Q: Despite being a part of the government, you expressed a vocal opinion against the impeachment process; now that the process had taken its course, do you feel defeated?
No, I don’t. We took a very principled position when the impeachment was presented. Every Member of Parliament has a constitutional right to sign a petition calling for the appointment of a select committee; a member of our party signed it and I as General Secretary of the party asked him to sign it. Therefore the impeachment emerged from the members of parliament; there is no problem with that. Once that is done, the Speaker appoints a committee and the committee goes into investigations and inquiries.
However we took a very principled position against the impeachment; since we witnessed a number of impeachment processes under the 1978 constitution—one against the President and 4 against Chief Justices. In the first instance of the impeachment against Neville Samarakoon, my party was represented by my predecessor Sarath Muthetuwagama and he along with Dinesh Gunerwardene and Anura Bandaranaike (during a time when there was only eight members in the opposition)—they took a principled position that the standing orders were not adequate and although the standing order stipulates the need for a law, the law was not specific and therefore they took the principled position that those things had to be remedied before starting a select committee process.
Nevertheless they participated as members of the select committee and gave a decent report. That said report stands along with the main report. The decent report is a historic document and the Supreme Court has cited it. That report is the basis on which our party took the same position; we did not want to vary our position from 1984. There is a new CJ in place, but the situation remains unchanged.
There is no State policy involved here, there is no government policy involved here—this emerged from the MP’s and therefore the question of collective responsibility does not arise, although I am a member of the cabinet.
At the same time we did not want to vote against the impeachment, because there was a question of charges, if we voted against the impeachment, the people would have associated us with, being involved in the corruption or what appeared to be corruption.
The ordinary people don’t understand these things. They will think that we voted for corruption, by voting against the impeachment. This is why we abstained from voting.
Q:As the collective Left parties in the present government, you voiced an opinion against the impeachment process; but this made no difference to the final outcome, what does this say of the strength of the Left within the government?
I informed the President, but this made no difference to the outcome—I had to keep the President informed as the leader of the coalition government. We presented a very principled position and we followed it up with action, by sending a signed letter to the President from all the Leftist parties.
Q: Your view was disregarded within the coalition government, similar to the manner in which your view was disregarded on the 18th Amendment—how is the Left going to move ahead with the present coalition government if your views on such important issues are being rejected, without even being considered?
We have a party strategy, a political strategy and it’s not something that we think about from issue to issue. We came to an understanding with the SLFP through a MoU, before the election—that is a strategy. Normally in coalition governments these things occur, they are not strange.
Q: However you are repeatedly compromising within the coalition, even when it came to the 18th Amendment, the Left parties said “we don’t want to break the coalition, therefore we will vote for the Amendment, against our conscience”.
We have various issues, where we disagree—but we still remain with the coalition because we have a political strategy, it is not based on issues.
With regards to the 18th Amendment we critically assessed our strategy and admitted that we had made a mistake. We always review these matters, subsequently at a time of a congress.
Q: Vasudeva Nanayakkara went against the decision of the Left parties and decided to vote with the government. How will this affect your political relationship in the future?
I would have preferred if he had voted with us, however that does not affect our relationship; I am working together with him again. These contradictions do arise.
Q:There is an accusation that the “old members of the old Left” are compromising on the political fundamentals of the Left, so they may retain their senior ministerial posts, how to you respond to this criticism?
There is no compromise here, how dare anyone say that I have compromised! Whoever says those things are wrong, I do not compromise and I will not comment on observations.
Q: There is talk of the 19th Amendment, to limit the term of the CJ, to make standing orders law and introduce a proper process of impeachment...
The 19th Amendment was expected to be on the devolution of power, which is a far more pressing need at this time and in accordance with the LLRC.
There is no cabinet decision on this matter, the press is talking about it but I have not heard anything about it. I am a senior government minister and you have to take my word for it when I tell you that nothing about this has been presented to the cabinet and no decision has been taken.