Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) leader Dinesh Gunawardane is a vociferous critic of the present government both in and outside Parliament. In an interview with Dailymirror, Mr. Gunawardane , the former Minister of Water Supply and Drainage, said the electoral reforms should be enacted along with constitutional amendments. He is optimistic that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa will make a comeback as the Prime Ministerial candidate at the next election.
QHow do you analyze the current political situation in the country?
Already, sixty days of the new government’s 100 day programme have passed. The government, headed by President Maitripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, is behind schedule in the implementation of the 100 day programme. The government has failed to deliver in terms of its pledges to bring down the cost of living in real sense. The cost of living has been escalating during the past few weeks. It will take a turn for the worse due to the economic mismanagement of the present government. The government’s pious pronouncement to alleviate bribery and corruption has become a farce today. It is more obvious after the controversial bond issue. There is violation of the Constitution. The Chief Justice was removed in an unconstitutional manner. Foreign relations with our Asian neighbours have been disturbed. It has happened with China and India. It is evident that the Government cannot democratically manage the political and economic situations.
Q In your view, does it mean that there is nothing progressive done by the government upon election to office?
Except for the reduction of petroleum and gas prices, the price reduction of some other food items did not have much of an impact in lowering the cost of living in the overall context. For example, there is no reduction in rice prices. It is the staple food. The enactment of laws mandating the pictorial warnings on tobacco products and providing for the setting up of a National Medicinal Regulatory Authority were some steps taken in the first instance. There is a long way to go. The main issue is how you manage the political situation. It is not democratically handled. Also, our diplomatic affairs are not handled properly. Today, the development activities, initiated under the previous regime, have come to a standstill. So many employment opportunities generated by such projects, have been lost today.
QWhen you say the government does not handle diplomatic affairs in the right direction, what do you mean by it?
The government seems to be inclining more towards the Western world in its foreign policy. It is very clear. In this exercise, the relationship with our Asian friends, who co-operated with us in international fora, and helped develop our economy, has been compromised.
QBut, the deferral of the UN High Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka is seen as an achievement by the Government. What do you have to say about it?
When we read what the Foreign Affairs Minister wrote to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, it is clear. There will be a lot of repercussions in future. The reopening of Sri Lanka’s case, together with the deferral of the report, is something negative.
"There is violation of the Constitution. The Chief Justice was removed in an unconstitutional manner. Foreign relations with our Asian neighbours have been disturbed. It has happened with China and India. It is evident that the Government cannot democratically manage the political and economic situations"
QWhat is your party’s stand on the proposed constitutional reforms currently under discussion?
We, as Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), have taken the clear stand that the executive presidency should be abolished. We are for reigning in parliamentary supremacy, strengthening the executive committee systems and enacting electoral reforms. Our position has been discussed with the parties.
Likewise, we pay serious attention to the areas where the constitutional amendments can be enacted only after approval by the people at a referendum. We affirm our stand that the Government should not rush into enacting constitutional amendments. The public should be allowed to have a proper study on the proposed changes, and then to respond. There are certain novel features introduced to the Constitution by the Government in its reforms.
QYou say that the Government has proposed certain amendments required to be approved by people at a referendum in your view?
There is a draft of the proposed amendments now before us. It has touched upon well ‘entrenched provisions’ of the Constitution. Yes, there are proposals to transfer executive powers to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. These are actually entrenched provisions of the Constitutions.
There is a proposal to set up the National Council. It is totally a new feature. It will add to the burden of people. It will be an additional expenditure. Instead, the Government can propose to widen the scope of the Constitutional Council, rather than having a separate body called ‘National Council’. There are so many sectors. Once this is presented in Parliament, experts from various sectors will put forward their views. We must listen to them. The constitutional amendment is something not to be done in a hurry.
"An overwhelming majority of SLFPers do not want to accept portfolios in a UNP-led government. Therefore, we are confident that our exercise to bring together all progressive forces will bear fruit"
QSri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the main opposition, insists that electoral reforms should be enacted along with constitutional amendments as part of the same exercise. What is the position of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna(MEP) in this regard?
