Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna(SLPP) MP for the Gampaha district Prasanna Ranatunga, in an interview with Daily Mirror, speaks about the presidential elections and the progress of campaigning so far.
- Tamils and Muslims have to support us for every reason
- We will win comfortably
- Virtually, all are corrupt in UNP
Q How do you see the progress of your campaigning so far?
We started our propaganda work because of the presidential elections along with the conclusion of the local authorities’ election on February 10, 2018. At that election, we asked for a mandate from people to create the groundwork to make way for Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa to be appointed the Prime Minister of this country one day. We targeted a parliamentary election. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was contesting independently from us then. SLFP leader President Maithripala Sirisena asked for a mandate with the promise to deliver through the subject minister who was with him at that time. Also, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the government was with him, and therefore people could benefit only by voting for his United National Party (UNP).
Instead, we asked people to mark their ballots in front of the lotus bud symbol (Pohottuwa) of our Sri Lanka PodujanaPeramuna (SLPP) as the first step towards the appointment of Mr Rajapaksa the Prime Minister. We won. Soon after the 2015 presidential elections, we sat in the opposition with the determination to make Mahinda the Prime Minister again. We have gained ground since then. Our average percentage of votes at the last local government elections has increased now according to the results of the elections to Elpitiya Pradeshiya Sabha. The UNP base deteriorated further in one year. In contrast, we keep improving.
- The result of the election to the Uva Provincial Council in 2014 was the precursor to our defeat at the elections in 2015. We won, but it was not a clean sweep. The UNP vote base increased largely at that election. Uva is traditionally a UNP stronghold.
- Today, the UNP has been exposed. Elpitiya is only a local authority. Yet, it is a microcosm of the voting pattern in the entire southern province. The UNP builds such theories to make up its mind. Reality is that it will lose badly at the presidential elections.
- The SLFP let us down at the end. We did not want to repeat the same mistake at the local government polls last year. Finally, we won with a surprising majority. Today, we see people booing at the SLFPers on our stage. That is the expression of public resentment over what happened in the past.
Q Elpitiya has traditionally been your stronghold. Whenever the UNP won national elections in the past, it lost the Elpitiya electorate. Then, how do you see the results of Elpitiya as a trendsetter for your victory at the presidential elections?
The result of the election to the Uva Provincial Council in 2014 was the precursor to our defeat at the elections in 2015. We won, but it was not a clean sweep. The UNP vote base increased largely at that election. Uva is traditionally a UNP stronghold. The UNP insisted that the election to Elpitiya Pradeshiya Sabha should not be conducted this time. Unfortunately for the UNP, the election was conducted. Today, the UNP has been exposed. Elpitiya is only a local authority. Yet, it is a microcosm of the voting pattern in the entire southern province. The UNP builds such theories to make up its mind. Reality is that it will lose badly at the presidential elections. In the south, it will be 70 percent. In my district of Gampaha, it will be more than 55 percent. By getting a majority from Gampaha, We can set off any impact for us from the north and the east.
Q Voting pattern always varies in the Gampaha electoral district. In 2010, Mr Rajapaksa won the district with a majority. In 2015, he was defeated. How will it change this time?
There are mostly educated public and private sector employees living in Gampaha. They believe in intelligent voting rather than being die-hard followers of any party. When I contested for the western provincial council elections for the first time, we won Gampaha with a majority of 380,000 votes. We lost the last presidential elections, conducted seven months after the provincial council elections, by 7 000 votes. The reason was various allegations. There was the allegation of MP Namal Rajapaksa participating in car races. There had been car races in the past. I remember how I watched my father participating in car races. However, the public perception was built as if MP Namal Rajapaksa did car racing inside Dalada Maligawa. The biggest sacrilege on Dalada Maligawa was done by late President Ranasinghe Premadasa by taking his wife to the Pattirippuwa. We did not counter the allegations against us properly. People in Gampaha got carried away by allegations against us. Today, Gampaha people are furious against the government for letting them down. Today, they come out in large numbers to support us against the UNP. At the last local government elections, we won Gampaha by a margin of 265,000 votes. The SLFP got 114, 000 votes. Today, we are now together. It means we are well ahead of the UNP this time. We can comfortably win Gampaha with a majority of 350,000-400,000 votes.
Q Will it be sufficient enough for you to overcome any disadvantageous situation in the north and the east?
Gampaha is a district with a large population whereas the north and the east are sparsely populated.
