" It was not just MR who was defeated on Jan 8; his Cabinet was defeated too"
"President should not work for the victory of the SLFP because they didn’t work towards his victory"
Professor Sarath Wijesooriya of the University of Colombo in an interview with the Dailymirror said that the decision that the public take at the upcoming general elections would be more crucial than the decision they made at the last Presidential election.
Furthermore he stated that it was ironical that the President believed during the first six months of his tenure that he could make important decisions with the politicians who were rejected by the people without dissolving Parliament immediately. Also he said that it was sad the President was pushed in to a position to form a government with the SLFP, which did not support him and still attempting to bring Mahinda Rajapaksa back in power.
QBefore the last Presidential election, you together with a number of civil society groups and individuals campaigned for a change of government and promotion of good governance. But now certain sections of society are of the opinion that the expected change did not occur. What is your comment?
I am not willing to accept this statement. That is because the cluttered governance was changed within a short period of time. From our nature, we tend to expect many results within a brief period. We should be happy about this change. We defeated someone who misused power vested upon him. The defeated was a person who changed the Constitution for his own benefit to stay in power forever. As citizens, we should consider it as a flamboyant moment.
In fact, the whole country knows the former President used State property, funds and even the three armed forces and the police illegally. To make a voice against these malpractices, we had a very short period of time to find a common candidate. During this short period by manipulating State and even private media; the former ruler planted seeds of racism in people. We must celebrate the defeat of such a dictatorial system.
The next is that it was not only Mahinda Rajapaksa who was defeated but also his government. They were not two separate entities. Government was he and he was the government. None of his Cabinet Ministers had the opportunity to express his views freely under his regime. Although he was defeated, the Ministers under his government were not willing to accept this defeat, and the fact is that they too were rejected by the people. This illustrates how democratic practices have deteriorated. If they actually did respect democratic traditions, they should bow to the people’s decision. But they didn’t do so.
Due to this the Prime Minister who was appointed by the President had to go through many hardships. One might point the finger on Constitutional Council issue. This was ruined by the MPs. Although steps have been taken to appoint a Constitutional Council which consisted of members of the civil society the politicians prevented this happening and reduced the seven-member committee to a three-member committee. We should understand the hardships President Maithripala Sirisena had faced. Considering all these facts, there is nothing to regret about the past few months. For instance, media freedom is re-established. Members of the Opposition can express their opinion in State media stations. There is no white van culture anymore. There is no interference with the Judiciary. Aren’t these positive factors to be considered under this government?
However, it is unfortunate that President Sirisena is still under the impression that he still can make important policy decisions with the MPs who were once rejected by the people. We saw the effort he had to make to pass the 19A. He was not supported by the people of his own party. If he was mindful, he should have dissolved the Parliament and let the people elect those most suitable for Parliament. We cannot retrieve the time that had gone passed; yet, we can be happy that he had finally dissolved the Parliament. If he had continued, many State institutions would fail to do their duties. He had to bribe similar to what MR did. He even appointed former PM as an advisor. People rejected these. He must have realized that if he continued in this manner, it would be his own destruction.
Q: What is the immediate change that should take place in the political culture of our country?
As the representatives of the civil society, we must realize what the burning issues of this country are. The reason why we were isolated from the world and the many conflicts we had is, we did not have national unity. Although the war was over, no steps were taken for the sake of the unity among people.
It is important that we must focus our attention on national unity. Citizens need freedom. Donating a few items should not be the case in the process of governance. People in this country; irrespective of their religion, ethnicity or social status like to earn something through their efforts for their families. Every man has a pride. It is the responsibility of the government to make the background which would enable people to a decent livelihood. Reducing prices of the various items when elections get closer or donating provisions or bribing are immoral. These practices must be stopped.
Also during the past few years, the escalation of violence against women and child abuses were on the rise. But none of the culprits was brought to book. We must understand that we cannot protect women and children by merely words. We need laws that genuinely protect women and children. It is essential to focus our attention on human development. Merely building roads would not contribute towards human development. For this, a country needs to have an advanced education system.
Unfortunately, the education system that was in place had made education an unpleasant experience to our children. Education has become a money minting business. Education reforms should commence from different levels. We need to produce intellectuals and professionals whom the country needs. We need to make policies that should exist for the next fifty years or so.
Q: The FUTA and many academics were involved in the regime change. But a major changes in education and higher education are not evident. As a University lecturer, what are your views?
