In an email interview with the Dailymirror, the leader of the United National Party (UNP) Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the SLFPers dissatisfied with Mahinda Rajapaksa are the crucial element in the upcoming presidential election and that Maithripala was the best man to win them over. He added that Maithripala Sirisena’s victory would not be a victory for him or any political party but a victory for the people of the country.
QYou are the Leader of the United National Party. Why did you decide not to contest as opposition candidate for this Presidential Election and instead decide to bring in an SLFPer?
Maithripala Sirisena is a Common Presidential candidate. A large number of UPFA supporters, especially the SLFPers, dissatisfied with Mahinda Rajapaksa are the crucial segment in this election. We had to select the best person with the ability to win them over, while retaining the opposition bloc.
Maithripala Sirisena was the best man to get the dissatisfied-UPFA bloc. He also has the backing of Chandrika Kumaratunga. We knew that the Opposition bloc voters were willing to support whoever we recommended. Hence, we decided on Maithripala Sirisena.
There was also the surprise element. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign was based on the assumption that I was to be the Common Candidate. The last minute announcement of Maithripala Sirisena as the Common Candidate threw them off balance. They are still to recover.
QThere are allegations that the pledge to abolish Executive Presidency and transfer power to you as the Prime Minister in 100 days is not constitutionally possible. What is your response?
The 100 days Programme states that the 19th Amendment will be presented to Parliament on January 21, 2015. This Amendment will not touch Article 4 of the Constitution vesting executive power in the President.
A new provision coming into force with the new Parliament will require the President to act on the advice of the Prime Minister. There are transitional provisions defining the powers of the Prime Minister until the holding of the Parliamentary Elections. The 19th Amendment will also restore the Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions.
In my view, a 2/3s majority will suffice for the 19th Amendment.
I am confident that we will get the required numbers. In case the numbers are not available, there will be immediate Parliamentary Elections. Otherwise the Parliament will be dissolved after April 23, the end of the five year period.
Because of the dire straits this current regime has placed us in and because it will be a period of transition and reform, we have strongly recommended that even the next Government formed after this Parliament elections be a National Unity Government for a period of at least two years to ensure reforms and rectify the damage done to the Sri Lankan economy, political system judiciary and foreign relations over the past nine years.
QGoing along that, could you give a detailed outline and a time-line on what changes will take place within this 100-day period?
Our 100 day plan gives a detailed breakdown of the changes and the time line. It is freely available and completely transparent. Most people have already seen it and for the benefit of those who have not, I suggest you publish it in your newspaper.
QThere are also allegations that there are various MoUs signed with various parties all of whom have different agendas. Is this true?
As I stated before people with different political ideologies and policies have come together for a unique cause. To do politics, there should be democracy. There must be a country left. The Rajapaksa regime will leave no country for any party to engage in politics. That is why this alliance is unique and powerful. Despite party differences, colour and race, we have all realised that the most crucial problem facing the country today is the Rajapaksa family, its corruption and autocratic style of governance.
Because this common opposition alliance is pushing for transparent and accountable governance by politicians in this country, every MoU that has been signed by the common candidate has been made public. If there is no MoU in the public domain, that simply means that no such document has been signed with those parties. This controversy is a Rajapaksa plot to sling mud and sow fear that is only serving to further divide and polarise communities in this country.
This MoU frenzy created by the Rajapaksa campaign only shows its own bankruptcy and desperation. When they can’t find real MoUs to scare the country, they use forged ones breaking various laws in the process.
QAnother priority of the opposition is economic revival. The opposition, especially the UNP claims that the present economy is so debt-ridden that it is about to collapse. How will your government revive such an economy if you come to power?
We are committed to a highly competitive market economy. It was President J. R. Jayewardene who opened up the economy in 1977. I was a member of that Government. I did the second round of reforms for President Premadasa in 1990. I was also called upon to take over an economy with negative growth in 2001. This is the first time that Sri Lanka had to face such a situation. I restored growth in 2002, when many said we would need three years to recover. It was the momentum created in 2001-2004 which kept the economy growing till the end of the war.
The Rajapaksa regime has been unable to restore the growth momentum. We have debt fuel growth. These monies are used to fund corruption and waste.
There has been no growth in the real economy. The benefits of growth have been restricted to a few.
We will in the words of Joseph E Stiglitz “make the markets work as markets are supposed to work – with strong competition ... It entails ensuring that the economy is the servant of society, not the other way around.”
