When I first visited party activists in my home town in 1988, many of them introduced me to others as “Khema’s boy” and told me that, if I needed their support, I should come back with my mother. Even today, there are still people who refer to me as “Khema’s boy,” and I am always proud to be called so.
1988 මම මුලින්ම මගේ ගමේ පක්ෂ ක්රියාකාරීන් මුවගැහුණම ඒ අය මාව අනෙක් අයට හඳුන්වා දුන්නේ ඛේමාගේ කොල්ලා කියලයි. ඒ අය මට කිව්වා, ඒ අයගේ සහයෝගය අවශ්ය නම් අම්මාත් එක්ක එන්න කියල. අදටත් සමහරු ඉන්නවා මාව හඳුන්වන්නෙ ඛේමාගේ කොල්ලා කියල. ඒ ගැන මං ඇත්තටම ආඩම්බර වෙනවා.
1988 ஆம் ஆண்டில் முதன் முதலில் நான் எனது கிராமத்தில் கட்சி செயற்பாட்டாளர்களை சந்தித்த போது, அவர்கள் என்னை ஏனையோருக்கு பேமாவின் மகன் என அறிமுகம் செய்தனர். அவர்களின் ஆதரவு எனக்கு அவசியமாயின், அம்மாவுடன் வருமாறு எனக்குக் கூறினார்கள். இன்றும் என்னை பேமாவின் மகன் என அழைக்கும் சிலர் இருக்கின்றனர். அதை எண்ணி நான் மிகவும் பெருமை கொள்கின்றேன்.
Born April 21st 1956, Mangala Pinsiri Samaraweera was the youngest of three born to Mahanama and Khema Samaraweera in the southern Sri Lankan district of Matara.
Mahanama received his first political cabinet appointment the same day Mangala was born, and held several Ministerial portfolios over the course of his career as a member of Prime Ministers SWRD’s and Sirimavo Bandaranaike's governments, while Khema served as a member of the Matara Urban Council and later on as Secretary to the Editor at Lakehouse Newspapers and Private Secretary to Mangala during his tenure in Post and Telecommunications.
While the family spent their early days in Matara, they eventually moved to Colombo where they would stay on after Mahanama’s passing when Mangala was 9 years old. Mangala attended Nalanda and then Royal College till moving to England to complete his highschool and higher studies. Here he received admission to the prestigious Central St. Martins University of the Arts and created a name for himself as designer Mangala Innocence while completing his BA in Clothing Design and Technology.
On returning to Sri Lanka, Mangala served as a design consultant to the National Design Center of Sri Lanka, a consultant for the Ministry of Textile Industries, and then as a visiting lecturer to the Institute of Aesthetic Studies at the University of Kelaniya upon the urging of esteemed textile designer Chandramani Thenuwera who would go on to become his collaborator in their much lauded fashion shows. Imprinting Sri Lanka’s craft, design and cultural prowess on the global stage was his initial focus.
Then the inhumane horror of Black July of ‘83 took place, and the witnessing of that unimaginable level of hatred and violence by Sri Lankans upon fellow Sri Lankans compelled Mangala to divert his path. Taking up the call to political action extended to him by Sirimavo Bandaranaike he started anew as a Sri Lanka Freedom Party party organizer in Matara, and quickly became the SLFP's Assistant Secretary and Coordinating Secretary of the Mother’s Front movement for the cause of disappeared youth.
He was elected to parliament for the first time in 1989, and appointed Minister of Post and Telecommunications in the cabinet of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 1994, establishing a political partnership and friendship that remained a constant throughout the rest of his life. When a principled stance against rights violations during the last stages of the country's 30 year civil war led him to depart the SLFP, by then under his once political ally Mahinda Rajapakse, he temporarily formed his own Mahajana (M) Wing, before finally finding a new home with his once opponents - the United National Party (UNP). In his last parliamentary political manoeuvre he helped found the UNP breakaway group Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), though hoped to eventually reunite them.
