Leader of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) MP Dinesh Gunawardane speaks about the Presidential Elections and the current status of the economy in the country. Gunawardane, who worked as the parliamentary group leader of the Joint Opposition, said that the role of Parliament had diminished today, and it should be restored. The following are excerpts of an interview done with Gunawardane.
- It’s very, very important to realise the expectations of the new generation
- We will get a fair number of minority votes
- There are errors made by the present Govt. to be corrected by the new Govt.
- The UNP has failed in all fronts
- We challenged the 19th Amendment and got media freedom guaranteed
- There is no need to have 100 ministers
Q What is your general assessment of the current political situation?
The present Government has failed after being in power for the past four years. They failed in all fronts. Governance is in bad shape. The economy is on a downward spiral. The growth rate has slowed from 6.5 percent at that time to 2.5 percent now. It is a terrible setback on the society. The rule of law has collapsed. There is moral decadence in the society. This is expressed even by the religious leaders. This is the worst scenario we all are caught in. We have to think of how to get out of it.
Q As far as the presidential election is concerned, what is your assessment about Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’s (SLPP) nominee for presidential candidacy Gotabaya Rajapaksa?
All the parties in the Joint Opposition have endorsed nomination of him for candidacy. They are in the process of throwing their full weight behind him during the election campaign. The country would like to have seen Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa as the candidate. But, he has been constitutionally barred from contesting by the UNP Government. So, they have opted for a nationally known figure other than him. The government’s popularity has waned. We have an overall lead against the UNP and its allies. Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the common candidate for us. Not only the political parties with us but also various other organisations want this Government out. They want us in.
There is only talking. No one is walking the talk. The economy had declined during the past four years though they talked about economic miracles. They gave promises to people in the north but did not keep them.
Q However, he is facing allegations about white van abductions. There is a fear psychosis created about him in the society by political opponents. How do you counter it?
We have to expect this from the UNP and its allies. They are concerned about their political survival in the Government. They know the opposition has outperformed it politically. Various allegations and charges are made. It will be done against our candidate. That is normal. No candidate has been exempted from any allegation during election times in the history of Sri Lanka. I supported Sirimawo Bandaranaike at the 1988 presidential election. I had such experience. I have gone through all the presidential elections.
Q As a politician familiar with every presidential election conducted in this country, how do you compare and contrast electioneering now and then?
There are various new forces that have emerged. It has to be recognised. Youths have emerged as a force to be reckoned with. Likewise, professionals, qualified locally and internationally, have emerged. Also, we should not disregard the poor people engaged in agriculture and other minor economic sectors. They are also a fairly strong force. First, food, clothing and shelter are needed. We have failed after 70 years in ensuring these needs of some of the people. The society feels insecure, be it in the north or the south. The economy has to be built addressing these issues. It is very important to realise expectations of the new generation.
Q Do you see the need to have a departure from the past policies?
Definitely, the country demands clear-cut national policies. The country needs such policies to be implemented and adhered to by the party in power. Today, politics have gone down. Those engaged in politics are only seeking office for personal gains. Everyone talks about, but provides no remedy. The role of Parliament has diminished. It should be restored. The latest technology should be absorbed into development.
Q How do you look at internal squabbling within the UNP?
The UNP, as the ruling party, has bungled everything. The UNP had leaders of outstanding calibre in the past. They governed the country regardless with or without making mistakes. Today, there is no governance. There is only talking. No one is walking the talk. The economy had declined during the past four years though they talked about economic miracles. They gave promises to people in the north but did not keep them. The country gave a clear message to the UNP last year- that is to step down. For the first time, the ruling party was defeated at Local Government Elections. They cannot bring about any remedy to the crisis through their so called policies.
The UNP economic policy is to make Sri Lanka dependent on imports for every need instead of strengthening our national economy.
Q A section of the UNP is promoting Minister Sajith Premadasa as their presidential candidate. How do you see him as a presidential hopeful of the rival camp?
The UNP has three prospective candidates- Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mr. Premadasa, and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. Sajith has openly started his campaign. He is supported by a group of MPs and others in the party. They had their rallies. The UNP is plagued with a clear internecine feud. It is, in fact, a result of the political-economic crisis. The country is waiting for the elections to be announced.
Q If Sajith becomes the candidate, how challenging would it be for your side?
The local and international economic situations are not for the advantage of the UNP today. After the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, the economy is yet to take off. Every industry
remains virtually closed. The banking sector has suffered. Currency devaluation is still happening. Chinese currency is also getting devalued. It will have its own effect. The UNP has no new policy. The UNP has no way of resurrecting the national entrepreneurs who have been struggling to build their economies amid difficulties.
Q How important is the minority vote base this time?
The minority vote base is also a very important factor at any presidential election. Their participation in the new administration and the formulation of policies is equally important. We have nominated a strong person as our presidential candidate. The minorities also suffer from national economic issues. They are not exempted from it. They also have poverty and unemployment. It was during the former Mahinda Rajapaksa rule only that there were big projects implemented for the benefit of the north and the east. All such projects were stalled by the new government.
Q Some alliance partners in your side say that they are not ready to accommodate the minority parties such as All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) led by Minister Rishad Bathiudeen. What do you think as the MEP leader?
Different ethnic groups have a role to play at this election. They know the UNP has failed them. The UNP has given them nothing in the end. Secondly, they faced the worst insecure situation under the UNP Government. What more can they expect from the UNP? It is the situation in the north and the east. When we travel in these areas, educated people narrate to us these stories.
Definitely, the country demands clear-cut national policies. The country needs such policies to be implemented and adhered to by the party in power. Today, politics have gone down
Q Do you think that your candidate has to get a fair number of minority votes to win?
We have to. We will get it. People will understand that the main battle is to ensure security and development of the country.
Q What do you think of the national security crisis triggered by the Easter Sunday attack?
It is the failure of our national security apparatus. It is also a result of infighting within the Government. The President and the Prime Minister were taking on each other. It is their failure. The Prime Minister, the Speaker and the Opposition Leader made blunders in making ad hoc appointments under the so called 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
Q Do you see that the 19th Amendment has to be repealed under a future government?
Not only it, but also there are many other errors to be corrected. The present electoral system has to be changed. The current system is the reason for waste and corruption. It has cancerous effect.
We challenged the 19th Amendment and got media freedom guaranteed. I was a petitioner. Luckily the Supreme Court accepted it. The original version of the 19th Amendment was dangerous. We got the dangerous provisions knocked off. Sri Lanka is a small country. There is no need to have 100 ministers.
Q Your party advocated a district council system instead of the provincial council system. The provincial councils have remained defunct now. Isn’t this a good opportunity for you to revisit your proposals for the district council system?
The MEP stood for such a position. We advocate the empowerment of the local authorities. Having big buildings, motor vehicles and officials will not suffice in serving people. We want to infuse new thinking into the system. The District Secretary or the Government Agent plays an indispensable role. So do the local authorities. In other countries, the local bodies have been entrusted with a lot of power.
Q How do you view the role of international players at this election?
The main opposition has taken a clear-cut position in this regard. We stand for a non-aligned foreign policy. We want friendship with all the countries. We had very good international relations in the past based on this policy. The present Government deviated from it. Now, we are under pressure from big powers. Foreign relations have to be handled very carefully. Sri Lanka can benefit enormously by having a non-aligned policy.