‘Majority SLFP MPs would remain with Government’

3 August 2017 12:58 am - 3     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A A A

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reached the 40th milepost in his Political Career recently. He also earned the reputation of being in Parliament continuously for 40 years. This interview with Premier Wickremesinghe touches on both his experiences in the political arena as well as the current political situation in the country.  

Q Mr Prime Minister, when we speak about your 40 years in politics it’s pertinent to find out how you first entered politics.   
There was no pre-planning. Though my family members were involved in politics, none of them contested at any elections. After 1972 I worked for the UNP and also for the National Workers Union. I was later appointed as the Treasurer of the UNP Youth Front in order to reorganize the party after its defeat. At that time Karunasena Kodithuwakku was its Secretary. The takeover of Lake house, belonging to our family, was a great blow. With that our party lost its medium of obtaining publicity. This was an opportunity for me to contest under the UNP. There were no candidates for the Kelaniya electorate and several others wanted me to contest for Kelaniya, but I declined and J R Jayewardene pushed me into contesting from Biyagama in 1977 which I did and won.   

Q That means you weren’t keen on contesting from an electorate?   
There was no need to contest, as I wanted to practise as a lawyer. At that time the courts were under reorganization and many courts remained closed. Therefore there was no way of practising. It was an issue for those lawyers who didn’t have any other means of earning. It didn’t affect us much. Many from our side drifted towards politics. The economy at that time had severely affected the private sector. By 3 in the afternoon most of them had finished their work and began to idle. Some used to take Friday off and move to the outstations with their friends and families for the weekends. There was ample time to engage in politics.   

Q Leaving aside an honourable profession as a lawyer, why did you chose politics as a profession?   
At that time the legal profession wasn’t active. From my paternal side at least six generations had been in the legal profession. Added to that there were very many who, while being in the legal profession, contested the elections. Many lawyers from the outstations seized this opportunity and offered leadership in their villages, faring better than those in Colombo. They were able to argue with the local police and state officials which boosted their morale. Lawyers like Chandra Ranasinghe, Udayarathne and Gamini Rajapakse came forward to provide that leadership.   

Q What type of assistance did you receive from J.R. Jayewardene when entering politics?   
 I received his instructions and he was the one who wanted me to contest Kelaniya. In 1976, during the delimitation of electorates, Kelaniya was divided into two with Biyagama becoming the other electorate. J. R. Jayewardene then wanted me to contest from Biyagama as it was more a rural area. He urged that I contest from there as it ideally suited me. Then he selected Cyril Mathew to contest Kelaniya and me to contest Biyagama.   

 The most unfortunate incident was the 83 Black July. We couldn’t suppress the ethnic clashes at the inception and the first experiences of a war were unforgettable. The adoption of the 13th amendment and the bomb explosion within the Parliament are also incidents that remain in my mind. There are other occasions like the Presidential elections held for President Ranasinghe Premadasa and the impeachment against him which shook the government but didn’t suffice to make it fall. Both President DB. Wijetunga and I worked from this room during that tense moment. President Premadasa felt very sorry about the whole affair

Q You were appointed to a cabinet post at a young age. How did you feel when you were appointed to a cabinet post for the first time?   
 I was the youngest Cabinet Minister at that time in Sri Lanka. I was even younger than Felix Dias Bandaranaike when he was appointed as a Cabinet Minister. It was a record at that time. I needn’t elaborate on what I felt at that time. The UNP had in their manifesto mentioned about appointing a Minister for Youth Affairs in 1978. I had some experience working as the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for a long period as Minister Hamid was abroad attending to the affairs of the Non Aligned Conference. I realized that working as the Minister of Youth Affairs I could strive for the development of the country. It was also an opportunity to convey the ideas of the country’s youth.   

Q As J.R. Jayewardene was related to you, didn’t the opponents make an issue out of it saying that it was an act of nepotism?   
 No. Because Karunasena Kodithuwakku and I completely reorganized the youth front, and Karunasena had to go abroad to complete his Doctorate graduation. I was the one who remained to contest elections. As I had worked in the JSS and having launched the National Lawyers Union, many young MPs spoke on my behalf. That made me the suitable candidate. It wasn’t Nepotism, but my capabilities which won me this coveted post.   

