The Rajapaksa era introduced many people into the political arena, who once stood as close associates. They were vested with various tasks and some of them are still backing the previous regime and its political agendas. Sajin de Vass Gunawardena, once a Member of Parliament and now a politician from Galle District, was one such individual who achieved controversial status in no time. This was particularly because various allegations were levelled against him once he assumed duties as Chief Executive Officer of Mihin Lanka Pvt. Ltd. – the government sponsored low-budget airline introduced during the Rajapaksa regime. As a result of financial mismanagement, the airline ceased operations in October 2016. Recently, Mr. Gunawardena made a statement in which he claimed the Pohottuwa clan or Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) only wanted to pursue family politics.
In a candid interview with Daily Mirror, Mr. Gunawardena opened up on why he was not supporting the Rajapaksas and why the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) could contribute to national development. Excerpts:
- Every political party is embroiled in their own turmoil in the selection of candidates
- In any vibrant political party, there are struggles to leadership and advancement
- There is too much baggage around the Rajapaksa dynasty
- I do not see SLPP having much longevity
- SLFP and UNP are time-tested parties
- Current SLFP bases are opposed to SLPP
- We need an absolutely stable government from 2020 onwards
Q You seem to have distanced yourself from the political stage. Any reason to it?
Not at all. I am very much active in the Galle District in my political activities.
Q What are your thoughts on the present political situation in the country?
We need an absolutely stable government from 2020 onwards. Every political party is embroiled in their own turmoil in the selection of candidates to field for presidency. Whilst most people criticise this, I see this differently. I see it in a perspective that the proper spirit of democracy is in action. It is because that there is a conducive environment such competition and ‘turmoil’ exists. Democracy is at its best.
Q You made a recent statement saying the SLPP was only interested in family politics. Weren’t they your close associates at one time?
Was not Brutus the best friend of Julius Caesar? Was not Judas a closest disciple to Lord Jesus? What happened to me is similar to what happened to Julius Caesar in respect of betrayal. I was totally betrayed by them.
The most important factor that needs to be inculcated is that politics is not for personal benefit but for the purpose of governance, development and advancement of the polity. This is achievable if fundamentals were in place. From next year, this should be a priority of the new government elected by the people
Q Does that mean you will not support Gotabaya?
Personally, I have no issue with Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He is undoubtedly a great administrator. However, there is too much ‘baggage’ around the ‘Rajapaksa Dynasty’ and I don’t really see how this will be a positive factor in his campaign. Once I have been betrayed to such an extent, I decided that I will never associate myself with their politics or any
Q There were stories in the media stating you attempted approaching the Rajapaksas following SLPP’s victory subsequent to the last local council elections but you were not welcomed. Is this the reason why you make statements against Rajapaksas?
This is absolutely false. As I mentioned earlier, I decided long time back that I will not engage in politics or entertain any other affiliation with them. I stand by my decision.
Q How do you see the internal crisis within UNP membership?
I call it a true spirit of democracy. In any vibrant political party, there are struggles to leadership and advancement. The fact that this situation exists proves there is absolute democracy in practice within the party. This perhaps is the vibrancy of the party which eventually will emanate as the strength of the political party amongst its polity.
Q Why do you say it is only the UNP and the SLFP that can develop the country?
It is fundamentally based on the representation of the polity which is traditionally split within these two parties. I do not see the new entrant, SLPP, having much longevity. Everything in the party from its structure to the polity it has amassed is purely, solely and totally based on the brand ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa’ and nothing else. Sans this factor, the party has nothing else and you will see how fast the grassroots level diminishes from what it has amassed with the Mahinda Rajapaksa brand. This is the reality. In contrast, the SLFP and the UNP are time-tested parties that have a much stronger affiliation with the polity based on policies, principles and ideologies. This is the inherent strength of these two parties that will never be forgotten by the polity of this country. It is true that the total landscape of politics was changed by Mahinda Rajapaksa after the 2015 defeat with the launching of the SLPP. This is and will only be contained to him and not beyond his era in politics.
Q What about the JVP?
I see it is having a more structured and steady growth in its political activity. Whether it will induce an increase in its support base is yet to be seen.
Q Certain SLFP members are not in favour of appointing Gota as the SLPP candidate. Are you standing in line with them?
As I have stated, I think the SLFP should stand independent. In today’s context, it is not whether the SLFP can win, but retaining polity within the party and protecting the base of the SLFP and looking at forging an alliance in the future to be an integral part of governance or the main opposition as the people will decide. This is the pivotal element. The SLFP will be the deciding factor in any election. This strength should not be lost. Furthermore, as I see it, the current SLFP bases are basically opposed to the SLPP.
I do not see the new entrant, SLPP, having much longevity. Everything in the party from its structure to the polity it has amassed is purely, solely and totally based on the brand ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa’ and nothing else. Sans this factor, the party has nothing else and you will see how fast the grassroots level diminishes from what it has amassed with the Mahinda Rajapaksa brand. This is the reality
Q Mihin Lanka and SriLankan have incurred billions of rupees in losses that the damage itself is imposing a negative impact on the economy. Would you like to share your side of the story?
I have stated this over and over again and is available widely on the internet. Long story short on Mihin Lanka, without the needed capital, no business can survive. The commission appointed to inquire into SriLankan and Mihin Lanka has not found any irregularity against me.
I did my task to the best of my ability with sever capital and fund constraints.
Q In Sri Lanka, politics is all about power, money and corruption. As a politician who was closer to the previous regime, how do you see this culture?
This needs to change and it has to be a priority. I strongly believe that 70% of this issue can be resolved by changing two factors; the current PR system in elections and a no cross-over bill. If these two are introduced, 70% of the issues will be resolved. From there onwards, the attitude and how one approaches politics will change.
The most important factor that needs to be inculcated is that politics is not for personal benefit but for the purpose of governance, development and advancement of the polity. This is achievable if fundamentals were in place. From next year, this should be a priority of the new government elected by the people.