SITUATION HAS TAKEN A TURN FOR THE WORSE FOR THE UNP
GOVT IS COMPELLED TO CONDUCT POLLS IN THE NORTH BY DECEMBER
NO CHANGES IN US POLICIES IN TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
THEY TALK ABOUT GAMPeRALIYA WHEN ELECTIONS ARE NEAR
I HAD ONLY A ROUTINE MEETING WITH US ENVOY ATUL KESHAP
AGRICULTURE SECTOR IS IN TATTERS WITH NO FERTILIZER FOR FARMERS
WILL DECIDE ON PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AT RIGHT TIME
I WILL NOT DECIDE IT ON MY OWN; I GAUGE PUBLIC OPINION
FALSE PROPAGANDA CARRIED OUT AGAINST US LAST TIME
SOME SAY GOTABHAYA IS THE SUITABLE CANDIDATE TO CONTEST POLLS
INDIA IS THE COUNTRY THAT CAN MAKE THE BIGGEST POLITICAL INFLUENCE ON SRI LANKA
WE HAVE TO WELCOME THOSE DEFECTING FROM GOVT IN PARLIAMENT
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in an interview with Daily Mirror, speaks about the presidential candidate, the political rifts within the Joint Opposition (JO), the development in world politics and India’s political influence on Sri Lanka. Besides, he responds to questions about his meeting with US Ambassador Atul Kehsap. The excerpts:
Q There are reports about rifts within the JO over the move to accommodate the 16-member SLFP group. What is your view as the leader of that camp?
There is no such issue in fact. There are differences of opinion. What is said is that all should work as one entity, but not as distinct, separate groups.
Q Is the SLFP group ready for it?
Eventually, that is what would happen. It is natural to encounter such problems initially at the beginning of such a political exercise. When working together, their identity as a SLFP group will vanish into thin air. Politically speaking, there are some persons still trying to stick to their ideologies. There are views expressed by our members at local government level. Nevertheless, these are not issues leading to any split of the party, though.
Q Some members of the JO are opposed to the SLFP group on the basis that these members abandoned them during the times of difficulties. Also, they said the group, after having enjoyed all government perks, rejoined the opposition only after the public opinion tilted in its favour. How do you see this?
One must understand what parliamentary politics are. If the government continues to enjoy two-thirds majority in Parliament for the remaining one and-a-half years, they can enact any legislation with dire consequences to the country. We can imagine it is going by the manner in which the government alienates public assets. Now, the government is unstable. We want to exacerbate the situation. Therefore, we have to welcome fresh additions to our side from the government. It would be a problem if we decline to accommodate those defecting from the government. Those in our side are not that narrow-minded. Now, we have 70 out of 96 MPs elected on the ticket of the UPFA.
If the government continues to enjoy two-thirds majority in Parliament for the remaining one and-a-half years, they can enact any legislation with dire consequences to the country. We can imagine it is going by the manner in which the government alienates public assets
The UNP MPs are also grappling with a lot of problems in facing people in their electorates. They have no enough financial allocations for development work. They keep harping on us, as the only thing they can do to survive in politics. Now, the UNP has lost power at local administration
Q In the vote for the election of Deputy Speaker, some JO MPs did not support MP Sudarshani Fernandopulle who contested for it. Why did it happen?
There was a communication gap in our side on that decision. We took a decision at the parliamentary group meeting to support her. Also, we allowed our MPs representing the Gampaha district to decide in their own in this regard, rather than going by the common decision. This position was misinterpreted by some. That was what had happened.
Q The Joint Opposition recently said it would organize a public agitation for the dissolution of Parliament. What have you got to say about it?
Public agitation is the only option we have for it. Otherwise, it is impossible to dissolve Parliament without two-thirds in Parliament for resolution to be adopted for it. The MPs will hardly support such a resolution. The premature dissolution will deprive them of their pension benefits. Therefore, I cannot expect the MPs to support a resolution aimed at toppling the government at this juncture.
We, the opposition, always try to defeat the government, be it during the annual budget or not. That is the target. That is part of our routine politics. We are getting close to success now in this regard. The UNP MPs are also grappling with a lot of problems in facing people in their electorates. They have no enough financial allocations for development work. They keep harping on us, as the only thing they can do to survive in politics. Now, the UNP has lost power at local administration. Therefore, the situation has taken a turn for the worse for them.
Q The government is to launch its development drive called ‘Gamperaliya’. What is your view?
We have brought about village reawakening. There is nothing left for them to do.
Q Yet, the government talks about allocation of funds for village development projects…
They say so. Today, everything is in ruins. The agriculture sector is in tatters with no fertilizer for farmers. Farmers are unable to sell their produce. Farmers are in their worst predicament. Actually, village development was our concept. We built village economy from scratch. They are talking about Gamperaliya when the election is just around the corner.
Q The presidential polls are due to be conducted at the end of next year. Why do you talk about a parliamentary election in between?
