The Common Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena in an interview with the conducted at his residence, asserted without any hesitation that the unitary nature of Sri Lanka would be protected and that a Government under his administration would be stable.
Q; Are you confident of victory in the upcoming presidential election?
I was the target of five LTTE attacks
The people are fed up with the Rajapaksas
If they were loved by the people, why resort to mud slinging?
My political career spans close to 49 years. I contested the Polonnaruwa Municipal Council Election as a student and was a student even during the election in 1970. During these years I have experienced elections, some of which were victorious while some ended in defeat, but I am yet to come across an election at which there was so much of opposition against a Government. I haven’t seen people speak out against a government as much as they have during this election. UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told me personally that as far as he could remember he had not come across this kind of enthusiasm even during the 1977 election at which the UNP was swept to power. I also remember the victories in 1970, 1994, 1999, 2005 and 2010 and none of these elections had this amount of opposition to an incumbent regime. Therefore it is going to be a landslide victory and Mahinda Rajapaksa will be defeated convincingly.
Q; What is your opinion of the period after which it was announced that you would be the common candidate up to today, barely a week before the elections?
If you were to ask me how I became the common candidate I don’t think even I could give you a proper answer. I see this as some sort of a miracle. I was a part of this Government with a lot of heartache having witnessed rampant corruption, nepotism and family bandysm which is a part and parcel of this government. I was never allowed to work independently at the Ministries I have worked in. Just as much as the Rajapaksas hold crucial portfolios, the other portfolios such as education, agriculture and health were also not allowed to function independently. The Ministers are just name boards and to this day that is the situation -- the Ministers do not speak out because it is embarrassing. It was in 2006 that I first lost confidence in President Mahinda Rajapaksa and I very vividly recall that incident. I had heard that a Minister who was in charge of Investment Promotion was making money through corrupt means. I brought this to the notice of the President and told him that this was not good for all of us and the Government. The only thing the President did was to look at me and tell me to write a letter to the said Minister. I was shocked and began to wonder whether this was the person we worked so hard to bring to power. There were thousands of other instances which I don’t have the time to recall and which I don’t think you’ll have the space to write. From about two months ago this talk of me coming forward as the Common Candidate was in the air. Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera and Minister Champika Ranawaka were the main catalysts for this move, thereafter former President Chandrika Bandaranaike and Mr. Wickremesinghe also held discussions with me after which the decision was made. Barely three hours after the decision was announced we were able to completely turnaround the political culture of this country. I say that because the Government had begun its campaign eight months ago. They appointed state employees to the Presidential Secretariat for this campaign and they were under the impression that it will be Ranil Wickremesinghe who would oppose the incumbent President. They had prepared plenty of campaign material to defame Mr. Wickremesinghe not knowing that the person who is going to defeat them was with them at the time. Therefore within three hours we were able to completely change everything that they had done and they had to start from scratch. During the last month we moved forward at a rapid pace. We have been able to win the hearts and minds of all the people -- the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims because we are working towards a common goal. I could see that we are on the way towards victory.
Q: Mr. Siriesna, some claim you to be a puppet of Ms. Bandaranaike and Mr. Wickremesinghe who are using you to fulfil their political aims?
Then throughout these years I would have been Mahinda Rajapaksa’s puppet. Is that right? But I wasn’t and because he couldn’t make me a puppet is why I walked out of that government. If I could not be Mahinda Rajapaksa’s puppet, how could they expect me to be of some others? There is no one who could manoeuver me, the only ones who could manoeuver me are the people and policies. No one else could manoeuver or manipulate me. That entire line of attack by the government is one that is very bankrupt.
Q; Along the same lines, what is being espoused is that this country would end up in instability similar to that of the era in which Chandrika Bandaranaike and Ranil Wickremesinghe governed this country?
The country is unstable today. It is the President and his family who have made this country unstable. Parliament is under this family, the ministries are under this family, the judiciary is under this family, the military and the entire state sector and business and investment come under the direct control of this Family. This country is as unstable as it could be because of family bandyism and nepotism. The only option we have to come out of this instability is to get rid of this family and restore democracy, free speech and free ideas. That is what I’m trying to do. That is the policy that I have based my campaign on.
Q; So isn’t this a kind of personal revenge that you are seeking despite your insistence that it is policy based?