Q When forming the cabinet did J.R. Jayewardene face any conflicts?   
 No. He had 5/6 power. He took oaths in the morning of 23rd and we were all asked to come to the Presidential house at noon. Until they opened the envelopes containing their appointment letters none of us knew whether we have been appointed as Ministers or Deputy Ministers. No one was willing to give it up and whether you like it or not you had to accept the appointment, it applied to the Deputy Ministers as well.   

Q Did anyone decline to accept the position he or she had been given?   
 Why should anyone reject a position when there was a 5/6 power?  

Q Can you recall some unforgettable incidents during this 40-year political career of yours?   
 There are many. The construction of a new Parliament and moving into it was a novel experience. Bringing in a new system of economy and a new thinking is unforgettable. The most unfortunate incident was the 83 Black July. We couldn’t suppress the ethnic clashes at the inception and the first experiences of a war were unforgettable. The adoption of the 13th Amendment and the bomb explosion within the Parliament are also incidents that remain in my mind. There are other occasions like the Presidential elections held for President Ranasinghe Premadasa and the impeachment against him which shook the government but didn’t suffice to make it fall. Both President DB. Wijetunga and I worked from this room during that tense moment. President Premadasa felt very sorry about the whole affair. Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali were two of my contemporaries. They parted. President Premadasa’s assassination and its aftermath. I had to step in to establish law and order. Being appointed as the Prime Minister. Losing power in the Parliament and sitting in the opposition. Functioning as the Leader of the Opposition. Forming our own government in 2001. Signing of the peace accord at a time when we were losing ground. But when it ended it was beneficial to us. These are special incidents that always remain in my mind. Propping up Sarath Fonseka as the common candidate and working for his victory and later in 2014 forming a broad alliance and bringing in Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate. These are some, but there are other unforgettable incidents of my life.   

Q You mentioned about the 83 Black July. There were allegations against some UNP politicians of masterminding an uprising.   
No there was nothing of that sort. There is no truth in that. There were many killings in the North and the East and this was something that had to be expected. With separatism being the much hyped topic, the South was getting heated up like a box of explosives. It was to explode any moment. At this time, the army team including Vass Gunawardene, faced a severe attack in Jaffna and with this the explosives caught fire and exploded. The delay in having their funeral also ignited the situation and with that commenced the communal uprising. The police were inadequate to suppress it as most of their cadres were deployed in Kandy for the Perahera. There were very few police cadres in Colombo. As there was a tense situation the army also couldn’t be deployed. The police had to be brought down from Kandy and this caused a delay and it aggravated the situation.   

Q When the impeachment against President Premadasa was brought up, wasn’t there any requests for you also to join the group?   
No there was none. If anyone had requested me I would have turned down such requests. I came to know this only through the media on that morning. I spoke to some, but they seemed to be unaware of this. I therefore decided to face the situation jointly.   

Q Despite you being in politics for 40 years, why weren’t you able to  become the leader of the country?  
We lost two presidential elections. When Chandrika contested the presidential elections, the attempt on her life shifted the votes towards her due to the sympathy factor. If not the result would have been different. On the second occasion, in order to become the President, Mahinda Rajapakse entered into a secret agreement with Prabhakaran and gave money. We agreed on a common understanding to give more power to the Parliament, more power to the Prime Minister and I thought forming a national government was the better alternative.   

At that time there was no money even to pay the interest. We are building a strategy to stabilize the economy by 2020 and by 2025 we could release ourselves from this enormous debt. It’s a challenge which we will overcome. By working together this can be achieved. Our income has now increased and we are now forging ahead with a massive development activity

Q With the sudden demise of President Premadasa, were there any issues regarding the appointment of the next leader? There were also rumours that you spearheaded the appointment of  Wijetunga as President  from backstage.   
With the unexpected incident, the Prime Minister at that time became the acting President and what followed thereafter was the usual transfer of power. At the time of the assassination, Wijetunga was near the Sugathadasa Stadium. We brought him to the defense ministry and accompanied him to the Presidential Secretariat and arranged for him to take the oath immediately in order to maintain stability in the country.   

