The political climate prevailing in the country today is so highly volatile and complex, one may find it difficult to read it correct. Veteran politician City mayor A.J.M. Muzammil in this interview makes his observations on a series of topical issues having a direct bearing on this political climate.
You were mortally afraid that the Maithri - Mahinda talks would conclude on a note of concord?
If anyone thought that the UNP was ‘mortally afraid’ that their talks would be a success, I would only pity them.
But going by the statements made at that time…?
Wait! I shall explain. It was not the UNP who were in jitters! It was our political opponents who turned jittery on seeing our mammoth May Day rally. There is no challenge to the UNP today. We succeeded in turning the entire country green by making a grand success of the 100-day programme. That’s the reason why they were in such a mighty hurry to bring about the Maithri- Mahinda meeting.
But some SLFP stalwarts who got Ministerial portfolios in this government say this is a ‘luck-by-chance’ government for the UNP?
This is a ‘pinaa’ government for the SLFP Ministers, not for the UNP. The SLFPers have become Ministers under fortuitous circumstances. If Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe got the premiership on a platter, the SLFPers who have come to partake of what is on the platter are the real beggars.
We sought a mandate from the people to send Mahinda home and make Ranil the Prime Minister. This government was formed on the strength of the mandate obtained from the people.
The mandate was given to implement the 100-day programme. Now that the 100-day period is over, you have to go for general elections. Isn’t it so?
Before giving an answer to your question, I would like to remind you of a certain story that has become part and parcel of our country’s political history. On the eve of the 1988 general elections, former UNP MP for Balangoda M.S. Aboosali called on Mr. Gamini Dissanayake to make an earnest request to him. Aboosali told Gamini: “Sir, Mr. Premadasa is our Presidential candidate. Please don’t do anything that can undermine his candidacy. He is our only choice. We are sure to lose this election if we fail to field him as the UNP candidate.
Gamini too was vying for the candidacy?
Wait. Let me say something about the political backdrop to this event. Gamini told Aboosali: “Abu, a person like Premadasa is not big enough to exercise the powers of an Executive President. Aboosali then told Gamini: “If that is your thinking, tell JR to scrap the Executive Presidency. He can easily do it, because we command a five sixths majority in Parliament.” Gamini soon afterwards approached JR and told him: “Sir, we may have to face a formidable problem, If Premadasa is elected the President. We are not sure how he will use the executive powers. Therefore, let us abolish the Executive presidency through a Constitutional amendment.”
What was JR’s reaction to this proposal?
JR did not hesitate a moment before giving his answer. He said: “Gamini, I will not do it. If this Constitution is good enough for me, it should be okay for my successors as well. Besides, I cannot indirectly admit that I have ruled the country on the strength of a Constitution which is prejudicial to the interests of the country.” JR turned down Gamini’s request. Look back on JR’s achievements - He generously used the party funds to run an effective propaganda campaign to ensure the victory of Premadasa. Following the Presidential election, he sent for Ranjan Wijeratne. When Ranjan called on him, he opened his safe, took a bundle of notes and handed it to Ranjan. There is Rs.35 million here. Use this money to fund the party work.” He did his best for the party and the country.
What is the relevance of JR’s achievements and his retirement in the present context of our discussion?
Mahinda Rajapaksa makes a big noise about his contribution towards his party. But what has he really done for his party? There was much ho ha about putting up a building at Battaramulla for the party headquarters. There were funds forthcoming for the project. However, the foundation stone still lies there. The SLFP is the party that sent Mahinda to Parliament- the party that elevated him to the positions of the opposition leader, the Prime Minister and the Executive President twice. What is Mahinda Rajapaksa now doing to the political party that elevated him to the highest position in the country?
Why should the UNP be so concerned about the SLFP?
Some people are raising the cry: “Let us rise up with Mahinda again.” And that called for my political analysis. I wanted to point out that Mahinda has no right to stage a comeback to run the SLFP. There is talk about a large amount of money belonging to the party passing on to the hands of a ‘Buriyanikaraya’ on January 9 for safe-keeping! The Executive President of the country today is Maithripala Sirisena. It’s something SLFPers should be happy about! Today he is the leader of their party and the leader of the country. The President gave a promise to the people that he would prune the dictatorial powers of the Executive Presidency. He honoured that promise. Could he have got the 19th Amendment passed if he didn’t take over the leadership of the SLFP?
If I say all that you say boils down to an admission of fear of Mahinda Rajapaksa?
Yes. There was a time when the people in the country were afraid of Mahinda Rajapaksa. January 8 marked the end of that fear. People sent home the ruler who vowed not to leave!
Why don’t you go for an election if you are no longer afraid of Mahinda Rajapaksa?
We too want general elections. It is the SLFP that benefits from the delay in holding elections. Remember that Mahinda Rajapaksa is the only Executive President who suffered defeat while in office. He left the SLFP in the lurch. He would not have been defeated if he properly ruled the country. He is accountable to the SLFP for his misrule.
There is a wave of popular demand for his comeback?
There is no such wave. But there are certain political traditions in the country. Whether the SLFP is divided or united is no matter for our concern. Coming down to brass tacks, a large majority of people in the country want Ranil to be the Prime Minister. They are eagerly waiting for elections to vote for the UNP.
You maintain that there is no pro-Mahinda wave in the country. But there is such a wave quite visible to all. Your comment.
It is something transitory. Certain SLFPers have yet to come to terms with reality. President Sirisena is in a position to safeguard the SLFP if they extend their support to him. Mahinda Rajapaksa is incapable of protecting the SLFP. Look at the coterie of politicians engaged in a futile effort to prop up Mahinda Rajapaksa- Wimal Weerawansa, Dinesh Gunawardena and Vasudeva Nanayakkara. They all are at the fag end of their political journey. They will not return to Parliament again. They hang on to the ‘Satakaya’ for their political survival. They are the prime movers behind the so called pro-Mahinda wave.