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Sri Lanka will not kneel down before any foreign nation, President Rajapaksa tells Parliament

COLOMBO: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday said Sri Lanka would not kowtow before any foreign nation even as he called for electoral and constitutional reforms to make the country a progressive state and a stronger executive presidency to effectively combat extremism.

Rajapaksa was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s seventh President on November 18 after he convincingly defeated the ruling United National Party (UNP) candidate Sajith Premadasa by more than 13 lakh votes, marking the return of the powerful Rajapaksa dynasty.

In his first ceremonial address to Parliament, the president outlined his government’s vision for efficiency, eradication of corruption and crime with accelerated infrastructure development to revive the country’s economy.

Attired in a western suite unlike his predecessors, Rajapaksa vowed to respect the wishes of the majority by protecting the unity of the country and Buddhism, while allowing people the right to practice the religion of their choice.

“We must always respect the aspirations of the majority of the people. It is only then that the sovereignty of the people will be safeguarded,” said Rajapaksa, 70, a former military officer.

He told the lawmakers that electoral and constitutional reform would be needed to make Sri Lanka a progressive state.

“The executive presidency must be strengthened to leave no room for extremist politics,” he said.

He said that he wants stronger relations with all countries as the foreign policy of his government.

“We will not fall on our knees before any foreign nation,” he said.

Rajapaksa said the people elected him to office for a change in the political culture.

“They rejected political agendas founded on race. The majority of the people proved that it is no longer possible for anyone to manipulate and control the politics of this country by playing the role of kingmaker.

“I invite the politicians concerned to understand this reality. I call upon all to join together in the national undertaking to develop this country, and to reject the politics based on petty agendas that have sown division in our society in the past.”

The president chose to be attired in European suit, a deviation from all five of his male predecessors who always wore the traditional national dress.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa named his elder brother and former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new prime minister after Ranil Wickremesinghe of the UNP resigned from the post following the election debacle.

The 74-year-old Mahinda Rajapaksa will function as the prime minister of the caretaker cabinet until the general election this year.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is widely expected to dissolve the current assembly by early March to set dates for a fresh parliamentary election end of April or early May.