ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s former finance minister Mangala Samaraweera passed away Tuesday (24) in a private hospital where he was being treated for coronavirus, a coordinator for the former minister said.
The 65-year-old politician contracted COVID-19 earlier this month and was receiving intensive care unit (ICU) treatment at the Lanka Hospital, despite being fully vaccinated.
When unconfirmed reports surfaced last week that Samaraweera had succumbed to the virus, sources close to him said he was in fact on the mend and was responding well to treatment.
Samaraweera had held key portfolios in the cabinets of former presidents Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, all of whom he helped bring to power, earning him the reputation of being a king-maker.
An outspoken politician hailing from the Matara district, Samaraweera left parliamentary politics in 2020, focusing his abilities on forming a broader alliance of like-minded, independent liberal thinkers.
Most recently, he made headlines for his remark at the launch of a new movement named True Patriots that the main opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) are two sides of the same coin.
To the critics of his tenure as minister of finance, Samaraweera said: “Even though I am a textile designer, I was able to bring fiscal discipline in this country as the finance minister for the first time since 1953.”
“I am always proud of two things. The first one is that, through the Sudhu Nelum Mal Movement (a peace movement under President Kumaratunga in the 1990s), I was able to help and reconstruct the Jaffna library and hand it over to the people. I am also proud of privatising Sri Lanka’s telecom sector. Before 1997, everybody had to wait 10-12 years to get a telephone line,” he said at what would be his final press conference.
Samaraweera was also known for being a staunch defender of minority rights and a vocal proponent of liberal democracy. He often courted controversy, being one of a handful of Sri Lankan politicians to openly challenge cultural norms and their self-appointed purveyors.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose election as president in 2005 Samaraweera was instrumental in, said Sri Lanka has lost a great leader.
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 #lka. My condolences to his family. May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbhana.
— Mahinda Rajapaksa (@PresRajapaksa) August 24, 2021
Expressing his condolences, SJB and opposition leader Sajith Premadasa tweeted: “Dear Mangala Samaraweera, you were a man of the age who respected humanity and was committed to the vision you believed in according to your conscience. May you attain Nibbana!”
The United National Party (UNP), of which he became a member after defecting from the Rajapaksa camp, said he was a loyal servant of Sri Lanka who had served the public nearly 40 years.
“The services rendered by Samaraweera to the people of Matara and the country have and will be enjoyed by numerous generations. He built his career on the principles of democracy and freedom, values that he fought to ensure all Sri Lankans enjoyed,” the party said.
The former minister’s colleague in the Yahapalana cabinet Dr Harsha de Silva tweeted the following:
As my boss at @MFA_SriLanka I got to know @MangalaLK for who he really was. What a professional. What an amazing human being. Honest to the core, always stood for truth n justice. I saw his unwavering commitment to reconciliation first hand. #SriLanka’s loss is irreplaceable. pic.twitter.com/i8XxSqioCh
— Harsha de Silva (@HarshadeSilvaMP) August 24, 2021
Newly appointed health minister Keheliya Rambukwella tweeted: “In yet another tragic outcome of the #COVID19SL pandemic, my colleague Mangala Samaraweera has passed away. It is the loss of another great leader, a true political maverick. We may not have agreed on policy, but he always had my respect. #RIP”
The ruling SLPP, too, expressed its condolences.
We are profoundly saddened by the news of the passing of Hon. Mangala Samaraweera. He leaves behind a unique legacy of politics that he sincerely believed in. This is a great loss for Sri Lankan politics, and we mourn his untimely demise along with the rest of the nation.
— SLPP (@PodujanaParty) August 24, 2021
The opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) said though they disagreed ideologically, Samaraweera never resorted to racism for political gain.
“A free thinker in politics, he stayed true to his principles even when doing so would be politically disadvantageous to him,” the JVP said in a Facebook post that was shared by party leader and MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake. (Colombo/Aug24/2021)