What is the personal revenge I have to take from him? Is it because I made him the Prime Minister? I was the one who made him the Prime Minister after arguing on his behalf for more than 90 minutes. In 2004 when we were to chose the Prime Minister, the JVP had sent a list of three names to be appointed. The first was that of Lakshman Kadirgamar, the second was Anura Bandaranaike and the third was mine. Chandrika Kumaratunga sent a chopper to Polonnaruwa and brought me down to Colombo even before the results were announced. She gave me the letter that the JVP had sent and asked me for my opinion, I said no we can’t appoint Kadi or Anura. Then she asked what about me and I said no, the most suitable person was Mahinda. When it came to the 2005 presidential election, the then SLFP was more in favour of appointing Anura as the candidate. Even then it was I who spoke on his behalf. So there is no personal revenge here and I need to make that very clear.
Q: You are coming forward on the promise of abolishing the executive presidency. Why would you come forward to abolish something that you are seeking to achieve?
It is a power that is not suitable for a country. The fact that absolute power is vested in one family because of this Executive Presidency. Mahinda Rajapaksa even went beyond J.R. Jayawardene by introducing the 18th Amendment. it is this unlimited and absolute power that is taking this country towards a dictatorship. What they want to do is to win this election and then ruin every other political party and the people for the next eight years that they plan to be in power. A person with an iota of intelligence should understand the disaster that the Rajapaksas’ are going to bring to this country. The people of this country have to understand this and act with prudence.
Q ; Are you saying that you are a modern day ‘Vessanthara’. Is it so? That you would come to the helm and then give up power?
Yes, even Buddhas are born from time to time. Think about people like Nelson Mandela, why can’t we follow these examples? After being imprisoned for 27 years he was the President for a single term of four years and left power with honour and respect. Why can’t we follow that example? Why can’t we follow the examples of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike or D.S. Senanayake? People have to get used to letting go. The peace and calm that comes with letting go is in itself an experience. Many of these politicians who are mentally ill due to their attachment to power don’t understand this. Did I not leave everything and walk out of this Government? I could have continued to live in this corrupt den with all the perks and privileges. As a politician one must be able to take risks and I am willing to take that risk. Even in ones personal life you must always be willing to take risks, you should have the courage to swim against the tide.
Q; We have seen a lot of allegations been levelled against you mainly through the state media....
These are all character assassinations and show the depth that these people have stooped down to. Has any Leader of this country during its entire history stooped to that level to character assassinate and defame an opponent? Have you ever seen this happen? If they are actually loved by the people and if they are in fact intelligent and good honest men, do you think they would have needed to fall to these depths? They have completely destroyed the traditions of the free media and have completely abused state resources. Has anyone stooped to this level? If one doesn’t have power and loses an election all they do is leave gracefully. That is how the Senanayakes, Bandaranaikes, Premadasas and the Jayewardenas let go of power. What is it that the Rajapaksa family are doing?
Q; Your name has been brought into a foreign currency issue which had recently surfaced. Where a stash of foreign currency including a million Swiss Francs were found and were alleged to have some connection to you?
What is my connection? This is all state propaganda its what the Government is doing and this is the depth that they have fallen to.
Q; There is a sense of fear among the masses after the TNA and the SLMC came on board regarding the soveriegnty of the country. What is the guarantee that you would give regarding the unitary nature of the state?
I was a person who was targeted by the LTTE on more than five occasions, the LTTE cadres who tried to kill me destroyed themselves without any sort of harm happening to me. The last attack was in Boralesgamuwa before that they planned an attack in Polonnaruwa which also failed. I was the Minister in Charge of Defence during the last two weeks of the war in which most of the leaders of the LTTE were killed with General Fonseka at the helm of the Army.
Prior to that I have acted as the Minister of Defence five times during the height of the war. I want to assure the people of this country that the country would not be divided, that there would be no war and that I would not permit a resurgence of the LTTE. We will build this country with all our hearts and our minds.
Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa keeps insisting that there are no patriots like them. This is the height of ridiculousness -- the notion that they are the only patriots in this country. But the people have rejected them and we intend making this a blessed land in which people of all communities and creeds could live together in peace and harmony. We will ensure that this country is built on these foundations.
Q; Finally what guarantee can you give about the safety of your political opponents, in the event you are elected as President?
I will personally guarantee the safety of every individual who was opposed to me from the family of Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. The safety of every one of them will be my personal priority.