Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) stalwart, Megapolis and Western Province Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka says, in an interview with Daily Mirror, that his party is happy about the two major parties getting together for governance. He says the Sinhala Buddhist identity should be there not to suppress non-Buddhists or the minorities, but to ensure the stability and prosperity of the country. He shared the following with us:
Q Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) was formed in 2004 as a National Movement of Buddhist Monks. Has there been a change in its original objectives? Were recent changes in Party’s high ranks appointed at the 13th Convention, a reflection of changes in the original objectives and policies of the party?
JHU is not a mere traditional political party. The political history of our active members goes back to 1980s as student activists. The first ever public movement based on sustainable development and Green Economics – Janatha Mithuro – was formed by these activists in 1991. When terrorist activities were escalating, we put before the public, a strategic plan to face terrorism, by forming National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT) in 1998. Our members were actively taking part in different organizations, including Sinhala Weerawidahana,Jathika Sangha Sabha (National Bhikkhu Council) and the National Joint Committee to defeat efforts of destabilize this country back in 1995, when the then SLFP and UNP entered into a pact with Liam Fox in making this country a Federal State. It was the same groups that came together to form the Sihala Urumaya Party after our forces lost Wanni and Elephant Pass in 2000. We then handed over the movement or the party to bhikkus in 2004 under the banner Jathika Hela Urumaya when there was a grave need to protect the Sangha Sasana. After that, we became the decisive factor in two elections, 2005 and 2010 once in 2010 where we became a party to the United People’s Freedom Alliance, and again in 2015, where we contested with the United National Front. In the past decade, we proved that we were a pragmatic political movement rather than a political party that was glued to a set of ideals which cannot be realized.
The war our soldiers fought against terrorism was legal and ethical. Therefore, we are bound to protect them and be responsible for what they did in fighting against LTTE terrorists. Actually, it was thanks to the Maithri-Ranil Government that we could prevent our war heroes being tested before an international war crimes court
We were the movement that believed in defeating terrorism completely. With the belief that you could defeat terrorism, we introduced a strategic plan and stuck to it until we saw an end to terrorism. The Europe and Northern American countries who have now been victimized by terrorism have adopted the same policies by giving it more racial and extremist twist. We strongly believe that national security is fundamental to the Nation’s stability.
Nigeria and Somalia have proven that countries which embraced Federal status in recent times failed miserably, and since we foresaw this back then we protested against any move to introduce federalism to this country jeopardizing the stability of the State.
It is only with us, the JHU that could bring both SLFP (2005) and the UNP (2015) to sign a pact accepting unitary status of this country.
It was the JHU that brought forward the most practical solutions to change the Executive Presidency of the country. As we believe the need of an executive President to secure the stability of the country, we suggested that it should be amended only to take away absolute and excessive powers enjoyed by the person in office. Now these suggestions were realized and have democratized the Presidency.
If there are people who were taken into custody on suspicion of aiding or abetting the LTTE, they must be freed if there are no charges. The law should be equal to all. One cannot be set free just because he is a Sinhalese or similarly one should not be kept imprisoned merely because he is a Tamil.
If we are to go for a complete abolition of Executive Presidency, we must also go for a complete change in our electoral system as well, where we could elect a stable government that would ensure stability of the country too. We will not leave space for any Constitutional amendment that would jeopardize the stability of this country as we do not want to fall in the same trap Nepal got into.
The JHU is happy that two major parties could come together in forming a national government. Sri Lanka could have faced an international foray and would have become another Venezuela had this change not taken place.
What we said about conserving the environment and sustainable development back in 1990, have later become international treaties, thus proving that no one was able to see as far as we could. Today, even Sri Lanka is taking the same path by changing its development strategies.
Programmes we introduced earlier, such as Green Lanka (2010), Programme to Invest in Inventions (2013), Sustainable Energy Plan (2015) have now been adopted as national policies. What we achieved through struggles for public to ensure food without poisons, clean water, air and soil could not be achieved by so-called Bolshevik revolutionaries after sacrificing thousands of lives in Sri Lanka. We will continue our struggle for social justice and a country sans corruption, frauds and unnecessary political interferences. Not many like to admit that the novel economic concepts were based on our policies. It is us who first lobbied to make Sri Lanka the Financial and Trading Hub of the Indian Ocean. (2010)
President Sirisena received people’s mandate on January 8, 2015, because he pledged not to go for any Constitutional Reform that would require a referendum. Therefore, the name of the State, National Anthem, National Flag, status given to Buddhism, right to practise all religions and people’s supremacy cannot be changed
At a time where political parties could not think beyond liberal economic strategies and out-dated soviet policies we spoke about innovative economic strategies and knowledge based economy and introduced such plans with inputs from experts back in 2013. Today, it has become the official economic policy of the Country.
