On the eve of 2015 and days before the crucial presidential polls, President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an email interview with Dailymirror spelt confidence of a victory at the January 8 polls while admitting that there still seems to be some areas such as foreign service and governance that needs improvement.
Q Mr. President the last time we interviewed you, exactly a year ago, one of the questions asked was whether the SLFP old guard had been ignored. A year hence your General Secretary is contesting you and the SLFP old guard seems to be disillusioned. What have you got to say about this claim?
I remember that interview and the question. As I said on that occasion, it is not in any way correct to think or state that the old guard of the SLFP has been ignored. As a long time member of the SLFP myself, I treat the old guard with due respect, and give them the recognition they deserve in the party. They have been given important Cabinet positions in recognition of their seniority. In fact, the former General Secretary who is now contesting me last held the very important portfolio of Health. Most of the real old guard, who are few in number, are still with the party.
"I do not think there is any dent in the people’s trust on this matter. Please note that I am not the only one who promised this change. But the fact is that there were more pressing issues that I had to face…the first was to defeat the forces of terror, the next was to strengthen peace and reconciliation, and also take the country on the path to development with the assurance of stability and security. I do not regret giving priority to these, which would have been badly affected if we went to overhaul the Constitution, which involves the abolition of the executive presidency. I do think the people understand this very well. There are also many who think the executive presidency is good for our country. With the achievement of peace and stability we are now in a position to consider this change, not in haste, but with great consideration."
The fact that he is contesting me at this election, does not indicate any disillusionment about being ignored within the party. Rather, it is a situation of seeking personal power and aggrandizement by abandoning the party that held him with such respect for so long. It is a claim that I wholly reject, and state that it is a claim being made for political advantage, having joined the political opponents of the SLFP, and a claim that lacks any truth and fact.
QIt looks that the politicians who did not help bring you to power abuse the power that the people have vested in you today and bring notoriety. How did this happen?
You are right in stating that most of those who are opposed to me today did not really help bring me to this office. However, I did give them responsibilities as representatives of the people, to share in the power that the people have vested in me. This was a matter of political trust, which is necessary for democracy.
What one expects is that such trust be respected in their work. But it is the regrettable nature of some who are entrusted with responsibility to betray such trust; not only to me, but also to the people. I have shown a great deal of patience in trying to get them to change their ways, so as to genuinely serve the people. But it is a regrettable fact that some who seek and obtain political office, abuse the office given to them and betray the trust placed in them. That is the reality of our politics.
QDespite your insistence that the SLFP old guard has not been forgotten, the people today see that the influential forces behind you are not the ones from the old guard. Your comments?
The old guard has been given all the recognition by way of office. It is important to understand who really comprises the “old guard” as you state it. At the same time, it must be admitted that good governance requires the flow of new blood as well. New political situations, new challenges such as that of peace, reconciliation and national unity, new thinking, new strategies and new policies will also need those outside the “old guard”. That is a practical necessity in a functioning democracy. I think you will appreciate this.
QIn some cases the allegations against these individuals have not been proven. But the simple fact that there have been allegations against them, is enough grounds to ensure that they are cleared, isn’t it?
It all depends on the source of the allegations and the nature of the allegations. In the old days our country was known as the most litigious country in the British Empire. Allegations are easily and readily made…but they must be well established. I have always sought to ensure that those who hold office in government are free of charges and are cleared of any allegations. This has been a very clear policy. You must understand that governance will be impossible if one is to always give in to allegations, however unfounded, unverified and unsubstantiated or loud they may be. This must be seen as a social problem that needs addressing by the people themselves.
QOne thing that many in this country expected from you is that you would transform yourself from a politician to a statesman that this country is in need of. How far do you think you have been successful in this endeavour?
Politics is part of my nature and experience. That is what has helped me to lead our people through the most difficult period in our recent history. I do not regret my political actions in the interests of the people and the country. Of course, there is a need for statesmanship, too. I do not disagree with that. I have been statesmanlike when that is what is needed in the relevant aspects of governance, both in national and foreign relations. I trust that with the passage of time, and the resolution of pressing political issues, I will be more of a statesman than a politician. But I do not think that can be wholly separated. I think good leadership is the combination of the two.
QYou promised the abolition of the executive presidency in 2005 and again in 2010. The failure to do so has created a dent in people’s trust. Your comments on this?
I do not think there is any dent in the people’s trust on this matter. Please note that I am not the only one who promised this change. But the fact is that there were more pressing issues that I had to face…the first was to defeat the forces of terror, the next was to strengthen peace and reconciliation, and also take the country on the path to development with the assurance of stability and security. I do not regret giving priority to these, which would have been badly affected if we went to overhaul the Constitution, which involves the abolition of the executive presidency. I do think the people understand this very well. There are also many who think the executive presidency is good for our country. With the achievement of peace and stability we are now in a position to consider this change, not in haste, but with great consideration.
QToday five years since the end of the war, the only campaign slogan is the war victory. Don’t you think that the people have to move on from that and expect the strengthening of the democratic institutions of this country?
This is certainly not our only campaign slogan. Do you not see, hear or read the slogans about development, continuing stability, the necessity for national security. Or do you not know of our slogans about a Greener Country? But it is necessary to remind our people of the defeat of terrorism and the end of the war, even five years after it, because it is something that has had such a lasting impact on the lives of our people. We also have to think of the forces that continue to be ranged against – both in Sri Lanka and abroad. Of course the people would wish to see the strengthening of democratic institutions…and the best example of that is the holding of the first ever election to the Northern Provincial Council. Strengthening of democracy…in many aspects...is part of the new Mahinda Chinthana that is placed before the people today.