We will restore Sri Lanka’s position as one of the best economies of Asia tapping the potentials of the Bay of Bengal markets, which will reach 2 ½ billion by 2050. We will also regain and expand the western markets. Our aim is to focus on the real economy – manufacturing, commerce, agriculture and services. Harness modern technologies. Ensure a vibrant financial sector focusing on regional niche markets. Finally, a million employment opportunities for the youth and the doubling of household incomes.
QThe present government is criticised for being corrupt. Why should the people believe that this would change if the opposition came into office?
On the January 9, when Maithripala Sirisena becomes President, that will not be a victory for him, the UNP, the SLFP, JHU, JVP or any political party. It will be a victory for the people of this country. And the message will be loud and clear for all politicians. It will prove that no matter how you abuse power and try to thrive on corruption and brutality, when the people rise against corruption and injustice, you have no hope of staying in power. That is a message that should be read by all politicians in this country, even those who are next elected.
The country cannot be at the mercy of politicians. There have to be systems and regulations to ensure that even those with seemingly unlimited power will be prosecuted. The problem with our country is that people in power seem to be able to get away with anything. We cannot make thieves and crooks honest. But we can bring in laws and regulations that will ensure anyone who breaks the law or steals from the public will pay a penalty before the law.
QThe opposition comprises of different parties who have different policies and principles. For example, the JHU policies are contradictory to the policies of the TNA and the SLMC. These parties also have conflicting policies with those of the UNP’s right-wing, liberal policies. How will the opposition reconcile these differences to form a national government?
Yes, we may all be very different. Our ideologies may be different. We may have different political goals. But even people with all these differences can also agree on certain, very essential things. Despite our differences, every party in this alliance and every party endorsing Mr. Maithripala Sirisena can agree on certain basic things. We all want to live in a democratic country. We want an independent judiciary. We want our police and our public service to be free of political influence. We want our media to be free. We want an independent election commission. We want rule of law to be established. We want this culture of impunity to end.
What stops us all from coming together on such an agenda? Absolutely nothing. The common enemy of all democratic forces is the corrupt and autocratic Rajapaksa regime.
We all agree on that. We come together on that. That doesn’t mean we agree on everything. Every vibrant democracy needs a host of political ideas and advocates. But just because of our political differences we cannot sit separately and watch the destruction of our country.
QDon’t you think that the National Government would lead to a confusing political situation in the country and threaten national security of the country?
What is confusing about consensus building? What is confusing about everyone coming together to rectify the damage done by this regime for nine years?
For years, Sri Lankan people have been crying out for a less confrontational system for bipartisanship to put the country on the right track.
For the first time since independence the UNP and the SLFP and all other political parties and organisations are standing together for the common good even if it means each of us have to compromise something. How is this inimical to the interests of Sri Lanka? It is inimical only to the interests of the Rajapaksa family. National security in fact is strengthened by unity of all forces within the country.
Stability is strengthened by this unity. And the people in Sri Lanka know this, even if the regime seeks to sow fear and hate about democratic forces coming together in this way. That is why you are seeing a swing for the common opposition despite the Government’s negative propaganda.
QAnother questionable alliance is the opposition’s alliance with former President Chandrika. She is someone who put the UNP government out of power in 2004. In this context, why did you decide to join hands with her?
We are engaged in Maithree politics and not the politics of hate and revenge. I don’t engage in petty politics. On a matter of national importance if the former President stands on the side of democracy and corruption-free governance, then we welcome her presence in the alliance.
QAre you confident that the common candidate Mr. Maithripala Sirisena would be able to secure a win at the Presidential Elections?
He will win with a handsome majority. And it is not Mr. Sirisena who will win on January 8, but the people of Sri Lanka.
QAre you confident of a free and fair election?
This election is in no way free and fair. Mahinda Rajapaksa will remain the first citizen of this country until 8 January.
And the first citizen of this country is violating the law. No President of this country has ever violated election laws the way Mahinda Rajapaksa has. No President has spent the amount of money he has spent. No President has insulted the Elections Commissioner this way, abused the state media this way.
The more he does this, the greater the defeat will be on 9 January. On Friday night, the opposition candidate was attacked with stones. This is why today the public officials, police and Elections Commission stand with the common candidate.
But with a trend like this for the opposition, there is nothing the Government can do to avoid defeat.
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