- Ranil Wickremesinghe can make little impact on us
- SJB discards Federalism
- Asks TNA to join SJB-led Govt in future
Former Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka responded to questions about legal action taken against him and also about plans for the future in an interview with the DailyMirror. He is also a Colombo district candidate representing Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB).
Q The UNP-led political force that stood by Sajith Premadasa is split today. How would it affect you at the parliamentary elections?
Mr. Wickremesinghe’s UNP can make little impact on us. Some people believe that our political force will be split down the middle. It isn’t true. An overwhelming number of UNPers have rallied behind the SJB, instead. They had been with Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe as their leader for 26 years. They are sick of him. When former President Maithripala Sirisena joined hands with the UNP, people were fully geared up. But, the then Government could not live up to the expectations of 6.2 million people who voted Mr. Sirisena in. At the 2014 Provincial Council Elections, the UNP polled only 2.4 million votes. However, at the Presidential Elections conducted a few months later, it rose to 6.2 million. It means there are as many as four million swing voters who decide on the political fate of this country. At the last Presidential Elections in 2019, these middleclass, informed voters abandoned us. The Maithri-Ranil Government should be held responsible for it. It means Mr. Wickremesinghe is despised both by the core UNPers and middleclass swing voters. So, he has no political bearing on us.
Within the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) camp, there are around three million swing voters. If we position ourselves to win over at least a faction of them this time, we can get satisfactory results at this election.
Q Traditionally, the UNPers value their party symbol. It is a party synonymous with its elephant symbol. Then, how do you say the split will have only minimal impact on you?
The UNPers voted for the spectacle symbol at the election to the Colombo Municipal Council once. They have voted for the swan symbol at three consecutive presidential elections.
Q No matter what, the split will have some advantage for the SLPP or the Rajapaksa camp as you call it. Do you agree?
No. After severing links with the UNP and Mr. Wickremesinghe, we were able to absolve ourselves of certain allegations which alienated voters from us.
Q What are those allegations?
For example, the Central Bank bond fraud can be taken. We faced allegations about moves to introduce Federalism and a neo-liberal economic model, and the alienation of national assets. We were accused of acting regardless of local cultural ethos. We are free from all these allegations today, thanks to severing links with the UNP. Therefore, we can appeal to four million middleclass voters. The doors are now open for them. Now, the SJB has the opportunity to attract patriotic, swing voters.
Q It means the SJB will discard neoliberal policies?
Yes, it will. Actually, the Rajapaksas are a neo-liberal and ultra-capitalist lot. Within two weeks upon returning to power, they did away with certain income taxes. It resulted in the loss of a one-third of state’s revenue. It means they don’t tax the haves. Only neoliberalists do it. This is the economic thinking of Dr. P.B. Jayasundara. They are driven by a capitalist agenda. The Government’s revenue, as a percentage of the GDP, stood at 14 percent in 2005 when the Rajapaksas returned to power first. When their term ended last, it plummeted to ten percent. They were only giving tax relief to the capitalist class. We don’t chant slogans appealing to the working class. Instead, we stand for the working class. Ours is based on a pragmatic economic policy. We are environment-friendly and people oriented. We take insights from the indigenous model where necessary. Most importantly, we follow a model driven by innovative thinking.
Q You said you would discard Federalism. However, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which is one of your sister parties is consistent with its demand for Federalism and the merger of the North and the East. How do you accommodate the TNA at future national elections when you discard Federalism?
We believe in the unitary state. The same question is not directed at the Rajapaksas. Those contesting with the Rajapaksas are not democratic forces. Their Digamadulla district candidate is one time LTTE Military Wing Leader Vinayagamurthy Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman. Former LTTE cadres are doing politics for the Rajapaksas. They are the forces with blood-stained hands. They are terrorists who committed acts of terrorism. We are in a democratic discourse with the TNA. The TNA stands for Federalism, but we don’t. We ask them to join hands with us to form the Government and accept portfolios as the Tamil parties in the estate sector and the Muslim parties do.
Q Pragmatism and a new innovative economic model are concepts you espoused for a long time. You said the SJB follows them. Does it mean that you have become the policy maker for them?
In 1995, under the Liam Fox agreement, both the main parties agreed to introduce Federalism. We stood for the unitary status. By 2005, the SLFP accepted the unitary status. It does not mean the SLFP became us. In 2012, the UNP also accepted it at its convention. It means all the main forces in the South adopted our stance. This is a victory for us. Both Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe had to drop Federalism.
They did not have any idea of crushing the LTTE militarily. They were talking about a political solution to win over Tamils alienating the LTTE. We took up the position that the LTTE should be vanquished militarily. Our position prevailed finally.
We advocated the position that our country’s strategic positioning should be used as the basis of our economic model. The Rajapaksas accepted it. Later, the UNP followed suit. I talked about the knowledge-based economic model. In 2015, both the parties adopted it. I am in the middle of the policy making compass. I am proud of it.
Q Now, you say the SJB has embraced your policies. Recently, former UNP MP Navin Dissanayake said you were up for taking control of the SJB later unseating Mr. Sajith Premadasa. He accused you of conspiring to do it. Is this the first step by you in this direction?
Navin Dissanayake is someone who cashes in on his father’s legacy. They keep themselves afloat in politics thanks to the legacy of his father. On the contrary, we are self-made politicians. We count on our own talents. If not for their parents’ legacies, most of those people talking big in politics cannot get elected even to a local body. Colombo-based elitist class is envious of our achievement. Anagarika Dharmapala faced it. D.B. Jayatilake who was slated to be the first Prime Minister of this country had to face it. This is nothing new. I don’t while away from such challenges. Actually, Navin’s brother Mayantha Dissanayake has given a character certificate to me. He referred to me as the beacon light of professional politics after late Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake.
Q You said you wouldn’t shy away from challenges. The future looks more challenging for you because you have been charged in a court of law. You have been summoned before court. How do you face it?
This is the nature of the Rajapaksas. They believe in mudslinging and the abuse of the rule of law. They cannot stop our political journey merely by reopening a case which had been dispensed with earlier. I am not responsible for the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga, Farook Thajudeen and Pradeep Ekneligoda. I did not benefit from the MIG deal.
I was adjudged the best minister for administering my Ministry efficiently in 2018. I am subjected to character assassination at every election because they fear me. No one is saying Patali Champika Ranawaka is an incompetent person or a person chickening out. I am a product of free education and from an ordinary family.
We will defeat this Government in the future.
Today, the Government is in a fiscal cliff. We fight COVID-19 with health professionals, not with bayonets. The economy is shrinking. The Rajapaksas cannot resurrect it. The people who can do it with necessary fiscal discipline and economic skills are only
Q You took a political decision in 2015. In retrospect, do you feel that you are back to square one today?
There is nothing at all like that. We were able to rid the country from the Rajapaksa family rule.
Q But, the Rajapaksas are back in power again?
That happened because of the weak, lethargic approach of Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena. We are the leaders of our current political force giving a voice for the voiceless and representing the national identity.