JVP Leader and parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake predicts the upcoming polls will be the most violent Presidential elections ever to be held in the history of Sri Lanka. Despite admitting it would be a tight battle for power, the JVP has refused to pledge their support to any of the factions that have formed around the candidates due to run for Presidency. Their message to the voters however is clear – topple the Rajapaksa regime and rally to re-establish democracy. In an interview with Dailymirror Mr. Dissanayake spoke on the JVP’s position on the upcoming polls and why Sri Lanka needs a change in leadership. . .
The JVP has asked the voters to support any candidate but Mahinda Rajapaksa. Is there any change in this stance?
No, there is absolutely no change because there is no need to further strengthen the continuation of the Rajapaksa regime. Their (the Rajapaksas) actions so far have indicated aspirations of establishing a dictatorship as evidenced by the weakening judicial system and parliament, rampant corruption and bribery and absence of rule of law. The continuation of Rajapaksa governance will only further deteriorate this situation.
So this regime must change; there is no doubt about it and to that end, a democratic front should be established. The JVP therefore, calls for the Rajapaksa regime to be ousted and for the common man to rally to protect democracy.
"Everyone should work together to topple this dictatorship. But we cannot also take full responsibility of other groups who have stood up to oppose them at the upcoming polls"
Isn’t it contrary to the position earlier maintained by the JVP - that the upcoming presidential polls are illegal?
Actually, the two stances are correlated. We stand by our earlier statement - the upcoming Presidential election is unconstitutional and Mahinda Rajapaksa seeking a third term as President is illegal.
Once a candidate is elected to be the President, the duties cannot be assumed until he/she swears to protect and uphold the Constitution. But Rajapaksa has soiled the Constitution. Legal professionals and experts including former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan legal expert residing in Australia, Professor Suri Rathnapala; have all found that the upcoming poll is in violation of the Constitution.
We launched awareness campaigns and protested against this injustice but Rajapaksa no longer heeds to regulations or the Constitution. Therefore, declaring these polls and him seeking a third term offers plenty of evidence to his desire to create a dictatorship. So the JVP decided to intervene in the upcoming polls and prepare a platform to convene the masses to fight for democracy.
Why didn’t the JVP seek judicial assistance to challenge the Elections when the poll date was declared?
When the debate over the constitutionality of MR seeking a third term emerged, the government asked the concerned parties to go before Courts and that is exactly what we were planned to do. Our window of opportunity rested in the period just after the declaration of the polls where we could challenge the legality of Mahinda’s candidacy and obtain a Court order instructing the Elections Commissioner to reject his application.
But in an extremely clever maneuver, MR restricted the scope for us to seek judicial assistance by seeking the Supreme Court opinion on the constitutionality of him seeking a third term as the President. All ten Supreme Court judges were made to contribute their opinion, which has now been made clear. So it is now a futile exercise to go before the same judges once more and expect a different outcome.
The President’s wish was simply delivered by the Supreme Court. This shows the level to which the Rajapaksas have engulfed the judiciary.
Don’t you think steering clear of supporting a particular faction undermines the purpose of defeating the Rajapaksa regime, which is a main slogan promoted by the JVP?
No. Everyone should work together to topple this dictatorship. But we cannot also take full responsibility of other groups who have stood up to oppose them at the upcoming polls. We would not be the majority in a government that would form if the opposition coalition wins. We can only give assurances about ourselves and our past experiences have taught us that well.
Our aim is to form a force that would rally for democracy - a movement that would not limit itself to votes or elections where the voters would be able to win their demands irrelevant of who is elected into power be it MR or Maithri.
"We believe voters should not simply be observers who limit their political responsibilities to casting their votes alone"
The JVP voter base eroded drastically each time the party joined a coalition. Is this a reason that compelled you to refrain from pledging support to a particular faction?
