The discussed current political situation in the country with the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) Chief Prof. Tissa Vitharana. Excerpts from the interview.
Q The country is experiencing a major transformation politically, socially and economically right now in the backdrop of the recent change of government, the introduction of the 19Amendment to the Constitution to prune the much criticized absolute powers of the Executive Presidency and change of economic and monetary policies. As a veteran politician with a Marxist ideology, how do you see this remodelling?
It is important for us to realise that there is a positive and negative side to what is happening. What appears to be and could become a positive process of democratising and uniting our society in our common interest, is unfortunately also a cover for a more dangerous and far-reaching project that may undo all the progressive changes brought about by the alliance of the SLFP and the Left since 1956 and make us once again a neo-colony. A process of “regime change” is underway, not only to get rid of the UPFA Government headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa and replace it by a UNP Government, but also thereby to re-introduce the neo colonial “regaining Sri Lanka (for Imperialism)” socio-economic and political policies.
These policies are being introduced world-wide by American imperialism in order to speed up the economic recovery of the “West” from the 2007 economic downturn by installing puppet and pro-American regimes, like the BJP in India democratically, and the military governments in Thailand and Egypt undemocratically. The plague has affected most of the Middle East and parts of Africa, and efforts are being made to extend it to Latin America as well.
It was the failure of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime to curb the abuses, which flowed from the Executive Presidency, which after all was established by the UNP government headed by J. R. Jayewardene, that provided the need to move the 19th Amendment.
"If we are to save our country from the designs of the US Empire, the UNP must be defeated at the next general elections and the only way to achieve that is to unite the SLFP, build the UPFA around it and get Mahinda Rajapaksa to lead the election campaign, or at least be a part of it. It is not possible to defeat the UNP without MR,. "
The LSSP and the Left have been campaigning for these changes since the JR Constitution was introduced in 1978, and our leader Dr. N. M. Perera prophetically described the very unfortunate consequences, that have now occurred, in his “Critical Analysis” booklet.
It was the logical outcome of artificially grafting an alien Executive Presidency into the Westminster Parliamentary model that had evolved so satisfactorily with time within the body politic of Sri Lanka. It is this real need of the people for a change that has been utilised by the UNP and other agents of the USA as the pretext to achieve “regime change”! The visit of John Kerry, apparently without the knowledge of the President, and his statements clearly indicate that we are already in the grasp of the USA.
This carries a major threat to Sri Lanka, already sharply divided on racial and religious lines, as the USA Government has the habit of de-stabilizing countries where its puppet regime fail to deliver what it expects, by utilizing its “divide and rule” policy and engineering localised conflicts and wars.
As the producer of 60 per cent of world armaments, what better way is there to revive the flagging US economy! (After all it was the 2’ World War that paved the way for the 25 year post war global economic boom, but in this nuclear age a world war would lead to disaster, the end of the world. Today it is the era of localised wars).
Q Are you satisfied with the way the 19th Amendment was passed in Parliament?
The fact that the 19th Amendment was passed in Parliament is a step forward in making our country more democratic and reducing the opportunities for abuse of political power. But the hasty, ad hoc, dictatorial manner in which the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe conducted proceedings reduced the scope and benefits of the process.
The UNP-led minority Government that moved the Amendment has been undemocratically forced on our country by abuse of Presidential powers.
To achieve this objective it was necessary for the UNP-led Alliance to get the people to support a change of President, replacing Mahinda Rajapaksa by Maithripala Sirisena and they made the 19th Amendment, with the emphasis on eliminating the Executive Presidency, its victorious battle cry.
But the Executive Presidency continues, with the President having more executive powers than the PM, though fortunately Parliament has gained more power. The latter was possible only because, as the Opposition, we succeeded in reversing the number of appointees to the Constitutional Council so that 7 of the 10 are members of Parliament, answerable to it as the representative of the sovereign people, instead of retired bureaucrats, professionals, NGO reps. etc. none of whom are without bias, chosen by the Prime Minister answerable to nobody.
Personally I am happy that Parliament accepted my amendment that all so-called “independent” Commissions, other than the Elections Commission, be answerable to Parliament, like the President and PM. The country needs a dynamic pro-active executive administrative apparatus, that wilt not be hamstrung by bureaucratic indifference and lethargy, which can rapidly bring about the changes that the country needs to achieve effective socio-economic development.
