The upcoming Local Government Elections will see new faces entering the political scene. Representing the J. R Jayewardene clan from the Cinnamon Gardens Ward for the Colombo Municipal Council is his grandson Pradip Jayewardene. Although J.RJ was known to be a strongman of the Green Party, Pradip will be contesting under the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) ticket.
In a candid interview with the Daily Mirror, Jayewardene shared his thoughts as to why he is contesting from the Blue Party and his plans for Colombo.
Following are excerpts of the interview done with Jayewardene.
- The reason not to contest from the UNP is because I didn’t have an opportunity since the passing away of Gamini Dissanayake. I worked closely with Gamini Dissanayake during his election campaign
- The Parliamentary system should be developed under a monarchy. Therefore the system cannot be directly applied to the rest of the world although we have done that
- I have already helped a large waste-to-energy project with all the approvals which will take 700 metric tonnes of waste in Colombo to be converted to energy
Q The name ‘J.R Jayewardene’ and the UNP are interconnected. By contesting from the SLFP aren’t you betraying your grandfather?
I think J.R Jayewardene is now beyond UNP. In fact when he came to power and when he became President he made several statements saying that he will look at the country above party and politics. Of course he had to work for the party, but he made a clear distinction between the work of the party and the work of the President. His greatest work was achieved as President. The reason not to contest from the UNP is because I didn’t have an opportunity since the passing away of Gamini Dissanayake. I worked very closely with Gamini Dissanayake during his election campaign. Unfortunately he was killed. After that I realized that the UNP no longer had correct leadership. I watched what was happening with the UNP and realized that they are not heading in the correct direction. They were no longer subscribing to the mission and views of my grandfather. My grandfather had a very clear understanding of the nation, what our sovereignty is and what our country is. He had clear views on the open economy, but he also knew that we need to preserve our sovereignty and independence and give not only our political independence, but economic independence as well. He had a very strong socialist side to him. He was the head of the Democratic Socialist republic of Sri Lanka. For foreigners, democracy and socialism are two different things because people are polarized, but he saw the blend of democracy and socialism. But the current UNP is not that at all.
Q You pledged to defeat the proposed new constitution. Is it because it almost contradicts 1977 Constitution by JRJ?
No, it has nothing to do with the JRJ Constitution. I believe that it’s the only Constitution that has worked in the post-Independence history. It has proven itself over 40 years. There has been continuous growth except for one year when there was a power crisis due to the mismanagement of the situation. Other than that year we have had continuous growth and stability and we have been able to defeat one of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisations. I believe that a lot of it had to do with the Presidential system. I saw how my grandfather spoke to the CNN when President Premadasa was assassinated. He said he was very sad about the death, but he also said that the country will survive because the Constitution allows the Prime Minister to take the seat of the President which is a full presidency with full powers.
Q The Executive Presidential system has created doubts in most politicians. Recently the President too consulted the Supreme Court regarding his term of office. Is it a necessary requirement for a country like Sri Lanka?
I think it’s absolutely necessary because the Parliamentary system of governance is not our system of rule. It was something developed in England under a monarchy which was then trans-located to Sri Lanka. The Parliamentary system should be developed under a monarchy. Therefore the system cannot be directly applied to the rest of the world although we have done that. I believe that the Presidential system is a mustand if we don’t have such a system we will have enormous instability.
Q What are the major issues you have identified in Colombo and what are your solutions?
Traffic is a major concern that we have to deal with. There are many initiatives been taken, but what we are implementing are engineers’ solutions to this problem. A wider road or a flyover is only a temporary solution. The more you expand the road it is highly likely that that stretch of the road would be used more. Therefore more vehicles will travel. We therefore need to have transit systems and reduce incentives for people entering Colombo. Another important aspect to consider is the parking facility. I have heard of parking metres along the Kollupitiya side, but I have never seen them and they charge you on an hourly basis which I believe is a good move. We are looking at some areas which could be used for dual purposes.
Walking areas are another one of my concerns. People seem to be using them a lot and it would reduce the cost of parking as well. If there is an opportunity for one person to go on his morning walk, do some shopping and walk back home it would be less time consuming than having to be stuck in traffic. We are looking at ways to link Independence Square, Nelum Pokuna, Viharamahadevi Park, Beira Lake, Galle Face and Fort.
Another aspect is the zoning of Colombo. A new way of looking at zoning in a community is that you must have residences, businesses, shops and recreation areas integrated. In Colombo people are breaking zoning rules and trying new ways to get businesses into residential areas. There’s a huge issues with commercial ventures popping up in residential areas which cause huge problems to residents. This has to be resolved using new ways of zoning.
I have already helped a large waste-to-energy project with all the approvals which will take 700 metric tonnes of waste in Colombo to be converted to energy. I did this during the past three years even before I entered active politics. It will significantly reduce the garbage problem in the city because almost 50% of the waste will go into this project and the second and the third phase will also follow the same model.
Q Has the new electoral system become a challenge and a barrier for a newcomer like you?
I think it’s good for us because we are canvassing in a Ward and it’s a manageable size. You can meet a lot of residents and you can understand issues that they face. It is a more hands-on approach. We also don’t need to spend a lot on massive media campaigns. It has also increased the number of representatives.
Q People don’t have much hopes on politicians today. Where did the political system go wrong?
People do have an idea that politics is bad and that there’s a lot of corruption. There has been a lot of media exposure on corruption and abuse of power. It’s not the Proportional Representation (PR) system that was wrong. It was the distortion of the PR system. Although the PR system worked on a district each MP had an electorate assigned and he was supposed to work there and win his electorate. The party made a list of candidates and gave priority to it. Therefore some people will relax while others will work hard.Then somebody came up with a very simple solution to allow everybody to run for the entire district and whoever gets elected could come on top. Therefore each candidate now had a challenge to campaign an entire electorate and get more exposure. For this they needed money and they got money from whoever who gave them. So those in the illegal alcohol trade, the drug trade and other illegal businesses gave them money. In the second round, these people who gave money to the politicians thought why they should be paying and going after them. In turn they started contesting, spending their own money on themselves. This also brought in the actors, TV stars because they already had a profile on TV.
Q Colombo is UNP’s stronghold and even your grandfather entered politics from Colombo. Don’t you think it is a disadvantage for you to contest from the SLFP?
Yes. That’s why I have taken up the challenge. But a lot of people in Colombo are also sensible and I expect them to think outside of party politics and vote for someone who would actually do something for the country and also represent them.
Pics by Damith Wickramasinghe