JVP MP Vijitha Herath in an interview with Dailymirror spoke about the current political situation in the country and his party’s novel way of approaching issues at hand. Following are excerpts of the interview done with Herath.
Provincial Councils are a part of our legal system though we like it or not
TNA no longer demands Federalism
Land and Police powers have to be discussed
Our thinking should be different from the war time
JVP stands for socialism with modern Sri Lankan characteristics
We asked people to close down the grocery shop of Mahinda Rajapaksa
We also ask people close down the grocery shop of the present Government
There is no difference in the level of corruption and frauds between now and then
Now we see frauds in expressways, splurging public money for the luxuries of ministers
QHow is the JVP getting ready for the elections?
This is an election which the Government declared grudgingly. We all had to fight to get this election. There is a new electoral system which is an improvement of the previous system. It will ensure better representation for women and elect members answerable to their respective electoral wards. We stand for such a system. We will contest the elections in all parts of the country. We have no issue in fielding candidates.
QThe JVP is getting ready for this election with a new political complexion. Instead of fielding members from its cadre, the party is inviting members from the civil society to contest together. What is the reason for this political change?
Of course, we extended an open invitation to progressive individuals, who don’t indulge in corruption and have no record on frauds. They are also ready to forgo their monthly salaries even as elected members, to participate in the elections with us. A lot of people at grassroots level have consented. They are in our nomination lists. They will join hands with the party cadres. We will introduce a code of conduct for all the candidates. This is a precursor to the formation of a broad political front at the 2020 elections.
QThe JVP did something similar at the last parliamentary elections. Yet, some members such former Auditor General S.C. Mayadunne left the scene after the elections. Why is that?
As for former Auditor General S.C. Mayadunne, he is a person who did a lot of voluntary work. He works with the JVP even today. Yet, he is not a card holding member of the party. He resigned from his parliamentary seat over his disappointment regarding some persons elected during this time. He upheld the view that people had elected some persons unfit for such positions. So, he believed it wasn’t the proper avenue for him to be in. Yet, he is still with the JVP.
QThe JVP played a role in the election of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005. In 2015, your party indirectly worked for the victory of current President Maithripala Sirisena. How do you compare and contrast the two Governments?
During each time, we took the decision that was the most appropriate in our view. In 2005, there was a need for it. We were able to defeat the secessionist forces that were at work. After the defeat of terrorism, that Government was heading in a wrong direction. We were opposed to it.
We didn’t play a direct role in the election of this Government. It was an indirect role that we played as you said. In simple metaphorical terms, we asked people to close down the grocery shop of Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. At the same time, we said we couldn’t vouch for the quality of items on sale at the shop of President Sirisena. This is our position.
QYou said ahead of the elections that you weren’t certain about the quality of items kept on sale at the shop of Mr. Sirisena.This Government has been in power for nearly three years. What have you got to say?
We said so at that time before opening the shop. Now, the shop is open. We are sure now that there is no quality in the items on sale. We are now asking people to close it down. We are ready to open our own shop. We are asking people to shop with us. We don’t have any errant trading practices.
In fact, we advocate socialism with modern Sri Lankan characteristics. In literary terms, we explained that Russian shoes were too large for us. Likewise, Chinese shoes are too small. So, we say neither Russian model nor Chinese model is applicable to us
Q What is your assessment of the performance of the present rule?
To be honest, there is no difference between now and then. The same political formula is followed by the present Government. This Government vowed to take action against corruption and frauds of the former rule. It didn’t happen. Corruption and frauds continue unabated. There was the Central Bank Bond Scam. There are frauds in the execution of expressway projects. The Government splurges public money for indulgence in luxuries such as maintenance of the houses of ministers, the purchase of vehicles for them etc. Compared with the previous rule, we don’t see a stoppage in corruption and fraud.
QHow do you view the policies of the present Government from the perspective of socialism?
The neo-liberal economic policies, being adopted by this Government, are outdated. It was introduced in 1970s. The whole world is clamouring for something new. Even the Pope said neo-liberalism only created wars and homicides. So, the world wants a new model. Sri Lanka isn’t an exception.
QHow does this model differ from what your party espoused at the time of its inception?