Q During Wijetunga’s rule, you functioned as the Prime Minister, but you failed to become the leader of the party. What was the reason for it? Was there a conspiracy behind it?   
After the elections there were various moves. There is no point talking about them. Most of these people are dead and I am the leader now.   

Q At that time many labelled you as a LTTE supporter, but both in 1999 and 2005 at the Presidential elections you were beaten by LTTE activities. What was the reason?   
LTTE’s main motive wasn’t linked to me winning an election, but largely to eliminate Chandrika. Given there were shortcomings in the security that was provided, at that time, they (LTTE) thought the elections were the best time to activate their plans. If it happened it would have been a terrible situation. We should remember that when Athulathmudali was killed the charge was made against Premadasa. And when Premadasa was killed, the charges were made against Lalith’s supporters. If we had fought on the streets that day, Prabhakaran would have reaped the harvest as the ideal situation for him would have been created. They expected that the elimination of Chandrika would have created a situation where an acting president was named. This would have created turmoil. There would have been a blood bath among the SLFP and UNP supporters. The LTTE was expecting this.   

Q Then what happened in 2005?   
Prabhakaran wasn’t agreeable to making peace. He feared peace saying that it was a deadly trap. He tried ways and means of defeating it. We had only to strengthen the army, but with the setback in 2000, that was impossible. If we continued with peace talks without the presence of Prabhakaran, we could have got the credit. But it didn’t happen and through the Tamil diaspora, a world opinion was created that the Sri Lankan Government isn’t in favour of peace. President Rajapakse said in Parliament that they aren’t willing to accept peace, but if attempts were made, and with the support of the international community, we could have avoided the unfortunate incidents that surfaced during the final days of the war in 2009.   

Q In 2010 why did you step aside and allow Sarath Fonseka to contest  the presidential elections?  
Having observed the situation at that time, we thought the best option was to form a common front and introduce someone who had a connection to the war.

Q Don’t you think that if you had come forward at that time for the presidential elections you could have won?   
 I am unable to tell anything about it. It’s true that a common candidate can obtain votes from all sides, but votes of JVP will never be cast for a UNP candidate.   

Q Then in 2015 that opportunity was again given to someone else. Why? Was there any opposition?   
We had discussions in 2013-2014 regarding the forming of a common alliance and contesting the presidential elections. At that time democracy remained suppressed. We wanted to defeat the Rajapakse regime and establish democracy. Therefore the JVP, TNA, group associated with Sobhitha Thera, Non Political Civil organizations and various other groups participated at these discussions. There were some issues among certain groups. Some wanted the abolition of the Executive Presidency. At that time the UNP hadn’t taken a decision regarding that. Some declined to extend the support to a UNP candidate. The JVP, Sobhitha Thera and TNA were all on the same page. However everybody agreed to defeat the regime and strengthen the Parliament and democracy.   
   
Q Don’t you think that if you had come forward at that time for the presidential elections you could have won.   
I am unable to tell anything about it. It’s true that a common candidate can obtain votes from all sides, but votes of JVP will never be cast for a UNP candidate.   

Q Then in 2015 that opportunity was again given to someone else. Why? Was there any opposition?   
We had discussions in 2013-2014 regarding the forming of a common alliance and contesting the presidential elections. At that time democracy remained suppressed. We wanted to defeat the Rajapakse regime and establish democracy. Therefore the JVP, TNA, group associated with Sobhitha Thera, Non Political Civil organizations and various other groups participated at these discussions. There were some issues among certain groups. Some wanted the abolition of the Executive Presidency. At that time the UNP hadn’t taken a decision regarding that. Some declined to extend the support to a UNP candidate. The JVP, Sobhitha Thera and TNA were all on the same page. However everybody agreed to defeat the regime and streng then the Parliament and democracy.   