We cannot bring reforms the way we prepare instant food. I believe it was the first time during the last Presidential election many intellectuals got together for political reforms of the country. We represent the people and for the sake of the people of this country. We believe none of the politicians who were in the Rajapaksa regime would have thought of positive political reforms. We should not expect their contribution. Both the President and the Prime Minister must think whom they should give nominations to. It is up to them whether to give an opportunity to the people who would just pump money to the party or the professionals. You cannot expect people to vote to elect the best, if the candidates are not up to some standard.
We need politicians who can work with the world. Also I would like to say that we are always in the opposition. We are monitoring the work that is going on. We clearly know that just because there is a change of politicians, we cannot expect a sudden change. MR implanted fear among people. But now we have hope for a better tomorrow.
Q: Some are questioning about certain decisions President Sirisena had taken to keep SLPF united. Do you think that he has deviated from his promises?
We expected a common candidate without a party. Our concern was whether this candidate without a party could defeat MR. Many people who were not part of the previous corrupt regime gathered around him and the election was won. However, after the election something unexpected occurred: President Sirisena had to accept the party leadership. With this, he came out of the party-less position. With this he was given the responsibility of the Party. On the other hand, the majority of the votes the President received were from UNPers. I
f he had received at least ten percent of the SLFP votes, he would have polled around eight million votes. We must accept the fact that it was MR who received the most number of SLFP votes. At the same time, SLFPers were under the impression that Maithripala Sirisena was a traitor as he had left the party. The President had to face this bitter truth. It indeed is ironical that he was pushed in to a position to establish a government with SLFP without realizing this truth. This shouldn’t have happened.
On many occasions I wrote that the President should not work for the victory of the SLFP. Let the party be defeated. Let the corrupt politicians leave the party. How is he going to build a government with corrupt politicians? His life was in danger when he came out to contest. I believe he should not work for the victory of SLFP, because none of them worked towards his victory. They strove to make MR victorious and even today they are with him. The President should understand the reality.
QWhat should be the action plan of the civil society groups and individuals like you in the run-up to the General elections?
As the Civil society, we want to establish the idea of who would exactly be the people’s representative. During the last few years we saw certain malpractices. When some politicians distribute or donate items, people saw how desperate these politicians were to get votes. Citizens should not think of what they get, rather they should be concerned about the well-being of the country.
People must be educated on the rule of law. Where rule of law is not preserved and there is no protection of women’s and children’s rights. Women by their very nature tend to be very sensitive. We believe women’s participation in politics must be increased.
Joining politics after the demise of the husband cannot be accepted as an ideal move. We need to educate women not to take decisions based on their emotions. But I am happy about our younger generation. Through advanced technology they are linked to the world. They are more independent and are not prejudiced by the factors such as religion, ethnicity etc.,
Q: Mahinda Rajapaksa is still popular among people and there is an attempt to make him the Prime Minister. What do you think about this?
MR had many popular characters such as artistes and cricketers around him. He even gave them the opportunity to get in to Parliament. Many people worked to boost his image. On the contrary, we know that the Opposition Leader was not a person like him. We cannot deny former Presidents’ popularity. But we cannot accept the things he did using his popularity. He did not use it for positive causes. He in fact backed in implanting seeds of racism.
MR is someone who had engaged in politics for some time. He clearly understands how people’s perceptions work. But he let the people who were close to him get in to power and even abuse it. He gave the freedom to abuse power. If they were not given that freedom, most of them would have joined Maithripala Sirisena at the last elections. Also the former President explicitly said that he had “files” of some of the members. This shows that he gave protection to the corrupt politicians.
Some of the UPFA leaders are unable to win an election by contesting alone. Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Dinesh Gunawardena do not have the capacity to win an election. Sometimes their behavior in Parliament is questionable. Some of them were descending to the level of this popular leader. Should we be misled by this ‘popular’ factor anymore?
Q Do you think that the former President should run for the Prime Ministerial post at the upcoming polls?
But considering his political journey, he is not someone who could not step into such a level. But if he takes such decision, that should be defeated. He conducted the Presidential elections when he had two more years to stay in power. This was held not because he loved the country. He brought the 18A to stay in power as long as he wished to, and until his son would be ready to take over. But with the 19A, we halted his dream.
MR cannot contest for another presidential election. But with this Prime Minister of a powerful character so as Parliament. Because of this, he has a temptation to contest, even if the whole world laughs at him, he would consider contesting as he is tempted to be in power. Also some of his followers do not let him give as their political survival is revolved around him. And some of the family members also do not let him stay out of power because investigations are going on against the crimes they have committed.
So far there was no such mechanism to conduct investigations. They are scared of this, and therefore, all of them need him back. Therefore the decision the public should take at the forthcoming next general elections is considered very important than the decision they took at the last Presidential polls. Pic by Kithsiri de Mel
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