I’m a disciplined leader, not a dictator: -Gen. Senanayake-

  • Nobody is funding us. We don’t have money to even air an advertisement on TV. We barely managed to put up a newspaper advertisement after my manifesto was presented
  • The PSC report has been submitted and you can check if my name has been mentioned anywhere. Before the incident I made several requests to the Inspector General of Police to arrest Zahran
  • We have seen how two major parties have worked for their own benefit. Why should a country have religiously motivated political parties? If there’s one country, there should be one law
  • We will definitely introduce an agriculture-based economy where we will be self-reliant and self-sufficient. The brand name ‘Sri Lanka’ will be brought back. All farmers should be given proper wages

As days are nearing the much looked forward to Presidential Election, candidates have started launching their manifestos and making pledges to the public. Apart from the two or three major parties, several other independent parties too have fielded candidates; one of them being the National People’s Party (NPP). During the recently concluded NPP election policy launch, its candidate General Mahesh Senanayake pledged that he would downsize the cabinet to 20 members. As an independent organization formed by a collective of intellectuals, the Party aims to bring about a paradigm shift in the existing political culture. In a candid interview with the Dailymirror , General Senanayake spoke about why he decided to contest from the NPP ticket, lack of communication that led to the Easter Sunday attack and his vision for the country. Excerpts : 

Q What factors motivated you to contest the upcoming Presidential elections?


I served the military service for 38 years and was the Army Commander for two years and two months. Upon my retirement I spoke to a few youth in this country. If I take a sample of 10, 9 wanted to leave the country because they felt it wasn’t safe to stay, there was no progress and due to several other factors. When I spoke to the parents, they said they will sell their property, educate their children and send them abroad. This wasn’t the outcome I expected after retiring from the Army. Therefore I decided to assist the National People’s Movement (NPM) and it was then that they decided that they should field a candidate and contest the Presidential Elections, from the NPP ticket.

We have two major Blue and Green parties. For 71 years they ruled the country and failed miserably. They made many divisions among people based on ethnicity, religion and gender. On the other hand they even separated people from the North, East and South. They have made it a business for them to survive. After all that now it has become a family affair


Q You’re the second Army Commander to contest a Presidential poll. When Field Marshal Fonseka contested people feared that a military governance system would be established and in fact he could not win the election. Isn’t this a challenge before you as well?


General Fonseka and myself are two different candidates. In fact I don’t even want to compare myself with someone else. Even while in the Army I was known for discipline. Keeping the Army as the most respectable institution in the country isn’t an easy task. But I succeeded. During the Constitutional Coup that happened last year in October and during the Easter Sunday attacks people wanted the Army to take over the country. So I have proven myself to be a disciplined leader and not a dictator.


Q Why did you decide to contest from NPP?


We have two major Blue and Green parties. For 71 years they ruled the country and failed miserably. They made many divisions among people based on ethnicity, religion and gender. On the other hand they even separated people from the North, East and South. They have made it a business for them to survive. After all that now it has become a family affair. Most ministers elected to Parliament are not educated and we expect them to rule a country. We are servants of this country. This is why I brought up the term ‘desha sevakaya’. Those who come and pledge their support to us are fed up of politics and they want a new leadership with a progressive vision. 


Q The NPP has a non-political, people-centred approach to politics. This includes not taking money from multinational companies for campaigns etc. Can a Party fielding a Presidential candidate survive that way? 


We still don’t support or tolerate such companies. The NPP is not an account to collect funds. We never accept such
funds either. 


Q There are allegations that NGOs and foreign parties are funding your campaign. What do you have to say about that? And who is funding your campaign? 


Nobody is funding us. We don’t have money to even air an advertisement on TV. We barely managed to put up a newspaper advertisement after my manifesto was presented. These allegations are levelled against us because Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne is heading the Sarvodaya Movement, who is also a member of NPM. Several foreign organisations are funding the Sarvodaya programme and people are trying to draw links between the two. 


Q The Pohottuwa party blames you for the Easter Sunday attack. What is your stance on the entire incident and the events that led to it?