We have taken up such a position right throughout. Today, the local authorities’ election system has been changed to revert back to the First Past the Post System. It should be introduced for parliamentary elections as well. The Government is lagging behind in the implementation of the promises included in the 100 day programme. At least, the Government should have taken steps to enact constitutional amendments section by section. For example, they could have scrapped the 18th amendment for the restoration of the 17th Amendment first, and then move forward for other aspects.
QYou chaired the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms. What is the formula you propose for the election of MPs under a new system?
Actually, we have agreed in principle for a revision of the current system. Now, we have to sit together, discuss it further, and enact it in Parliament. The Select Committee has recommended some proposals. It is a mix of the First-Past-the -Post-System and the Proportional Representation System. The majority is proposed to be elected from the First-Past-the-Post-System, and only a lesser number from the Proportional Representation System. Actually, it is 140 from the First- Past-the-Post-System, 60 from the Proportional Representation System. The remaining 25 are reserved for the National List. But, we agreed to explore the possibility of reducing the number designated on the National List, and add it up to the proportion from the First-Past-the -Post-System. It is a clear system. Those who win their respective electorates will get elected. The quota reserved for the Proportional Representation System will be filled from the best losers. Voters are not required to mark their preferences on their ballot papers.
"The government seems to be inclining more towards the western world in its foreign policy. It is very clear. In this exercise, the relationship with our Asian friends, who co-operated with us in international fora, and helped develop our economy, has been compromised"
QWhat is the kind of support you have for this formula from other parties at the moment?
As I said, there is agreement in principle for a revision of the present system. Yet, there are differences of opinions today on the proportions of members reserved separately under the First-Past-the-Post-System, Proportional Representation System and the National List. Also, they discuss whether the process should be fast tracked or not.
QDoes it mean that you are ready to give more time for the present Government to enact these amendments?
The Government leaders vowed to implement such policy decisions a long time ago. They even set a target of 100 days to execute their policies.They said they would do wonders in this case. Today, the Government is held responsible for the implementation of them. They cannot simply abdicate their responsibility.
QWhat is the role of the Opposition at this hour?
We, the seven parties of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), took the initial decision to sit in the Opposition for a role of constructive criticism. We have done it from the very beginning. We have done it with the backing of a section of SLFP. SLFP is not with us as a whole. Some SLFP members wanted to align with the UNP and take Cabinet portfolios. Besides, we launched a campaign of public rallies to create awareness. It has generated enough support.
QHow detrimental is the division within SLFP to the role of the Opposition?
An overwhelming majority of SLFPers do not want to accept portfolios in a UNP-led government. Therefore, we are confident that our exercise to bring together all progressive forces will bear fruit.
QHow confident are you that you will succeed in your attempt to bring former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Ministerial candidate at the next election?
The former President has to make an announcement in this regard. We have formed this movement to protect the vote base of the former President. It is as large as 5,800,000. Mr. Rajapaksa has always indicated his solidarity with us though he has not mentioned anything about his future role in politics.
QBut, how optimistic are you that you can bring the former President to the election stage again?
I remain optimistic in this regard. He is the most popular politician amongst us all even today though he is out of office.
QAre you supportive of the National Government concept proposed by the SLFP?
We are against it. We have clearly stated it in our policies. There is a minority Government today
Buddhika Lokubandara Thursday, 19 March 2015 02:47 PM
Oh Boy, what a vociferous charlatan. Why did he not demand whatever he is demanding when he was the blue eyed boy of the Rajapaksa Samagama? It is best for you Mr. Dinesh Gunawardena, if you can keep your stupid mouth shut. You are a disgrace to you father and Uncle who, we could say were real statesmen. You are a clown. Do you think people take seriously whatever you say? you must be living a nightmare.
L. Perera Wednesday, 18 March 2015 12:26 PM
Denesh Gold Plated everything what MR did. What he has to talk about. Who will listen?
Lakshman De Silva Thursday, 19 March 2015 07:54 AM
Anyone can contest an election and be the President or the Prime Minister if that person has a mandate from the voters.DEspite allegations of commssions and corrution against Ex President Rajapakjsa nothing had been proved especially the so called foreing bank accounts.
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