His 30+ year political career saw him at the nexus of Sri Lanka’s politics and governance holding ministerial portfolios starting from Post and Telecommunications, then onto Sports, Education (deputy), Ports and Urban Development, Media, Foreign Affairs, and finally, as Minister of Finance. From the start he proved himself a bold and innovative decision maker through leading the still lauded privatization of Sri Lanka Telecom which has made Sri Lanka telecommunications one of the most accessible and competitive services in the country.
He was an early visionary for a grander and meaningful outlook for Sri Lanka through urban development projects including the rehabilitation of the Beira Lake and Galle Face Green in Colombo; the Bus Depot, post-tsunami statue of mother & son, the Olanda Dutch Market, & the (unfinished) Nilwala riverside community centre in Matara; and the Anandan Memorial Swimming pool in Valvettithurai (VVT), Jaffna - to name a few.
In the footsteps of his mentor Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, he became an internationally lauded and highly respected statesman on the global stage, strengthening ties with global peers & balancing, then evolving Sri Lanka’s non-aligned approach to further global democracy and mutual development and collaboration. He openly questioned the news of targeting of civilian no fire zones by the Rajapakse government (leading to his eventual firing), & also secured the designation of the LTTE as an international terrorist organization in Europe while alongside leading on peace and reconciliation amongst all Sri Lankans through his courageous willingness to push for the locally-led accountability and transitional justice mechanisms via resolution 30/1 & the establishing of the Office of Missing Persons and the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms, and support for the repeal of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act.
As Finance Minister, despite having a mere 2-year mid-term appointment full of many upheavals, he & his team accomplished putting in place the fundamental mechanisms to set Sri Lanka on a path of financial health - including a fuel price formula, 44% growth in income tax collection, an IMF programme for fiscal health negotiated on well-respected terms, and the achievement of a primary surplus in both 2017 and 2018 - an act that had only been accomplished 3 other years in the total of 74 years that had passed since Independence. Moreover, he was keen that his policies address the concerns of Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable - he laid out plans/actioned climate disaster preparedness, sustainable energy and transport projects, scholarship programming for Sri Lanka's most talented youth and led on regulations on predatory lending - wiping away LKR 1.25BN of microfinance loans taken by low-income and rural borrowers, particularly women.
He believed and demonstrated in all his roles that Sri Lankans could and should stand shoulder to shoulder with all others on the global stage and bring in a Sri Lankan voice & vision to further diplomatic and economic conversations and collaborations for shared wins. Finally, as an unwavering believer in secular, liberal democracy, Mangala was one of the few who stood against the politicization and weaponization of religion by inauthentic clergy & extremists & believed that the setting in place of restraints on power, including his own, was integral to maintaining the checks and balances on despotic delusions, and thereby keep the state, rightfully, always in service of the people.
In the final stage of his career and life, to the surprise of many, he chose to step away from parliamentary politics and instead envision a Radical Centrist proposition for the people and by the people - speaking to the hopes of the younger generations of Sri Lankans as progressive, secular, inclusive, environmentally conscious, compassionate, innovative and collaborative True Patriots & global citizens. At its core the Radical Centre was a commitment to restore governance to an act of service and with duty of care towards the rights, aspirations, well-being and freedoms of all Sri Lankans. He passed on prior to seeing this through his plans to complete a book on his study of Buddhism, contest the 2024 Presidential election as the people’s candidate, and enact the abolishment of the executive Presidency.
And so the baton is tragically passed on to the care of his family and friends and to all those who he inspired. They will attempt to capture here some of his legacy and the work that must go on. We are also certain that the #GoHomeGota united people's movement & his colleagues demonstrating the moral & political courage in service of the people would have his fullest admiration.
And if ever looking for Mangala in his own words, Khema's Boy spoke his truth here.
Design by Gimhani Galgedara || Development by Samir Lalani of October Digital || Content by Chanchala Gunewardena
All Rights to Chanchala Gunewardena 2022