That is also important for us. Besides, the government should conduct the provincial council elections. After much postponement, they held the local authorities’ election. That was due to pressure applied by us in the opposition. The elections to three provincial councils are long overdue. When the time for the elections to the northern provincial council comes this year, the government will get stuck. The government would be compelled to conduct elections in the north by December. That provincial council will stand dissolved in September. In the East, we established the provincial council. It is no more now. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) made a hue and cry at that time seeking provincial power. We established the council. The TNA does not have even provincial administration today in the East.
Q The entire group of JO MPs say that only you could decide on the next presidential candidate. What is your stand now?
I will not decide it on my own. When I travel across the length and breadth of this country, I gauge public opinion. I travel in the country more than any other leader does. I am getting public opinion as a result. I will take it into account. Also, the JO is there. We will meet at the right time and decide on someone, the best-suited to stand up to the government’s candidature.
Q Some people openly talk about former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as the next candidate. Have you decided on him?
They say he is a suitable candidate. Not that, he is the chosen candidate. There are other views as well.
Q What would be President Maithripala Sirisena’s role at this election?
I do not know, of course. I am not in contact with him. When the No-confidence motion was moved against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, he contacted me and asked my support to get it passed. We agreed to it. In the middle of the process, he gave it up. I always said at that time that the adoption of the No-confidence motion by Parliament was a matter remaining in the hands of the President. Recently, the President said he could not act because of someone calling the shots above. He is the executive President. I cannot understand who is above him in decision-making role. There are numerous views expressed in the social media, though.
It is always important to have votes from all the communities. Every vote counts. If the minority communities vote for one party en bloc, it can make an impact. But, it is not the sole factor affecting the final outcome of an election
Q The alienation of minority communities was seen as a key factor for your defeat at the last Presidential Election. How decisive is the minority at the presidential polls?
It is always important to have votes from all the communities. Every vote counts. If the minority communities vote for one party en bloc, it can make an impact. But, it is not the sole factor affecting the final outcome of an election. For anyone intending to become President, it is important to get the support of all the communities.
Last time, there was false propaganda against us. In fact, it was carried out by those who were with us. They defected from our side us after betraying us. Now the minorities have begun to realize the truth. No one has assisted the minority communities to the extent what we did. Muslims were able to live freely in their own villages today because of our government. We defeated terrorism and created the environment for them to live in the north and the east. The LTTE drove them out. We resettled them in the areas like Kinniya. They have understood it. They feel the difference when there is no development taking place in their areas. Their politicians also use separatism as a slogan. I do not think they believe in it. Yet, their politicians use it for their ends.
Q There is huge media publicity to the meeting between you and US Envoy Atul Keshap. How do you react to it?
We had a meeting. When an ambassador is about to leave the country after completing his stint, he pays courtesy calls to the leaders of the government and the opposition. It is just a routine meeting only.
We cannot allow anything harmful to be done to our war heroes. We used to talk about human rights when the entire country was tormented by violence. We voiced against the murder and torture of people
Q How influential are the West and India in determining the final outcome of this election?
They can make an impact. Actually, India is the country that can make the biggest political impact.
Q How big the India’s influence would be?
India influences to a certain extent. We have to reach a position to overcome such influences. I hope India would not meddle with Sri Lanka’s internal political affairs.
Q Your comments on the Western world’s influence… It is not that big.
Q How do you see the US administration under President Donald Trump? Whoever comes to office, there is no major change in the US policies. Their foreign policy is, more or less, the same.
Q If you return to office, how would you deal with the UNHRC process?
We cannot allow anything harmful to be done to our war heroes. We used to talk about human rights when the entire country was tormented by violence. We voiced against the murder and torture of people.
Q In Malaysia, former PM Dr. Mahathir Mohamed returned to power. Likewise, Russian President Vladimir Putin was re-elected for another term. How do you observe world politics in that context?
It could impact Sri Lanka too (laughs).
Q What is your opinion on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution brought by the JVP?
There is no use of piecemeal changes to the current Constitution. We studied it. There is no criteria laid down in it for the removal of the President elected by Parliament. There has to be a simple majority for it. In case, a party is unable to secure the simple majority for it, it would be impossible to elect a new President.
Q New General Secretary of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa said it would field current President Maithripala Sirisena as the presidential candidate next time with your blessings. Isn’t that interesting?
We do not know and we haven’t thought about it. We have to examine his qualifications for it. We have to gauge the public opinion to ascertain whether there would be a chance for him. I believe the President would finally join hands with the UNP. Already, he is with the UNP. I believe he would continue to do the same during the rest of his political life.
Q Yet, there is animosity between him and the PM?
That is why the country cannot be developed. The President and the PM keep blaming each other. After that, they land the blame on other parliamentarians. The government is even unable to relocate two elephants. In fact, they have made a huge issue out of it.