Therefore, our Sinhala Buddhist identity is not to destroy or suppress non-Buddhist or non-Sinhalese, but to build a stable, prosperous, great country. Our three founding stones in this regard are stability, justice and prosperity.
QThere is an accusation that current regime is sending war heroes behind the bars while setting LTTE members free. What is your take on this accusation?
Military forces of this country completely crushed a terrorist organisation which possessed state of art weapons and who had the blessings of international conspirators, without obtaining any support from any foreign military force. We believe this was not only a victory of Sri Lankans but any peace lover out there in the world.
Today, even developed countries with modern technology struggle to defeat small terrorist outfits that are much weaker than the LTTE. What we fought at Nandikadal in 2009, these western super powers now face at Aleppo and Mosul. Even when Sinhalese were subjected to genocide in North after 1984, no Sinhalese or member of security forces targeted Tamil civilians. When in danger Tamils and Muslims in the North and East had access to South whenever they wished to leave war-torn areas. We would like to point it to the so-called developed countries like Britain, Norway and USA who build massive walls to prevent refugees from entering their territories and to those who are engaged in closing down mosques and call for a hate campaign against entire the Muslim population. But we never waged a war against Tamil civilians.
The war our soldiers fought against terrorism was legal and ethical. Therefore, we are bound to protect them and be responsible for what they did in fighting against LTTE terrorists. Actually, it was thanks to the Maithri-Ranil Government that we could prevent our war heroes being tested before an international war crimes court. It was because of the President and Prime Minister that the international community did not impose sanctions on our country or did not summon the former President or Defence Secretary for any alleged war crime trial. Now our army is being invited to fight terrorists in countries like Mali, which gives us an idea that our military forces have gained international recognition.
However, those who engaged in taking ransom, killed personal opponents or engaged in frauds amounting to millions of rupees under the guise of war, should be brought to book individually. What police and other law enforcing authorities must keep in mind is that they should not jeopardize national security or disgrace war heroes when carrying out such investigations.
On the other hand, if there are people who were taken into custody on suspicion of aiding or abetting the LTTE, they must be freed if there are no charges. The law should be equal to all. One cannot be set free just because he is a Sinhalese or similarly one should not be kept imprisoned merely because he is a Tamil. No one is against bailing out LTTE suspects if not convicted and in reality there are only less than 100 who were bailed out in that manner. However, Mahinda Rajapaksa let more than 12,000 terrorists like Ram, Nagulan and KP scot free, and the government must take legal actions against these hard-core terrorists.What we emphasize is that we can do it within local legal framework and there is no need to bring in foreign Judges or send them to international courts.
QRecently, there was a movement called ‘Ezhagu Thamil’ where they called Tamils to rise. How do you see these developments?
First of all, I must insist that MR administration should held be responsible for this ‘Wigneswaran process’. He (MR) promised India that Northern Provincial Council polls would be held before March 2013 as a strategy to face forces building up in Geneva. Then, when the Indian delegates arrived here, MR and Basil Rajapaksa announced that elections would held be in September 2013 without consulting the Cabinet or anyone in the government.
We told him to remove five powers vested in the PCs since the government had already had two thirds majority in Parliament and to build a solid alternative political movement before going for an elections in North. MR as usual appointed a committee to decide on provincial powers and used Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Prof. Tissa Vitharana to sabotage the process. Even though the government spent billions of rupees to develop the North under ‘Uthuru Vasanthaya’ Wigneswaran gained an easy win due to the absence of a strong political alternate.
All defeated pro-LTTE Tamil political parties and leaders like EPRFF, EPDP (Thavarasa), TULF (Ananda Sangaree) have flocked around Wigneswaran and his ‘Rise Tamil’ movement. Their main objective was to be completely racial in order to make Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan unpopular amongst Tamil community by projecting him as a traitor. This was the same strategy adopted by Amirthalingam against Ponnambalam in 1970s. Secondly he wanted to project himself locally and internationally as the only Tamil leader. Thirdly, to build a racial platform for him to be re-elected in 2018, as that is the only option left for Wigneswaran, who for the last three years, has failed to enact a single development project in the North.