Frankly, it is not. During the Presidential elections in 1994, 2005 and 2010 we made certain choices and at each juncture, our aim was to ensure the wellbeing of this country and its people. Unfortunately, other groups that joined were only concerned of their wellbeing. So the agreements were violated. That is why we no longer vouch for any other party but ourselves.
You brand MR as a dictator now but the JVP was part of a government led by him?
The root of this issue dates back to 2004, not 2005. Policies adopted by the Ranil Wickremesinghe government destroyed the independence of this country, its economy in a most detrimental manner. As a party we did everything in our power to force the UNP to change their policies but they remained unwavered. So at a certain point, implementing policy changes became interwoven with toppling Wickremesinghe’s government.
That is why in 2004, we reached an agreement with the SLFP under former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s leadership. Its main purpose was to ensure Sri Lanka’s continuation as a unitary state. The 2005 Presidential election was an extension of that agreement and I believe to a certain extent we have succeeded in achieving that goal.
Wouldn’t you say the present predicament is to a certain extent similar?
In 2004 the main aim was not to oust Ranil Wickremesinghe but to reverse his policies. As I mentioned earlier, it could not be achieved without toppling his government. That was not a choice we made - we were pushed into entering a coalition with the SLFP by Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Presently, even the Rajapaksas, are engaging in extremely detrimental actions to secure their power. They should be certainly be ousted because people shouldn’t hand over this country to the Rajapaksas for another era. A period of 12 years is more than enough to create a change. If a country is governed by one individual for 18 years, it means they would never give up power. History bears evidence to this; leaders who have governed for prolonged periods have turned tyrants. This is the door that Rajapaksa is trying to open. So we urge the progressive masses in this country to shut this door. But the change we are envisioning cannot be achieved simply by toppling a government or changing the leadership. Our campaign does not end with the conclusion of election; it will continue afterwards to rally the people for a greater purpose.
Isn’t the formation of a strong coalition vital in order to topple this regime?
No, that was the tradition that existed so far. We believe voters should not simply be observers who limit their political responsibilities to casting their votes alone. In traditional political terms, our decision might be tough to comprehend but we believe it is for the best. We will promote our message, those who listen will decide on the best course of action. That is the first bridge to be crossed.
But establishing democracy, good governance and judicial independence alone will not ensure the sustenance of a state. The main issue to be carefully tackled is the extreme injustice that currently prevails within the local economy – the highest earning 20% accesses 55.1% of the state revenue, while the lowest earning 20% accesses only a 3.6%. Where there is such acute income inequality, it is impossible to ensure democracy or good governance. Sri Lanka is in need of a new societal revolution that would be fuelled through economic transformation.
Given that most Sri Lankans are interested in politics only during the election period, do you think this movement you aspire can be successfully formed?
It is precisely that situation, which has dragged this country to its present fate. Sri Lanka currently faces five main crises in the economy, deterioration of democracy, issues concerning communal harmony, failure to ensure good governance and the risk of being isolated in the international arena. I recently saw President Rajapaksa stating that he has ‘files’ on those who defected but that he would not use it against them. The President is not a peon! It is his responsibility to ensure wrongdoers are punished. But the main characteristic of a ring leader is to allow his gang to engage in thieving so that he can collect that information to remind them of their vulnerability and continue his own plundering in a much larger scale. These momentary coalitions emerging in opposition to the Rajapaksas is only a temporary remedy to the crises the country is facing. Sri Lanka needs a societal and economical revolution.
What is JVP’s view of the common candidate?
Our opinion is somewhat mixed. Firstly we are thankful to him for standing up against this tyrannical insanity. But we are still uncertain of his political journey – of those who have rallied around him and details of his policies for the future. But we commend him for making the attack against this regime from the inside.
What are your comments on his main campaign slogans announced so far?
We have seen many election manifestos as well as agreements made between parties. They have made entertaining slogans that have attracted crowds. But once the elections conclude, the promises are cast aside. So the question here is not of the content of the manifesto but on the implementation.
