his people. The timid man, the lazy man, the man who distrusts his country the over civilised man who has lost the great fighting, the ignorant man and the man of dull mind whose soul is incapable of feeling the mighty lift that thrills all of them shrink from seeing the nation undertake its duties.

But it was not for late President Wijetunga. Many politicians feared the strenuous life while he aspired to lead the only national life which was really worth leading. While many believe in the cloistered life which saps the hardy virtues of a nation as it saps them in the individual or else they are wedded to the base spirit of greed or gain which recognises in commercialism the be all and end all of national life. He realised that though an indispensable element, it is after all one of the many elements that go to make up true national greatness. President Wijetunga realised that no country can long endure if its foundations are not laid deep in the material prosperity which comes from business energy and enterprise, from hard unsparing effort in the fields of industrial activity.

As D. B. Wijetunga saw neither was any nation ever yet truly great if it relied upon material prosperity alone. President Wijetunga joined the United National Party in 1946. He entered Parliament for the first time when he successfully contested the Udunuwara seat at the 1965 General elections and quickly made a reputation for himself as a fine constituency member of Parliament ever mindful of the needs of his electors. In terms of meeting the needs of his constituents he was considered the most effective MP in that Parliament. He lost Udunuwara in 1970 and was returned in 1977 UNP landslide being appointed Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the J. R. Jayawardane administration.

He later served as Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Minister of Power and Highways and Minister of Agricultural development. In the last General election he contested D. B. Wijetunga the grass roots Kandyan who always saw to the welfare of the Kandyan peasantry and a very popular politician scored the largest number of votes in the Central Province. When Ranjan Wijeratne was killed by a car bomb it was to Mr. Wijetunga that Premadasa turned to assume the Ministry of Defence in which capacity he chaired the national security council. Later Wijetunga was asked to take on the Ministry of Labour and vocational services on top of his many other responsibilities. Mr. Wijetunga was appointed Prime Minister in 1989 by President Premadasa which was a surprise to the country.

He also held the ministries of Finance and Labour and Vocational Training in addition to being the state Minister of Defence in the Premadasa administration. At the untimely death of President Premadasa by the unanimous decision of members of Parliament both government and opposition he was elected as the third executive President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. He stood on any rostrum with a sense of deep humility and great pride, humility in the wake of those great architects of our history who stood there before him with pride in the reflection that the home of legislature the Parliament represents human liberty in the purest form yet devised. Here are centered the hopes and aspirations and faith of the entire human race.

He did not stand there as an advocate for any partisan cause for the issues were fundamental and reached quite beyond the realm of partisan considerations. He was of the view that they must be resolved on the highest plane of national interest if our national course is to prove sound and our future protected.

President Wijetunga after retirement from politics was with neither rancour nor bitterness in the fading twilight of life with but one purpose in mind that is to serve his country till death. As the chief executive of a small nation rich in history and culture Wijetunga worked in cooperation and in close collaboration with bigger, richer and more powerful nations. In this he maintained the honour and dignity of Sri Lanka in a World context. Finally to quote the well-known poet John Donne from his holy sonnets;

Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful for thou art not so

For those whom though think thou does overthrow

Die not poor death nor yet can you kill......

...... Death you shall die.

(John Donne)

 

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