The Joint Opposition MP for the Anuradhapura District Shehan Semasinghe, in an interview with the Daily Mirror , says it is thoroughly unacceptable to delay the local government elections. He says the country is going through a turbulent period.
How do you see the current political situation?
It is really a disaster. There was a change of government in January, 2015. People’s expectations were raised at that election. They were promised a better standard of living. The picture drawn was that the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration was tainted with corruption, and that the rule should be changed for the installation of the Yahapalana government. The exact opposite to what was promised has happened. Today, people have come to realize that the previous government was better than the current administration in every aspect.
The country has fallen back in every aspect. The government has no way out of it even. It does not have a future plan. It is only occupied with criticizing the last government.
Today, democracy has failed. The local government elections are due. It is something crucial. Two years would have passed as of March, 2017 without elections. It is very unfair to delay this election merely for the fact that the government’s popularity has waned.
On the other hand, media freedom is at stake. It is deteriorating by the day. There is a witch-hunt on media because it brings out news unfavourable to the government.
The government understood that social media was a key factor that brought them into power. Two years has passed. What is the government’s stand on social media today? It is seen as anathema to the forward march of the government. There is absolute contradiction in policy stand.
You talk about the local government election. But, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which you represent is divided. You sit with the Joint Opposition. How confident are you that your side can make it at the election?
When it comes to a party, members are the most important factor. In a private company, employees matter the most. But, employees are paid. In a political party, members are not paid. It is voluntary. As of now, the main principles of SLFP have been rescinded. When a party compromises its policies and joins the government that leads the country down the path of disaster, what is the choice for its members at grassroots level? They will look at alternative factors.
Today, both the United National Party (UNP) and SLFP are parts of the government. Sadly, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), with its 16 MPs, has virtually become a part and parcel of the government. The JVP also acts in the same manner. Imagine what would have happened if 51 of us in the Joint Opposition joined the government! Then, there would not have been any Opposition to the government. People are rallying against the government today.
There is a school of thought that the split of the SLFP will eventually translate into the UNP having the edge at an election. What is your view?
There is a thought like that. That is a story planted by those sitting with the government. SLFP voters have not mandated them to sit with the government. The UNP has got 106 seats. It is by the manipulation of people’s wish. Majority of the people, in fact, wanted the SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) to win, and Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa to become the Prime Minister. But, different steps were taken during the election to ensure the victory for the UNP. Secondly, people are today against the government in general.
They do not find any reason to support any of the governing parties. So, at an election, people will be divided as pro-government people and anti-government people. Otherwise, there is no such division of public opinion on party lines. Actually, there will he split within the government with its allies going in different directions, but not in the Joint Opposition. People will rally behind the party opposed to the government. That party will have the edge at the end.
How do you brace for the election?
First, let the government decide on the election! Once the government decides, we will decide. We do not harbour personal grudges with anybody. We want to protect the principles of the SLFP. We do not want to become part of the UNP. The Yahapalana government is not carrying forward even a single principle of the SLFP.
You served in the last Parliament as a young member. In your view, what was the reason for the downfall of the then government which you represented?
There were several issues which we have to accept. There were several persons whose acts people did not like. Secondly, the then opposition established through propaganda that the then government was riddled with corruption. Thirdly, there was a lot of international pressure regarding the issue of the north and the east.
"They do not find any reason to support any of the governing parties. So, at an election, people will be divided as pro-government people and anti-government people. ... "
The previous government was planning to work out a solution to this problem, acceptable to all the ethnic and religious groups with favour for none. The international community did not realize it. In fact, it was supportive of the LTTE ideology. The pro- LTTE activists were living all around the world, extending support to this ideology. But, there were certain issues, despite all that, we should have corrected. We, in the previous government, did not look at them because we felt that we were doing fair enough for the country.
People decided at the end. We genuinely respect it. Actually, the people who were responsible for the downfall of the last government are with the present government. Almost all of them are with the present government.
Today, we see a lot of differences between the UNP and the SLFP section in the government. Will it result in the unification of the SLFP factions in the government and the opposition against the UNP at one point?
As I said earlier, there is nothing personal here. If 95 of us on the UPFA ticket remained together, we could have taken over the government by now. I doubt whether these differences visible at the moment are something staged. The UNP back benchers take on SLFP MPs serving in the government and ask them to quit if they wish. Nobody has made a move yet. Secondly, some SLFPers in the government say they are bogged down in a quagmire. State Minister of Finance Lakshman Yapa clearly said it. Then, Minister Dilan Perera called this government ‘Paanduwa’.
It means the government is fragile. This could be another drama to cover the failures of the Yahapalana government. Nobody should be too optimistic about it. However, I am glad that both the UNP and the SLFP have realized that their political marriage is incompatible.
Do you see any possibility of former President Rajapaksa and President Maithripala Sirisena mending their differences?
That is up to them. However, I would say people want Mr. Rajapaksa to play the role and lead the country. I represent a very rural district. Economically, people are suffering. Expenditure is very high. The government is not acting fairly. The government is only acting in the interests of the sections of the international community that helped it in coming to power. The government always talks about a debt trap. It is only a phenomenon created by the Yahapalana government. During the previous government, we developed the country.
"When it comes to a party, members are the most important factor. In a private company, employees matter the most. But, employees are paid. In a political party, members are not paid. It is voluntary. As of now, the main principles of SLFP have been rescinded. When a party compromises its policies and joins the government that leads the country down the path of disaster, what is the choice for its members at grassroots level? They will look at alternative factors."
The current government is so inefficient. When it comes to corruption and frauds, this government has set a record. Nobody can match the government in this regard. The economy is crashing as a result. The general public are suffering hugely. The government should be sympathetic towards the citizens of this country. This issue has become critical. Not even a single measure is taken to address it. With the budget, nothing but more and more taxes came in.
Today, the Joint Opposition is accused of being racist. What are your views?
We are definitely not. We do not support any sort of extremism. We advocate the middle path. This allegation is also part of a conspiracy against us. It was made against us two years ago. The same is being hatched against us now. I am telling you with responsibility that we do not take extreme ends.
As a young parliamentarian, how do you look at parliamentary democracy today?
It is very sad. The reason is that the parties have gone against the mandate they go. Secondly, 51 of us sit in the opposition. It has been accepted as a separate group. The TNA has only 16 MPs. But, it has been made the main opposition.
The JVP has only six members. Yet, the Chief Opposition Whip post has been given to them. It is unfair. These 22 members together get 60 percent of oral time allocated to the entire opposition in Parliament. We, 51 members, do not get even 20 percent of time. Is that fair in that sense?
The government has introduced new committee system in Parliament. How do you see it?
The committees are not functioning well as of now. These committees need much more improvement.