Q Two parties who were working against each other from the beginning becoming closely associated after the victory on January 08th 2015 and forming a government was something new. Many were of the view that this type of opportunity to develop the country would never arise in this country. Do you think that this rare opportunity has been made use of?  
Yes. Because of this unique position we have earned international cooperation. Our biggest issue is the debt we have acquired. Mahinda Rajapakse also couldn’t continue with his government because of the large amount of debt. Because he couldn’t face this issue he opted for an early election. We have been able to overcome this situation. At that time there was no money even to pay the interest. We are building a strategy to stabilize the economy by 2020 and by 2025 we could release ourselves from this enormous debt. It’s a challenge which we will overcome. By working together this can be achieved. Our income has now increased and we are now forging ahead with a massive development activity. There had been a delay. The Hambantota Port was a white Elephant. Now we are turning the situation around and Mattala too would be made a profit making establishment. We have investments not only from China, but also from India and Japan. Road construction is also been done systematically. We have re-obtained GSP plus. Our unity has brought this change. The media is more inclined towards reporting  on the differences we have and doesn’t report on how we are achieving things together.   

Q Do you think it’s wrong for the media to reveal the criticisms that crop up while working together?   
They should view the other side as well. The media thrive on criticisms leveled by groups and individuals. They want be able to sell their papers if they publish that all are working together. It’s the same position with the TV.   

Q Many are criticizing the UNP-SLFP Government. Even the Ministers and MPs in both parties are engaged in criticizing the government. What have you got to say?
We have discussed about this matter. If you want to remain in the government you should refrain from criticizing and speak in one voice. Now they must speak about what the government has done. We have done much work. If the PC elections are held we will contest separately. SLFP might contest separately and the would UNF contest separately.   

Q Mr. Prime Minister, now the President has requested SLFP Ministers and MPs who are in the government not to leave until 31st December 2017. Does it mean that by 31st December the unity of the two parties would end?   
Issues surface when you work. When one issue is over another surfaces. If we can sit together and find solutions, this unity government can continue.   

Q Then what about this deadline set for 31st December?  
That is an internal matter of the SLFP. We have no connection with it. We want to continue this way until 2020.   

Q If the SLFP leaves the government, what will happen? Will the UNP form a government of its own?  
I don’t think that many will leave. There are SLFP MPs who haven’t discussed this matter. I don’t think that a large number would leave. Continuing the government is one thing and while being in the government with another party one shouldn’t think that they are leaving.   

Q As you going to be a candidate at the 2020 Presidential Elections?
 No decision has been taken regarding this matter. No finality has been reached whether to abolish the Presidency or continue it. The interim report would be made available by end of August as decided as decided by us. Now it’s time to honour our pledges. Our second year is over now. We have built the economy and established the political background. The primary issues of human rights has now been resolved. We have cleared the land and the foundation has been laid. Now it’s time to put up the walls and make the roof. Without doing that there’s no point speaking about the 2020 elections.   

Q Don’t you think that the Executive Presidency is much needed for this country? The war was ended through it. And why can’t it be used to solve the present issues?   
 We have discussed that matter. If it’s the people’s wish we could proceed towards it. If we are going to establish a new Executive there are two matters to be considered. What should be the powers of the President and how are we going to have a solid executive? We can’t be prisoners of traditional strategies when we are moving forward.   

Q Don’t you think that if you are elected to the post of Executive President you could attend to many activities?   
 It’s better to continue working from the present position without thinking of such appointments. It’s better to think about the future once these matters are attended to.   