The PSC report has been submitted and you can check if my name has been mentioned anywhere. Before the incident I made several requests to the Inspector General of Police to arrest Zahran and his group. The first letter was sent in 2017 and the second in August 2018. But nobody was arrested. We didn’t know about an attack on April 21, but a neighbouring country had provided information to the State Intelligence Service. The Military intelligence knew about the network and this is why we were able to nab all the suspects. There are 600 Muslims in the Army and 1600 Christians, but they don’t discriminate against each other. Another point to focus on is regarding the various anti-Muslim posts that went viral on social media ever since the Easter Sunday attack. But after August all these posts stopped. The reason is because all these people are contesting or supporting the Pohottuwa party. Likewise, these posts will commence after November 17. 

Even while in the Army I was known for discipline. Keeping the Army as the most respectable institution in the country isn’t an easy task. But I succeeded. During the Constitutional Coup that happened last year in October and during the Easter Sunday attack people wanted the Army to take over the country


Q Following the attack, national security became a concern among all people. What is your plan to strengthen it?


When talking about national security people only focus on physical security. Reconciliation and coexistence are keys to strengthen national security.  National security is also linked to national economy, education, health, environment and all other aspects. We need to have an integrated intelligence system with a national plan. Each institution will be responsible for the progress of the country. When the President, the Prime Minister and all other MPs are above the law a country will not progress. It’s a threat to national security as well. We have seen how the two major parties have worked for their own benefit. Why should a country have religiously motivated political parties? If there’s one country, there should be one law and that is my vision.


Q The biggest problem that the country is facing right now is the debt crisis. Do you have a clear solution for this? What is your vision to stabilise the economy and strengthen the rupee?


We will definitely introduce an agriculture-based economy where we will be self-reliant and self-sufficient. The brand name ‘Sri Lanka’ will be brought back. All farmers should be given proper wages and we are looking forward to an agricultural revolution. Once this is restored, all other sectors will fall into place. There are people who don’t eat in this country and those who suffer from malnutrition. Right now even a farmer is eating imported food. 


Q Your plans for the health, tourism and education sectors?


The education system will also be improved. We have 92% children dropping out of the system while only 8% have access to higher education. Science and maths are not taught in most schools. So we are going to introduce a distance learning system where the teacher becomes a facilitator. We have also learned that the infrastructure in most remote schools is used only for six hours. Therefore we want to use them as technical schools to develop skills among students. This way we will be able to produce young entrepreneurs. Therefore women don’t have to go to Middle East as housemaids, but they could upgrade their skills to work as caretakers, nurses etc. Tourism is another major area of concern. We are surrounded by the Indian Ocean which is seven times the area of the land. So we have a plan to upgrade skills in people living in coastal areas and make them entrepreneurs. We also practise Theravada Buddhism and we can promote religious tourism for Western tourists which will be a new experience for them. 


Q You represent an independent party and have no prior experience in politics. How ready are you to take up the duties and responsibilities vested upon the first citizen of the country? 


After the victory on November 16 it won’t be an easy task to work with the existing government. But the General Election will take place in March and for that we need to work hard. Definitely under my leadership the Cabinet will be reduced to just 20 members. Those with previous allegations and those charged for various corrupt practices will not be appointed. All secretaries to ministries will be appointed by the President. The President will also take control of appointing governors, ambassadors etc. Therefore the next four months after November 16 will be challenging. We will also elect a Prime Minister that the people would elect and not someone nominated by any party. 

When talking about national security people only focus on physical security. Reconciliation and coexistence are keys to strengthen national security.  National security is also linked to national economy, education, health, environment and all other aspects. We need to have an integrated intelligence system with a national plan. Each institution will be responsible for the progress of the country


Q Do you think we need a strong leadership for the country or a president who would abolish Executive powers? 


This is quite a debatable question. Executive powers shouldn’t be abolished immediately. Maybe in time to come we can look at changing the system. After all none of us wants to be the President forever. 

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