Was there a plan to form an alliance between the JHU and the JVP within the common opposition?
No. There have been no such formal discussions - only informal meetings where we have discussed the general situation of the country.
Has the JVP engaged in discussions with the common opposition movement?
We have had discussions with several opposition groups but again, they were not formal meetings.
Would the JVP be interested in considering the possibility of collaborating with the common opposition?
I don’t think such a necessity has arisen. Presently, two camps have emerged - one with MR at the centre and the other around Maithripala. We are very clear of what the Rajapaksas stand for. Certain policies included in Maithripala’s camp have been announced but we are yet uncertain. So we haven’t had any discussions, neither are we planning to.
What are your comments on the stances taken by the BBS and the JHU on whom to support at the upcoming elections?
The BBS decision is hardly a surprise – it was obvious right from the start because they are operating under government sponsorship. It is like Gotabhaya declaring he decided to support Mahinda.
As for the JHU, during the past few years they have contributed to creating this tyrannical regime to a certain extent. But we commend the position they have taken now in quitting the government.
How does the JVP believe the national question should be addressed?
We are of the opinion that solutions to issues faced by the Tamil community lie in Constitutional reforms. Be it 13, 13 + or 13, the call for reforms in the constitution is the desire of Tamil nationalist politicians who have exerted great pressure on the Tamil community.
To address the national question, the needs and wishes of the Tamil community should be addressed to which includes the ability to converse freely in their language, ability to give their children a good education, access to good healthcare services, a good income and the freedom to engage in their cultural practices and traditions. So the solution to the issue lies in ensuring their freedom, rights and democracy and good economic opportunities. In our opinion neither MR nor any other group that will be elected can and will recognize this.
Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is to be appointed the Prime Minister if the common candidate is elected into power. What is the JVP’s stance on it?
The political situation that would arise in the country if Maithripala Sirisena wins is tough to gauge. The number of crossovers will spike; it is impossible to predict the kind of decisions the Rajapaksas and their henchmen would make and actions they would resort to, if Mahinda loses power. So the main concern should not be on who would be the Prime Minister but of the chaos that would emerge if MR is defeated.
If the common candidate wins, anyone who wins the majority, trust and consent of the parliament can assume duties as the Prime Minister, be it Ranil Wickremesinghe or anyone else. We don’t have an issue with that. But it is unwise to expect a traditional exchange of power bases, if Maithripala wins where MR would simply give up his seat and sit in the opposition. Therefore, it is important to closely observe the developments over the next couple of weeks and remain alert.
Do you think the Presidential polls would be free and fair?
Not at all! There is nothing this regime would not do in order to ensure their power does not slip away. They will do everything to crush dissenting views and dominate the election campaigns. So we anticipate the upcoming polls to be the most violent Presidential election ever held in the history of Sri Lanka.
One might say the JVP is attempting to play it safe by not supporting a particular faction and vehemently opposing MR?
No, this is a very definite decision. Some might wonder why we are not actively involved in Maithri’s campaign or why we are not fielding our own candidate, since we are unable to give assurances about another group. But our decision is clear to our supporters - topple the Rajapaksa regime and rally for democracy.
So by directly opposing the Rajapaksa camp, aren’t you indirectly supporting the common Opposition movement?
People are free to make their own choices on the day of the polls (laughs). Our aim is to rally people for the common cause of fighting for democracy, and form opinions. We will use the election campaigning period to gain momentum to our cause because the public pays more attention to political causes before an election. That is how the JVP is planning to participate in this election. Some might interpret it as a stance that benefits MR and some would say we are supporting Maithripala.
What is the JVP’s message to the voters at the upcoming Presidential polls?
Sri Lankans very rarely think politically when it comes to voting - they vote based on habits or prejudiced by generational affiliations. There is only one message the voters need to remember - breakaway from this ‘habit’. Make smart choices and base your decision on the current political movements. It is time to create an attitude shift on voting habits in this country.