The unseemly haste of the PM led to the fear that all Ranil was aiming at was to become Prime Minister and exercise those powers taken away from the President. This factor, together with the decision of the present Government alliance and its advisors not to have a referendum, led to the removal of the Executive Presidency and other important changes being ruled out in advance, thereby deliberately making false promises to secure votes, and so misleading the public. If more time was given and the cooperation of the UPFA Opposition obtained, through the 19 Amendment much more of the executive powers of the President could have been given to Parliament and the Cabinet, headed by the PM. As it is the division of executive power between the President and Parliament continues. It will be a never ending source of conflict between the President and the PM, specially if they are from different parties, as stated by Dr. N.M. Perera. Formation of a so-called national unity government will not prevent this, or even address the national question. It will only remove opposition to the UNP agenda, to the detriment of our country.
Q Do you think a fully- fledged new Constitution is necessary to address all these drawbacks?
Yes. It was for this reason that when the LSSP politburo members met the leaders of the SLFP and the former President before the Presidential Election we stressed the importance of total abolition of the Executive Presidency, the implementation of the improved 17 Amendment, electoral reform on the basis of a mixed PR (Proportional Representation) and FPP (First Past the Post) system and a solution to the national question. We suggested that the next general election should also be made an election to establish a Constitutional Assembly, as was done in 1970, so that all these matters could be discussed by the chosen representatives of the sovereign people and the necessary substantial changes made in a new Constitution. As the existing 1978 Constitution is based on executive powers being vested in the President, removing it requires a new Constitution to be drafted. Accordingly this was included in MR’s Election Manifesto. This should in fact be a matter for public debate and a paper prepared by Prof. Lakshman Marasinghe on this matter, if published in your paper, could help to make the politicians and the public aware of its importance. As it stands even the limited changes made in the 19 Amendment can be removed by a mere majority, even without a referendum.
Q The widespread corruption, collapse of democracy and the rule of law and interfering with the Judiciary contributed to the downfall of the Mahinda Rajapaksa. But you still want to bring Rajapaksas back to power with the backing of all those former ministers and officials who have been charged for various misdeeds and corruption. Why?
I and the LSSP are totally opposed to all forms of corruption and during our 80 year history as a party no politician from our party has been charged for corruption. We are for democracy not only as one practise it in capitalist society once in five years, but as a daily process in work places and the village, by proper empowerment of the people.
No LSSP politician has interfered with the Judiciary and we accept the principle of independence of the Judiciary. Every democratic society has its laws, some just and others unjust and needing change by the legislature, but so long as they are in force they must be observed, the rule of law must prevail. We do not approve of any wrong doings that occurred during the last regime and those guilty must be punished, and they should not be back in positions of power.
But up to now Mahinda Rajapaksa, family and friends have been subject to trial by media and not much by the properly constituted Courts and very little has been proven by evidence.
Many allegations have been made but not substantiated. Politically targeted arrests are being made which smack of a witch hunt, and even the Courts have stepped into stop them. There is growing skepticism about the veracity of the allegations.
The weakness of the Government’s “100 Days Good Governance” programme has only added to these doubts. In this short period no confidence votes for misdeeds are being tabled in Parliament even against those controlling the country’s finances, the Finance Minister and the Governor of the Central Bank, who have been appointed by the PM, despite their shady records and history.
Nearly every Ministry is in a mess and payments are delayed. All development activities have come to a standstil. Promises on allowances, pensions, maternity payments, guaranteed tea and rubber prices etc. remain to be fulfilled. These together with the unsuitability of many key appointments and the harassment of opposition trade union leaders, are all adding to the doubts on the allegations about the previous regime and the credibility of the charges being made by the present regime. In fact visions of the previous UNP regimes are returning to the people’s minds.
"Up to now the Mahinda Rajapaksa, family and friends have been subject to trial by media and not much by the properly constituted Courts and very little has been proven by evidence”.
In 1977, the UNP regime led by J.R. Jayewardene, which came to power promising a “Dharmishta Samajaya”, gave the Police a week’s holiday, during which SLFP, LSSP and CP supporters houses were destroyed (93 in Yatiyantota alone), they were assaulted and chased from their villages, not allowed to report for work and many lost their jobs.
The systematic anti-Tamil pogrom began in 1977 and culminated in July 1983 leading to Tamil militancy and the LTTE war. Terror was unleashed on Judges, intellectuals (Even Prof. Sarathchandra), protesting workers and journalists (the killing of Richard Soysa was a case in point) to end all dissent. Nearly 100,000 workers striking for ten rupee pay hike were dismissed. A bogus Parliamentary Commission accused Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike of malpractice and fraud and deprived her of her civic rights so that she could not contest JR at the next election. The massive frauds associated with the Mahaweli Development Project led to the saying that the river no longer flowed to Trincomalee, but instead to Finco, the Finance Company set up by the UNP.
