Covid robs the country of outspoken politician, Mangala Samaraweera

Former lawmaker and outspoken politician Mangala Pinsiri Samaraweera yesterday (24) died of Covid-19. Samaraweera was 65 at the time of his death.

Mangala entered Parliament for the first time in 1989 from the SLFP. He served as a Cabinet minister under several governments.

Nominated by the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) to contest the last general election from the Matara District, Samaraweera quit it at the last moment. He addressed his last media briefing on 25 July at ‘Freedom House’ at T.B. Jayah Mawatha as the leader of an organisation called ‘True Patriots.’

Samaraweera fell sick soon thereafter and initially they didn’t suspect it was Covid-19. Asked whether Samaraweera had received the Covid-19 vaccine, sources said the former minister did.

Samaraweera was the son of Mahanama Samaraweera, Cabinet minister of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s government, and Khema Samaraweera.

Mangala may have had his shortcomings like any human being, but whatever he did was done with plenty of panache and commitment. In certain ways he was ahead of his times and very innovative. He took up challenges in his stride.

Samaraweera led ‘Mothers’ Front’ with the then Hambantota District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa, against the deaths squads during the second JVP uprising.

Samaraweera returned to parliament at the next general election in 1994 and was accommodated in the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s Cabinet as the Post and Telecommunications Minister. Samaraweera also served as the Minister of Urban Development, Construction and Public Utilities in the same Cabinet following a cabinet reshuffle and was later given the Deputy Minister of Finance portfolio.

Subsequent to the SLFP’s defeat at the general election in 2001, Samaraweera was made the Chief Opposition Whip and the Treasurer of the party. Following their return to power at the 2004 general election, Samaraweera received Ports, Aviation and Media portfolios in the new cabinet of President Kumaratunga.

In the run-up to the 2005 presidential election, he gave up media portfolio while retaining Ports and Aviation portfolios. Samaraweera played a significant role in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign and was rewarded with an additional foreign affairs portfolio. However, following a dispute with the Rajapaksas, Samaraweera was replaced in January 2007 as foreign minister and UNPer Rohitha Bogollagama given that vital portfolio during the Eelam War IV.

President Rajapaksa retained Samaraweera as the Ports and Aviation minister. But, Samaraweewa along with Anura Bandaranaike and Sripathy Sooriyaarachchi were sacked from the party on February 9, 2007. Samaraweera formed a new political party, the SLFP (Mahajana) wing but gave it up to join the UNP.

Later, Samaraweera joined the UNP and played a crucial role as an Opposition member and following the 2015 general election received the appointment as the foreign minister. Samaraweera along with the then PM Ranil Wickremesinghe paved the way for the signing of Geneva Resolution in early Oct 2015. Two years later, President Maithripala Sirisena in agreement with Wickremesinghe switched portfolios held by Samaraweera and finance minister Ravi Karunanayaka.

Following Sajith Premadasa’s defeat at the 2019 presidential election, Samaraweera pledged his support to the rebel group who took over the registered political party and re-registered it as the SJB.

Samaraweera strongly pushed for media freedom and was instrumental in allowing television stations to carry local news bulletins in 1994. (SF)

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