Former Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka speaks about the current political crisis and its implications on the economy of the country. Excerpts:
QHow will the current political deadlock end in your view?
The deadlock was created by President Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa. The President can end this deadlock by giving the opportunity for the group commanding parliamentary majority in Parliament to form the government. The restraining order by the Court of Appeal affirmed actions taken by Parliament. That happened at a time when parliamentary actions were disputed by the other side saying that the Standing Orders were flouted and all.
The President said he would not reappoint UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe even though all 225 MPs signed for him. It means this is no longer a constitutional matter. It is a question of personal ego and grudge.
This is not a question to be addressed according to one’s personal whims. This has to be resolved in accordance with the Constitution. Our allegation that the President flouts the Constitution is now affirmed.
QWhat is the alternative for you now since the President declined to offer premiership to Mr. Wickremesinghe at any cost?
We tried to resolve this problem. Now, the President is getting dragged into the problem. Whatever it is, the country is economically in ruins. It will have a four-percent impact on the Gross Domestic Production (GDP) next year. There will be a negative growth. The international lending rates will rise against us.
First, what happened in Parliament is interpreted in different ways by various segments of society. The official Hansard report is out now. What transpired in Parliament on November 14, 15, 16 and 19 is correctly reported in it. Nobody can dispute it. The President, the MPs and the judiciary cannot disregard it.
The Hansard says that the no-confidence motion was duly passed in accordance with the Standing Orders with 122 votes to zero. The following day, the Speaker announced his decision to Parliament. He announced that the government stood dissolved. The same motion was passed by the MPs once again on November 16.
A majority of MPs stood for it despite brawls, mayhem and spraying of chilli powder. No one can dispute the removal of Mahinda Rajapaksa. He has already been ousted. There is no government now.
Secondly, how can the President appoint a Prime Minister according to his whims? He has to accept the majority will of Parliament.
QBut, the Constitution only says that the President appoints the person commanding majority support in his opinion only. How can you test his opinion as there is no provision for it?
The President should not take decisions in a piecemeal reference to the clauses of the Constitution. He has to look at the whole Constitution. Also, he should substantiate his opinion.
Parliament showed clearly that the person, picked by him as the Prime Minister, did not command majority support. He has to appoint a new one now. It is not his personal opinion that matters. His personal opinion matters when he buys clothes, footwear, vehicles and so on. The appointment of the Prime Minister should be on a decision that can to be substantiated with facts on the ground.
QYet, there is no methodology laid down in the Constitution to test the President’s opinion. Then, can’t he disregard what you say?
There is no way for him to hide behind. The President’s power to appoint the Prime Minister is interpreted in this manner by those without a proper understanding on constitutional matters. The President must be able to substantiate his opinion with facts on the ground. Otherwise, he cannot pick anyone as the Prime Minister according to his whims.
QBut, what is the alternative if the President persists with his stand that Mr. Wickremesinghe cannot be appointed again?
Today, Parliament functions because of the Stay Order given by the Supreme Court. Parliament can take enough action against the President in such an eventuality. Parliament has vital functions, law making and control over public finance. The House can well use this authority against the President if the situation demands. We have already passed motions curtailing financial allocations to the Office of Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
The President led the country down the path of absolute disaster. It caused a huge economic loss to the nation. Also, the country’s reputation was tarnished in the eyes of the international community. The President has lost legitimacy in the country.
QWhat do you feel as an MP who worked for his election to office in 2015?
We did not work for the victory of an individual. Instead, we struggled for ending the family rule and democratic reforms. We achieved it to a certain extent. We could not achieve it fully. There is a political impact when the members of local bodies, the provincial councils and Parliament take place. The political impact of such crossovers cannot be likened to the impact of the President switching sides. When the President switches sides, the political impact is enormous. People scorn the President’s action today. They look at it with disdain and contempt. Also, people do not condone the use of muscle power by the Rajapaksa group to sabotage parliamentary sessions recently.
This is nothing but fascism clothed in nationalism, patriotism and religiosity. We need a broad political formation to meet with this situation.
QHow far have you progressed in the formation of this front?
We talk about democracy in the country. It is equally important to have democracy within the parties. There should be a democratic, decision making framework. We have proposed a leadership council. We have also proposed council comprising professionals to take vital economic decisions instead of keeping it in the hands of a coterie of persons. We intend to introduce people oriented politics. Our brand name is people. The Rajapaksa family is the brand name of the other side, though.
QDuring the last three and half years, the very same forces were in the government. We found a lot of policy contrasts. How can you correct them in the future?
There has to be elections under a legitimate government. There should be free and fair elections. The President has acted against the people’s mandate. We asked for the presidential elections. If it is all right, the parliamentary elections can also be conducted the same day.
QA general election is possible only if the Supreme Court rules in favour of it. How are you planning for an election otherwise?
It can be done by passing a resolution with a two-thirds majority in Parliament. For that, a legitimate government has to be installed. The status quo that prevailed in the country before October 26 should be restored.
QDoes it mean that UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe should be made the Prime Minister?
Let us decide whether he should be the Prime Minister or not. The President cannot decide it.
QIn your personal view, who should be the Prime Minister?
This is not a question of appointing the Prime Minister. We are struggling with a huge debt burden.
QWhen you form a broad political front, how do you reconcile these policy contrasts?
Along with democratic reforms, we need urgent economic reforms. A coterie of persons cannot do it. That is what happened during the past three and half years. We will form a council to handle the economic affairs. In addition to politicians, it will be handled by professionals. Then, we will have an economy not run by the family rule or a coterie of individuals.
QHave you agreed on this council?
Yes, we have. That is what we are doing. We agreed basically on such a council, a leadership council and so on. We are ready for any election, but under a legitimate government as existed before October 26.