Q The Marxist policies have taken a back seat in the global arena in the recent times, particularly after the end of the Cold War. Almost all countries in the world including Russia and China that followed socialist/Marxist policies have chosen market economic policies or open economic policies that were consistent with capitalist ideology as their approach to economic success which has been proved correct. Your comments?
Capitalism is a corrupt socio-economic system based on robbing the natural, economic and human resources of the world to maximise profits. What started as colonialism is now being continued as neo-liberalism (neo-colonialism) under the leadership of the USA, the most powerful Empire in the history of the world, uniting the US military-industrial complex with the global robber barons, multinational corporations, and the financial institutions, primarily of the rich capitalist countries.
The USA and its allies, the so-called “international community”(IC), are struggling to emerge from the 2007 global recession, which was precipitated by the massive frauds and unregulated speculation of their financial institutions, by installing puppet regimes in all countries to rape our economies once again according to their agenda.
That is why the UNP is being installed in power in Sri Lanka. The Intelligentsia is bought or hoodwinked by raising issues of human rights, bribery, corruption, nepotism, and malpractice, here and elsewhere (Thailand, India, Egypt, Libya, Sudan and Vietnam). When regime change succeeds there is local peace and the rich flourish, but the resources flow into Western coffers to our disadvantage.
“In fact my wife is related to Mr. Wickremesinghe and we meet socially. But he is politically a conservative who not only serves the interests of the local capitalist class but also that of the West led by the USA. We are totally opposed to these forces as they are only interested in exploiting our country and people to their advantage and thereby preventing us from emerging as a developed independent economy. If Ranil stops playing this role we will have no reason to criticize him at all,”
But if the regime becomes unpopular and the people react, the IC steps in, and applies the imperialist/capitalist principle of “divide and rule”.
This was what they did in colonial times and also are doing today. They promote conflicts and wars to sell their armaments, as this too speeds up their recovery from the global economic downturn.
It is through the coalition governments formed by the Left with the SLFP that it has been possible to break away from these imperialist shackles and develop the Sri Lankan economy in our interest. Starting in 1956, and strengthened by the entire LSSP joining the SLFP in 1964 led by Dr. N. M. Perera, and then with the CP also in 1970, the process of taking over British economic interests proceeded, with complete independence being achieved with the 1972 Republican Constitution drafted by Dr. Colvin R de Silva of the LSSP. Though the UNP was defeated in 1994 by the PA Government headed by Chandrika Kumaratunge, the neo-Iiberal shackles were only slightly weakened but remained in place, but to its credit some serious effort was made to solve the national question, while the country was yet divided.
Q… But you still want to bring Rajapaksas back to power with the backing of all those former ministers and officials who have been charged with various misdeeds and corruptions. Why?
It is the UPFA Government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa that defeated the LTTE, united the country, initiated infrastructural development throughout the country, both in the town and the villages, and followed a truly independent foreign policy without being subservient to any foreign power. Even the IMF and World Bank have commended its economic performance.
This is why the LSSP, along with progressive forces, aligns with the UPFA. It is becoming clearer day by day that the progressive masses trust Mahinda Rajapakse. If we are to save our country from the designs of the US Empire, the UNP must be defeated at the next general elections and the only way to achieve that is to unite the SLFP, build the UPFA around it and get Mahinda Rajapaksa to lead the election campaign, or at least be a part of it. It is not possible to defeat the UNP without MR.
Admittedly we must learn from the past, avoid the mistakes made then, choose the right people and keep out the wrong doers, and unite as one Sri Lankan nation of equals and achieve sustainable socio-economic development through optimal use of science, technology and innovation to benefit all our people. This is the endeavor of the LSSP and Left.
Q Why do all the left leaders like you, D.E.W. Gunasekera, Dinesh Gunewardena and Vasudeva Nanayakkara strongly oppose Ranil Wickremesinghe personally and politically? I feel that you all hold a personal grudge against him that goes beyond your political ideologies?
Personally we have good relations with him both in Parliament and outside. In fact my wife is related to him and we meet socially.
But he is politically a conservative who not only serves the interest of the local capitalist class, but also that of the West led by the USA. We are totally opposed to these forces as they are only interested in exploiting our country and people to their advantage and thereby preventing us from emerging as a developed independent economy.
If Ranil stops playing this role we will have no reason to criticise him at all.