What matter isn’t what we said in the past. There is something we utter now. Today we talk about planning, production, people’s participation and equitable distribution of wealth. It isn’t to be a model purely executed by the state. The Government decides on planning of the economy. For the execution of it, both the state and the private sector play a role.
QWhat should be the specific role of the Government?
The Government should work out the policies. The private sector should be invited to play a role in their execution. The Government also plays a role in the economy. It creates a competition between the two for the forward march of the country. There are certain areas exclusively meant for the state, though.
QWhat are they?
Environmental protection is one. The Government should hold its sway on the energy sector. If it’s left in the hands of the private sector, it will give them undue bargaining power.
In fact, we advocate socialism with modern Sri Lankan characteristics. In literary terms, we explained that Russian shoes were too large for us. Likewise, Chinese shoes are too small. So, we say neither Russian model nor Chinese model is applicable to us. We have to make our own shoes. In fact, our founder leader Rohana Wijeweera said it.
We didn’t play a direct role in the election of this Government. It was an indirect role that we played as you said. In simple metaphorical terms, we asked people to close down the grocery shop of Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa
QYour party had its own analysis of the reasons for the ethnic problem. It had its own view on power devolution as a means to resolve it. What is the current position?
The Provincial Council System isn’t a solution to the national question. We stick with the same stand. Whether we like it or not, the provincial councils are a part of the system now. Then, there is a dialogue on the constitution making process. The Tamil parties, that were extreme and demanded Federalism, don’t do so now. They have taken a moderate position. It is unrealistic to achieve Federalism in the country. In such a context, the JVP is agreeable to resolve the national question with certain modifications to the current provincial council system, rather than leaving room for the aggravation of the problem further. If other parties reach this position, we will fall in line to proceed with modifications to the current provincial council system.
QWhen you say modification of the system, does it mean the abolition of the concurrent list?
We aren’t for pruning of powers of the provincial governors. We need to discuss the land and police powers. We haven’t taken hard and fast positions in this regard. If we do so, it will be a barrier for talks. We have to discuss how modifications or amendments can be brought about without leaving room for separatism.
We hold the same view in regard to the concurrent list. We remain flexible. We don’t say the concurrent list should remain intact. We are ready to arrive at a moderate position after talks.
QEarlier, the provincial councils were seen by your party as a stepping stone to separatism. How do you view it now?
That was the situation which remained when the separatist armed group existed. Today, nine years have lapsed after the war concluded. Today, the society has evolved. If we continue to keep battering the dead tiger literally, we can’t move forward. We believe our thinking should be different from the time during the separatist armed struggle. As a party, we have embraced change. Some interpret it as a change we undertook as part of our understanding with the Government. It isn’t true. In fact, we discussed the need for a change in our thinking soon after the war victory in 2009.
QBut, you didn’t talk of an amendment or modification of the provincial council system then.
There was no such dialogue. Yet, we said we should start thinking afresh on the post way context. We asked for the truth and reconciliation commission.
Q Now, do you see a transformation of attitudes in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)?
In certain areas, they have undergone transformation. We are happy about it. The TNA sought Federalism. Now, they don’t ask for it. The JVP is opposed to the merger of the northern and eastern provinces. The TNA knows that it is practically impossible. Yet, the TNA uses it as a political slogan.
QHow strong is the separatist ideology in the north?
There is a group taking extreme positions. It seeks regional autonomy. We see extremism both in the north and the south.
QThe JVP supported the Government to secure two-thirds for a Bill to postpone the elections to the Provincial Councils. The Speaker himself said he was also embarrassed in the way the Bill was enacted. What do you feel?
It isn’t a Bill to postpone the elections, but to change the electoral system. We asked for a change in the electoral system covering all the local bodies, the provincial councils and Parliament. Already, there is a law governing the elections to the local bodies under a new system. There is no such law for elections to the provincial councils. We aren’t agreeable to it. That is the reason to support the Bill. The procedure adopted was flawed. Yet, it was well-intended.
QIn the same way, there is the possibility of postponing elections to Parliament. What have you got to say?
This is an opinion established by the cabal of those in the Joint Opposition. The JVP won’t leave room for it.
QDo you think the UNP brought that Bill purely to change the electoral system, but not as a ruse to withhold elections?
Not only the UNP, but also the SLFP had the same objective of withholding elections. They had different interests. We had genuine interests.