By Dharisha Bastians
US Ambassador to the United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power has hailed President Maithripala Sirisena’s plans to further dilute the powers of the executive presidency, saying that with these changes since January Sri Lanka had “grabbed” the world’s attention.
Ambassador Power, who is on a three-day visit in Sri Lanka, said the President’s intentions to curb the powers of his own office were “extremely important” to strengthen check and balances. “It’s also sending a signal across the world about how important checks and balances are,” she said, following bilateral talks with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera at the Republic Building on Saturday night. Most leaders around the world were trying to extend their powers and term limits, or change their constitutions to ensure they have more power, Ambassador Power said. She is the second member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet to visit Sri Lanka following the presidential elections this year, in a sign that the two nations are restoring ties after years of tension during President Rajapaksa’s tenure.
Like other visiting US officials, Ambassador Power was upbeat about changes in Sri Lanka since presidential elections in January. The US official said Sri Lanka had chosen “hope over fear” in that poll.“Sri Lanka has become a real partner of the United States at the United Nations. Sri Lanka has also become someone we can count on to also stand up for aspirations of people who aren’t doing so well, elsewhere in the world,” Ambassador Power said in her brief remarks after the meeting with Minister Samaraweera.
The pair met for the first time in February this year, but greeted each other like old friends. Ambassador Power called Minister Samaraweera “her friend” as she posted pictures of her red carpet welcome at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday night and said he was a “firm advocate for the rights of Sri Lankan people, accountable Government and reform.”
Referring to recent terrorist attacks in Mali, Paris, Beirut and Bagdhad, Ambassador Power noted that it was a difficult time for a lot of communities in the world. Sri Lanka, she said has given the world “great hope”. Sri Lanka had dealt with terrorism and was now dealing with the very difficult legacies of a long and very arduous civil conflict,” the US Envoy said. “We are rooting for you,” she added.
On a visit to Jaffna yesterday Ambassador Power spent part of her Sunday learning to play ‘Elle’ with students at the Osmania Muslim School in Jaffna, where she inaugurated a US funded science building and disaster relief centre.
Ambassador Power played baseball herself as a girl, US Embassy officials in Colombo said, as they tweeted photos and video of the senior official hitting a ball out of the park in only her second attempt.The hit was “truly beginner’s luck” she tweeted.
During Ambassador Power’s visit to the Northern Province, she also announced the United States support for the restoration of ancient Tamil manuscripts.
In Jaffna Ambassador Power met with Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and the Government’s most senior representative in the formerly embattled province, Governor H.M.G.S. Palihakkara. Ambassador Power tweeted that she had urged Chief Minister Wigneswaran “to help reinforce Sri Lanka’s precious moment for reconciliation and rebuilding.”
With Governor Palihakkara, Power said the pair had agreed during the meeting that demilitarisation and development in the Northern Province “could not wait”.
The US Envoy will meet President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for talks today.