Q Now, the SLFP has joined hands with your party. But, it is resented by some of your people. How do you see iota?
When Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated at the 2015 elections, his supporters stood by him. They never abandoned him. We, as a group of parliamentarians, stood in support of him and sat in the opposition. We noticed the ground swell of public support to Mr Rajapaksa. Originally, we are SLFPers. My house was set ablaze in 1977 because my father did politics with Sirimavo Bandaranaike. In 2015, we teamed up with the SLFP to contest the parliamentary elections. But, President Maithripala Sirisena who is the SLFP leader let us down. Afterwards, the SLFP formed a national government with the UNP. The SLFP was made an appendage of the UNP. We could not agree to it. So, we decided to sit in the opposition. We felt the need for a political party. We worked hard to create the ground situation for the formation of a party. Some of our MPs insisted that we should capture the power of the SLFP without creating a new party. Instead of quarrelling over it, we formed a party. We are thankful to Mr Basil Rajapaksa for forming the SLPP with the blessings of Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa. I have always been with the SLPP. We showed our strength at the local government elections. I remember there was one discussion at that time. It lasted for two hours. We discussed whether we should tie-up with the SLFP or not. I was opposed to the idea. I said I would win Gampaha under the lotus bud symbol. At the parliamentary elections in 2015, we had worked out nomination papers to contest independently of the SLFP. Finally, I agreed to contest with the SLFP. Yet, the SLFP let us down at the end. We did not want to repeat the same mistake at the local government polls last year. Finally, we won with a surprising majority. Today, we see people booing at the SLFPers on our stage. That is the expression of public resentment over what happened in the past. Better late than never, they joined us. We welcome them. In Mahara rally, no one booed at the SLFPers. We managed it.
Q It is rumoured that former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is trying to back UNP candidate Sajith Premadasa at the presidential elections. How will it affect you in getting the SLFP vote base?
The SLFP will have a future if it remains with us. If Ms.Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has any love for the SLFP founded by her father, she should agree to this decision. She should not get carried away by her personal animosities. She talks about corruption. Virtually, everyone in the UNP is responsible for the Central Bank bond fraud. The leading campaigners of Mr Premadasa are implicated in the bond scam. Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe even published a book trying to cover up the bond scam. Minister Ajith P. Perera defended the government against the bond scam in press conferences. The same cabal of people is with Mr Premadasa. I don’t know why Ms. Kumaratunga is going to support such a thieving lot. There is no official information about her plan. We learnt that she would not return to Sri Lanka until the elections are over. How can she support a party that victimized her mother?
If she supports the UNP, it will amount to the compromise of national interests over her personal animosities.
When Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated at the 2015 elections, his supporters stood by him. They never abandoned him. We, as a group of parliamentarians, stood in support of him and sat in the opposition
Q Last time, Tamil and Muslim votes became the decisive factor. How do you address this concern this time?
The last presidential election was a close contest. Our candidate got 5.8 million whereas President Sirisena got 6.2 million. At that moment, the vote base of the north and the east turned out to be very decisive. At the presidential elections, every vote counts. If Tamil and Muslim people want something beneficial to them, they will have to support us. In the post-war context, we did a lot of development work in the north and the east. During the last four and half years, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) could not do anything for its people though it worked closely with the government. We believe we will perform in the north and the east better than last time.
Q You did some campaign work in Jaffna. How is the situation?
Of course, there are innocent people who do not support the LTTE ideology. They talked to us. They said they could not educate their children because of the LTTE or live freely. They don’t find fault with the decimation of the LTTE. It is a thing of the past. They want to know the path ahead. During our time, we built the rail network and the road system. They recognize it. They know the TNA benefited financially. But, nothing was done for ordinary people. The crime rate is high in Jaffna.
Q What about Muslim votes?
At the last local authorities’ elections, the Malwana ward in Gampaha was won by the Muslim candidate fielded by the SLFP. Our SLPP candidate won the Haloluwa area which is predominantly Muslim. All the Muslims are not extremists. People started looking at even ordinary Muslims as extremists. It happened because of this government. The government should be held responsible for the plight of Muslims.
Q The UNP boasts that it has fielded a young candidate who is energetic enough to work hard and travel all around the country whereas yours is not. What is your response?
How can one call the 52-year-old person as a young person? It shows how bankrupt they are. We had had conducted 28 conventions by the time we nominated Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the presidential candidate. He is travelling all over. He is visiting every electorate. The UNP candidate cannot even compete with Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa, save Gotabaya Rajapaksa.