Q Why is the government delaying the resolving of the SAITM issue, Garbage problem and the Hambantota Port issue?   
It’s true that the Meetotamulla garbage dump collapsed. We have been discusing about where to dump the garbage. We had selected a location which belongs to the wildlife conservation. It takes time to amend its regulations. We have considered several other places for temporary use. There had been protests and some have filed for court action. Finally we have selected a location in Puttalam and are now in the process of discussing the matter with the villagers. While doing it we are also engaged in the recycling of garbage and turning it in to power generation. Regarding SAITM, discussions are continuing. Now there is an agreement on the standards. Attorney General is studying the process. We have now taken over the hospital. What is now left is how the future of SAITM is going to be. Our attention is drawn to this issue. There were issues connected to the Hambantota Harbor and we are continuing our discussions on this regard. The land hasn’t been sold to anyone, but leased out to two companies. Colombo Port city was handed over outright, but we changed it converting it to a lease. Shangrilla was handed over outright. These weren’t given by our government. Now infrastructure development is needed at the Hambantota harbor. A cement factory, an oil refinery and ship yards are necessary. Action is been taken to commence these activities. Once they are in operation investments would arrive. We have now entered into an agreement with India and Japan for LMG power plants. All these projects would bring in 2 or 3 Billion Dollars to our country.   

Q Another contentious issue is the Missing Persons Act. Some allege that with this bill in operation charges could be leveled against those who defeated the war, by using it in retrospect. What have you got to say?  
This shows that the constitution hasn’t been read properly, or else due to the political bankruptcy they are looking for a way to express their opinion. In our Constitution there is a basic right which describes that a crime committed before a legal enactment can’t be included. This agreement had been signed in 2017 and would come to effect in 2018. It wouldn’t cover incidents prior to this date. Why all these shouting? By doing this they only attract the attention of the outside world. When people do this they show that we are trying to hide something. There shouldn’t be any fear. It’s now apparent that the former president is unaware of the constitution. It’s sheer bankruptcy. Specially under the 13th amendment clause no 06 if someone’s action wasn’t considered as a crime at the time of the occurrence, it can’t be later construed as a crime. Therefore many acts committed during the war can’t be interpreted as crimes under the Penal code. During a war there can be deaths on both sides. Sometime shooting can take place from both sides. Everything can’t be referred to as crimes. For an action to be labelled as a crime there should be an intention or any other reason. By making these charges it is clear that they are trying to get a political advantage or it can be that they are living in fear or trying to avoid being found guilty. We have no reason to involve the war heroes in war crimes.   

Q What is your opinion on the Bond Commission?  
This was completely probed by the Parliament. There was a COPE report on this matter. Parliament took up a debate. It was held that if anything had taken place inside the Bank, a proper machinery should be in place to investigate it. Therefore a Commission had been appointed. Evidence is been recorded as to what actually took place at the Central Bank at that time.   

Q Don’t you think that people are using this as a base to level an attack against you?   
COPE said that I had nothing to do in this regard. Now what is being investigated is what really happened on that day. When the COPE committee had already said so, does your inference that an attack is leveled against me suggest that the commissioners are planning carry out the attack against me? I am not aware of any such thing. What is happening there is they are finding out what really happened there.   

Q Finally I would like to ask you what your future political expectations are?   
 To have a sound platform to achieve success in all our government undertakings. To give our youth a better future compared to what we achieved and to live in a peaceful Sri Lanka devoid of issues and join the rest of the world in a journey to the future.     

See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.

 

  Comments - 3

See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.

 

 
  • chris Thursday, 03 August 2017 04:00 PM

    40 years in Parliament; pls mention 40 things you have done for the betterment of the country (not for yourself or for your fellow parliamentarians).

    sach Friday, 04 August 2017 10:11 AM

    what does UNP leader have to say about what SLF mps should do?

    sach Friday, 04 August 2017 10:29 AM

    PM talks about unfortunate incidents in 2009? What is it? death of Prabhakaran?


Add comment

Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.

Reply To:

Name - Reply Comment




Credentials of official raise controversy

Amila Ishan Kankanamge, the Government appointed non-Executive Director to Mo

How the SLAF killed the LTTE’s “Smiling Cobra” in an air strike

More than eleven years have passed since the war between the Sri Lankan Armed

Sri Lanka in CT Level 3, health experts

As Sri Lanka witnessed the highest number of deaths in a single day and with

How Covid-19 is further marginalising the vulnerable

Although the COVID-19 pandemic was initially described by many as a “great

See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.