The General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Communist Party and the Chairman of the Parliamentary watch dog, Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) spoke to the Daily mirror on the current political situation in the country. Excerpts:...
Q Do you have any idea on who instructed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to go for a Presidential Poll two years in advance and why?
I don’t know who gave him the idea to go for an early Presidential Election. What appears to me was that it was his own decision. Astrologers and all his
closest advisors would have strengthened his determination.
As far as I am concerned, I, with other Leftist leaders explained to him the prevailing situation. We appraised him with all factors unfavourable to him. I advised him on two occasions not to take the risk. Instead, we prevailed upon him to devote the remaining period of two years for unresolved problems with two budgets in hand but to no avail.
Q Did Mr. Rajapaksa put the idea to the constituent partners of the UPFA or the Cabinet and discuss it with them?
Though the idea of an impending presidential election was floating since July last year, he officially informed the leaders of political parties only on October 1. I can very well remember the date. It is here that I had a confrontation with him when I presented him a scientific analysis based on the past election results. There was a heated discussion. He was stronglycritical on my presentation and said that was the best time for the presidential election.
When he invited the leftist party leaders for a discussion again, I seized the opportunity to give him a warning in a sober atmosphere. We spent nearly two hours -three of us and with Secretary to President Lalith Weeratunga. I made a comprehensive analysis of the ground situation with all facts and factors for and against going for an early
Presidential poll. I bluntly told him that he could not secure 50 per cent votes and taking a double risk with no party to back him with a second preference. He gave me a patient hearing this time but not convinced.
Q As far as you know who opposed and who backed the idea?
No one opposed. There was a general discussion. Only the left leaders took up the position strongly not to go for an early Presidential Poll ahead of two years. Others kept quiet.
Q Almost all in the UPFA hierarchy expected Ranil Wickremesinghe as the main candidate to challenge Rajapaksa at the poll. How was the reaction when Maithripala Sirisena crossed over to the opposition and declared his candidacy on November 21?
Two leading UNPers told me that they would not be presenting Ranil and instead a new face. They did not want to reveal the name. It was Ranil who broke the news to us on the day Maithri crossed over. It was only in the morning of November 21, Maithri presented himself in Parliamentand Deputy Minister Lalith Dissanayaka highly disturbed over certain developments whispered to me that Maithri was to cross over. Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa confirmed this to me. It was a stunning shock to government Parliamentarians. I was well aware that he was deeply disenchanted and frustrated for some time.
Q What are your comments on the choice?
No other possible good choice from the ranks of the government. Whoever originated the idea, the choice was sharp and bright. From the common opposition’s point of view, Maithri brought in the required votes to fill the deficit.
Q Do you think Maithripala Sirisena was frustrated over the Prime Minister post?
I cannot subscribe to that view. To me, he is not a greedy person and all I know was that he was planning to go back to Polonnaruwa and live there happily with the family.
Q In your opinion, what were the main contributory factors that led to the downfall of the Rajapaksa regime?
Firstly, the incumbency factor. By this time the Executive Presidency had been held by the SLFP for 20 long years. Mahinda Rajapaksa had served as Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister before elected as the Executive President for nearly 18 years. Naturally a tendency for a change was bound to emerge. Secondly, teenage voters numbering five lakhs were born in 1994 – 1996 period and had never seen an administration other than the SLFP. They had no knowledge or the experience of UNP administration. Thirdly, national and religious minorities – nearly three million or more – had been distanced from the UPFA. Bodu Bala Sena further aggravated the situation and contributed to build up a public discontent on Rajapaksas and the UPFA. Fourthly, the huge disparity of income in the society under the Rajapaksa regime. There was a privileged few who spent Rs. 5,000 per plate at dinner or lunch in five star Hotels, while there were thousands who could not afford ten rupees to buy a loaf of bread. The privileged and those who patronised the Rajapaksa regime had several super luxury vehicles for their travelling comfort, while thousands walked kilometres, unable to find bus fare of nine rupees. Fifthly, growing middle class was bent on good governance and vehemently againstcorruption.
Sixthly, urban voter has always been pro UNP. Seventhly, public servants started drifting away from the UPFA. There were many other subjective factors like the State media that contributed to the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was the victim of his own propaganda.
Q There was a perception that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government was corrupt. To what magnitude was it?
Corruption is now a phenomenon, the world over. It was a functional role in a neo- liberal economy. Primitive accumulation of capital has entered the political arena in a bigger way under neo-liberalism and under Executive Presidency to the current electoral system.
Corruption, unlike bribery is something difficult to combat. Our ‘Bribery Commission’ is incompetent and hence inefficient. I am not surprised about the resentment the publichave on the Bribery Commission. Our taxation system, tax policy and tax administration help corruption generally. As the head of the COPE, I am aware of its magnitude. My reports to Parliament were not first sourcing of its existence. We goby what is disclosed and what about what remains undisclosed which do not fall within the ambit of audit.
Q Some political parties in the UPFA, are in an attempt to persuade former President
Rajapaksa to contest the forthcoming general election. How prudent is this move in your opinion?
It is the SLFP and Mahinda who should determine whether it is prudent or not. I can only say what I feel I were in that position. I would say ‘It is not prudent’. In my view it would be wiser to remain in retirement for some time and then respond to any call by the party or people. No one is indispensable for that matter. Leaders will emerge.
Q The political analysts are of the opinion that traditional Leftist movement led by you, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, Dinesh Gunawardana and Vasudeva Nanayakkara have suffered a huge political setback for your failure to take the right decision at the right time. Any comments?
You seem to pose the question emanating from the Right. I do not agree with your contention that it was a set back to the Left. On the Presidential Election, we took a principled political position. It may not be acceptable or palatable to those who do not think on the lines we took. We took this decision with account of all basic contradictions and came to the conclusion that we cannot supplement to a coalition led by UNP which is pro western and pro imperialist outfit. In the absence of any alternative we decided to back Mahinda Rajapaksa regardless of secondary contradictions between him and ourselves.
Q What do you have to say about the government’s performance in the last 30 days?
It is too early for an objective assessment of its performance and pass judgments. We are in support of the 100 day programme. We are eagerly awaiting legislative reforms and their implementation. The entire electorate at the Presidential poll has endorsed the need for constitutional and electoral reform which is a strong mandate. Both, the government and President Sirisena are committed to implement them.
This is what we expect least from 100 day programme.
Q Would you like to make any comments on the forthcoming Parliamentary polls?
Parliamentary elections are due in April, 2016. Let us implement the 100 day programme and go for elections. The electoral reforms should be implemented before dissolution. We cannot wait for another 6 year. We have waited for 37 years. It seems that the UNP is in a mighty hurry but we cannot allow that.
Q Why did you boycott the Nugegoda rally?
We were invited and politely declined for three main reasons. Firstly, our party did not associate with that call for Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Ministerial candidate. It is a matter for the SLFP. We do not want to interfere.
Secondly, we were feared of possible arousing of religious and ethnic feelings. Thirdly, it was a premature call and it would have split the SLFP.
Q What is your view on dissolution of Parliament on April 23?
I have no objection for the dissolution of Parliament. But, Constitutional and electoral
reforms should be passed and implemented before that. The General Elections should be held under the new electoral system. If this is not done, we have to wait for another 6 years for a clean election. Now that we have waited for 37 years, why cannot we wait for another 3 to 6 months until the de-limitation process is finalised.
Comments - 1
chithaka7 Tuesday, 03 March 2015 04:00 PM
Very good analysis of factors that led to defeat of UPFA.
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