With this ‘Rise Tamils’ movement and frequent harthals they have once again breathed oxygen to Prabhakaran’s separatism under which the Northern Tamil community will get sidelined by Tamil community as well as by the entire country. Not a single investor or professional would step into troubled Jaffna, and on the other hand, the prolonged slogan of discrimination and provocation of Sinhalese which led to Tamil rising would lose its hold. Lastly, a fair platform would be created for the entire society to fight for the lost lands of Sinhalese and Muslims in the past. Finally, all of these would only bring embarrassment to the Tamil community. So I believe this ‘Rise Tamil’ movement only marginalises the Tamils.
QThere are some fears that the new Constitution will lay foundation to make Sri Lanka a secular country and a Federal State. Is there any truth behind this?
Drafting a new Constitution is an open process which each Member of Parliament is part of. There is a 21-member Steering Committee with representations from each political party in Parliament including MR.
There are six subcommittees which look into identified areas and prepared their reports and once these six subcommittees present their respective reports before parliament or steering committee MPs would discuss those.
There was an attempt to draft a Constitution during the MR regime where an All Party Committee was appointed and during that period an expert panel (majority) presented a report suggesting to make Sri Lanka, a federal secular State. MR in his 2015 election campaign pledged to resolve problems of Tamils within six months. In 2010, he even presented a power sharing proposal in Geneva. None of those took the democratic route at the time. But today the process is transparent.
On the other hand, I must emphasize the fact that President Sirisena received people’s mandate on January 8, 2015, because he pledged not to go for any Constitutional Reform that would require a referendum. Therefore, the name of the State, National Anthem, National Flag, status given to Buddhism, right to practise all religions and people’s supremacy cannot be changed. Since no political party was able to gain a clear majority after January 2015, it is the responsibility of all to respect the people’s mandate that had already been received. However, it is the people of Sri Lanka that finally ratify the new Constitution exercising their sovereign franchise.
The danger of making the State secular was proved in European countries while risks of federalism were made clear in Arabic and North African countries. Thus, we will not allow any attempts that would weaken the State.
After all, we must give priority to enact the 20th Amendment and abolish the preferential voting system and introduce electoral reforms as it is the biggest expectation of our people.
We will give a complete analysis once the draft Constitution is tabled and would do everything to defeat reforms that would destabilize the country.
QAre you satisfied with the progress the government has so far made in combating corruption? Also, what are your thoughts on recent remarks by President Sirisena?
President Sirisena received the mandate of two camps in January 2015. One was of those from traditional political parties including the UNP, TNA, SLMC and the JVP and the other was from the educated and professional middlemen. Since it was clear that MR couldn’t be defeated with votes of the opposition, the mandate of this second category was decisive. They expected that the new government would take stern actions against those who are corrupt and will make strong laws to end corruption. We, just like these forces, have displeasure over the manner in which government made progress in this regard. We see three reasons that delayed this process and also lead to criticism.
Firstly, it was due to weaknesses inherited by our judicial system. Not having adequate experts, delay in prosecution and suspects not being convicted (only 4% of criminals are convicted in Sri Lanka while in Japan the percentage is 100%) are some of the reasons.
Secondly, even though the law is made independent it is not impartial and efficient That is why suspects in same case are being treated differently. Sometimes, even though there is criticism about certain rulings by court in some cases, people are afraid to voice against them due to the fear of being charged for contempt of court. Therefore, we need to introduce new laws defining what is contempt of court and to ensure impartiality and efficiency of courts.
Thirdly, certain cases are weakened or delayed due to political reasons. The infamous Avant Garde floating armoury case not being charged as a criminal case, the delay in RADA and Thajudeen murder cases are some of the instances. Also, while Kumar Gunaratnam is being imprisoned over charges of possessing a fake passport. Wimal Weerawansa who faced the same charges was bailed out.
Therefore, we, as proposed to the Cabinet on January 21, must take action against them through a special court against those who engaged in mega scale corruption and frauds. This should also be applied to corruption took that place under the present government over the Treasury Bond scam.