Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, in an interview with Daily Mirror, responds to questions about the current status of politics and the economy.
- If executive presidency is abolished, we should reintroduce old electoral system
- SLFP is no longer a political force to reckon with
- UNP is faced with a severe internal political crisis
- Those who came from central colleges dominate other sectors of the country. They have been excluded from politics
- Those running economy cannot understand local and global trends
- Our geographical location is our advantage
Excerpts of this interview:
Q What will be the future of the present government in a situation where there is a rift between the President and the Prime Minister?
It became clear at the last local government elections that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is no longer a political force to reckon with. All the political forces led by SLFP have been absorbed by the political front called ‘Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)’. In that sense, SLPP is not a new political force. It is actually the political force previously led by the SLFP. The political alliance led by leaders such as Mahinda Rajapaksa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Dinesh Gunawardane, is nothing but an extension of the left of centre political front led by the late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. President Sirisena, in fact, leads a new political movement under the SLFP label, though. The SLFP cannot win elections under the current circumstances. That is the reality.
It is one aspect. Despite being the ruling party, the United National Party (UNP), for the first time in history, got thrashed at a local government election. For the first time, a ruling party was thrashed at a local authorities’ election in this manner. In 2002, the UNP, as the ruling party, won such elections comfortably.
Whatever it boasts about, the UNP cannot afford to lose another election. If it gets defeated at another election, it will signal the political end of the party. The fate that befell the SLFP will befall the UNP as well. The UNP did not read the election results of the 2015 polls and the local government polls this year.
The outcome of the 2015 elections was interpreted as a mandate for the UNP. The middle class of this country wanted to embark on a new political journey. Certain UNP leaders cast aside such expectations of the people. The bond scam and the adoption of age-old economic models are examples in this instance. Our economy is embroiled in a cauldron of issues.
When the late President J. R. Jayewardene opened up the economy, we had cheap labour and resources. There were lenient labour and environmental laws. So, we could attract investors. Actually, 70 percent of the world export market was concentrated in Europe and the United States. That model was successful because of these advantageous conditions. Ground realities are totally different today. We do not have cheap labour any more. We have rigid environment laws today. In the world export market, the share of the United States and Europe accounts for 50 percent only. We have certain restrictions in tapping these markets now. This factor driven model is no longer valid.
It is fiction that the country cannot be developed without abolishing executive presidency
Also, there is a school of thought here now that investors can be attracted by creating liberal socio-economic conditions. They believe investors are attracted to countries where homosexuality is legalized, press freedom is high and minority rights are guaranteed. It was a valid concept when globalization and liberalization were taking place in the world.
Today, investors can only be attracted by creating stability in the country. The United States is no longer following globalization. Investors are not bothered whether people in the country concerned have voting rights or not. They need stability. Today, investors see Sri Lanka as a place inflicted by chaos. We need a new economic way out.
Q Is the government ready for it?
That is the problem with this government. Those who handle the economy in this government have not understood it. They have not understood both international and local phenomena. So, they try to apply the same old economic formula to address the current issues. The models of J.R. Jayewardene, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa do not work. We are at a transitional stage now.
Q How do you look to the next presidential election in that context?
It will not be an election to be based on popular ideologies. We have to understand local and international phenomena. The outcome of this election is bound to depend on the level of our understanding on issues at hand in such contexts. It is fiction that the country cannot be developed without abolishing executive presidency and devolving power to the north and the east. Such measures will only destabilize Sri Lanka further. When there is no stability, no investor will come. Investors who are already here will also leave the country then. Our challenge is to understand this global phenomenon. Secondly, we cannot count on post war dividends now. We are faced with the biggest debt burden.
Already, we have pruned the powers of the President. There is nothing left to be pruned.
Q What do you think of the 20th Amendment brought by the JVP?
If it is enacted, the country will be destabilized further. If we do away with the presidential system, we should revert to the old electoral system. That is the only way to stabilize the country. Our judiciary looks old fashioned. All other sectors have improved, but the judiciary has not been modified. It is a place where cases are dragged on for years. So, justice is not meted out. We need total reforms to it.
Before implementing vision 2025, they have to implement vision 2020
Q If the 20th Amendment is taken up for vote in Parliament, will you vote against?
The 20th Amendment is obviously harmful to the country’s stability. If the executive presidency is abolished, the old constituency based electoral system should be reintroduced. There is no room for destabilizing the country.
Q What do you think of the UNP talking about its Vision 2020 programme?
The parties can say whatever they want to boost the morale of their rank and file. That is a different case. Yet, it is not realistic. Before implementing vision 2025, they have to implement vision 2020. The UNP did not do the necessary reforms needed to face elections next year. The UNP is internally faced with a severe crisis.
Politics in our country is also backward-looking. We have a new breed of business leaders in the country today. The wealthiest businessmen belong to this category. They are from ordinary backgrounds. Yet, they are leading the business sector.
Those who are in the highest echelon of the medical profession are from humble beginnings with their school education at ordinary central colleges. It is the same story with regards to engineers, administrative service officials including the Secretary to the President. It is the same story in the world as well. Our politics has not changed though. We have the Rajapaksa family at one end of politics, and a coterie of persons from some elitist schools at the other.
Yet, those who came from central colleges dominate other sectors of the country. They have been excluded from politics, though.
Q What is your plan for the next year?
This country should identify its priorities. One is the economic model we need. Countries such as China, South Korea, Japan and others developed because they realized their comparative advantages and built on them. Our geographical location is our advantage. Also, we have our knowledge workers. We have 20 million brains.
When there is no stability, no investor will come. Investors who are already here will also leave the country then
Q The President recently said that the Prime Minister’s post is more powerful than the presidential post. What is your response?
It is true that the executive President got some arbitrary powers under the 1978 Constitution. But, there are checks and balances introduced by the then President J.R. Jayewardene. In this regard, it is the Parliament that is keeping it in check.
The US President can appoint anyone outside the Senate or the Congress as a Minister. There are different ways to ensure checks and balances. Yet, the President of Sri Lanka has to choose the Ministers from among the Members of Parliament only. Parliament is the only body that can legislate. Parliament can decide whether to prune the presidential powers or not. Sri Lanka Parliament is responsible not only for law making but is also having control over police finance. Without parliamentary support, the President cannot govern. In the past, there was no question in this regard because the successive Presidents had their parties controlling Parliament. For the first time, we experienced departure from this when the United National Party took control of Parliament under then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga from another party. On that occasion, presidency was in the hands of another party. It became apparent then that the President’s hands were tightened without parliamentary power.
With the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the President’s power was further pruned. Though executive presidency is projected as a dictatorial model, the President is virtually a wing-clipped bird in the absence of parliamentary support. It becomes clear when the President belongs to one party and the Prime Minister to another.
Q The President said one should consider who should be the Prime Minister next. What is your view?
There is euphoria created about the presidential election at the moment. Of course, what is more powerful is the Prime Minister’s post. The President cannot govern without the support of the Prime Minister. It remained the same with power. It is more so after the enactment of the 19th Amendment.