QDo you not think that the masses of this country deserve to be given fair access to all democratic institutions without political influence?
Of course I do. There is no question about that. My political life began with democracy and continues with democracy. I fully appreciate the need for the public to be given full and fair access to all democratic institutions.
Q If a person needs to get something done even at the Kachcheri, he still needs to go through an urban councillor to get it done. Why have we as a country moved backwards instead of forward in this sense?
This is a continuance of old traditions … they have continued from colonial days. We must change these practices and move on to new practices in keeping with modern democratic trends. But, it is also important to remember that we have not exactly moved backwards…there was a delay in progress caused by the ethnic crisis and the war that went on for nearly 30 years. We must not forget these facts. Our governance structures also got corrupted due to terrorism and its debilitating effects. I however, totally deny that everyone who needs some service from the government has to bribe officials. It is an insult to a public service that is held in high esteem and done so much for the public. I meet many people who praise the public service and the commitment of most public officials.
"The former General Secretary who is now contesting me last held the very important portfolio of Health. Most of the real old guard, who are few in number, are still with the party. The fact that he is contesting me at this election, does not indicate any disillusionment about being ignored within the party. Rather, it is a situation of seeking personal power and aggrandizement by abandoning the party that held him with such respect for so long. It is a claim that I wholly reject, and state that it is a claim being made for political advantage, having joined the political opponents of the SLFP, and a claim that lacks any truth and fact."
QYou once said that you possess files of those who left you, then in explaining what you said, you insisted that it means “files in the cabinet” or something to that effect. If you in fact have files why do you not put them out so that the people could actually know who has violated their trust in public office?
I think I have answered this when I last met the editors and media heads. Files are a part of government…I do have files on so many aspects of work. There are aspects of government that requires secrecy and confidentiality. I am sure the people have their own sources of information on matters that affect public life. The files I referred to are those that contain valuable information on the performance of each key person in government. In these there are objective appraisals of these individuals. Isn’t that part of good governance practices?
QDo you have files of those currently within the government? If so one may ask why you are still protecting them?
I think the answer to the earlier question covers this too.
QDo you not believe that our foreign service, which was at one time on par with the best in the world, should only have eligible, educated and honest people?
Our Foreign Service should have the best people…there is no doubt about that. The qualities you explain are certainly necessary. I cannot say everyone in the foreign service is excellent but the majority serve our country well.
QIf yes, why do you not take steps to ensure that proper people are appointed to these places, instead of businessmen, who have been accused and jailed for impropriety, taking the helm?
There is also the need for good talent in this work. Experience in business is not a disqualification. We do not appoint the type of person you describe at the helm. I think you can appreciate that Prof. G L Peiris, a renowned academic and a man of high integrity is at the helm.
QWhat is your take on the current election? What do you tell the people of this country apart from the war victory and international conspiracy, to vote for you on?
It is what I state in my manifesto – “Mahinda Chinthana – The Path to Success”. It states much more than about war and victory, about which we are certainly proud. And we must caution our people about international conspiracies. That is our duty... But my take on this election is very much about development, continuing stability, better education and health, our moving into a Knowledge Based Society. There is much scope for progress in the future, and it is our aim to achieve these goals of success for our people and country. Having said that I must also add that I will still keep as my priority, the need to keep our motherland as an undivided land, our people enjoying the fruits of hard-won peace.
QWhat are the specific areas that you will definitely look into if you are re-elected to office?
When I am re-elected I will definitely continue looking into the needs of the people. The strengthening of peace and further expanding our economic growth will remain a priority. I will make every effort to ensure that the benefits of growth are shared by all sections of the people. I will be working for unity and equality…among all sections of our people, away from any fears of resurgent separatism and its consequences. I will seek to protect our land and people from all conspiracies.
QWill non-corrupt governance be an integral part of how you function in the next term? If so what concrete measures will you be taking to achieve that?
I think we need better Constitutional and legal structures to ensure non-corrupt governance. We must look at necessary constitutional changes as well as strengthening social awareness on aspects of good governance. Our Manifesto has more details of what we intend to do in the years ahead, and with the least delay. I think there is a need to change the electoral system, with necessary priority.
QThe JVP and the JHU which played the biggest role in your election bid in 2005 have together with Maithripala Sirisena left you. Don’t you think that they have justifiable claims against the mode of governance?
I do not agree that they played the biggest role. That role remained with the SLFP – the cadres and followers. These two parties did contribute in their own measure. Their claims against the current mode of governance leave much to be desired. There must have been more serious thinking in fairness to the people.
QThere are signs that sections of minorities who voted for you to power in both 2010 and 2005 today are alienated from you? Do you agree?
No, I do not agree. There may be sections that have chosen different paths. That is their politics. I do not see it as an alienation of the people from me.
QFinally what message do you have to give to the people of this country, barely a week to go from the presidential election at which you have sought a third term?
My message is to seek their continued trust in me. Judge me from my record of service to the people and the country; my service for peace and democracy; my record in development, stability and progress and the fact that I have done what others thought was impossible, to give my countrymen confidence to live without any fear.