- If there are aspirants in the party, I do not want to stand in their way
- There has to be one law for the whole country
- Muslim leaders are ready to change
- I started politics with clean hands and I assure that I will quit politics with clean hands
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, in an interview responds to questions about the role of Parliament in ensuring national security.
He also indicates his willingness to consider presidential candidacy if there is a unanimous request by the party.
Amidst allegations that he is blocking the No-confidence motion against Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, the Speaker shared the following with Dailymirror :
Q What is your general assessment of the country’s situation?
This incident took place at a time when the country was getting on proper track. The economy had suffered because of the political upheaval in October, last year. The tourism sector was almost a disaster. We were once regarded as the best destination. However, there were a whole lot of cancellations because of that. But, due to the efforts of the government and the tourism sector in particular, they were able to recoup the losses. It just started picking up. Exports were moving, imports were reducing. The rupee was getting stronger. Investments started coming in.
It is very unfortunate for the country that this event occurred against such a backdrop. What intrigued me is the fact that just 22 days after the April 21 incidents, we saw violence erupt in many places. Organized groups started destroying property and harassing people. We are just wondering as to how it happened. It was something pre-planned. So, there was a political hand behind it. I am not going to name the party. Let the security forces and the intelligence agencies reveal those who were responsible!
The damage caused --both mentally and physically-- was enormous. The entire Muslim community is going through difficulties due to the silly action by a handful of misled youth. I recall an incident in July 1983. I was driving myself with my wife in the front seat and the two daughters behind. We were going to the Kelaniya Temple. I was stopped by a mob. They told me, “Sir, give us a bottle of petrol to save the Sinhala nation,”
I told them, “You are not going to protect the nation. You are going to burn the Sinhala nation. You are holding the future generation responsible for what you do today.”
Q You are the custodian of Parliament. How do you see the role of Parliament in addressing this problem once and for all?
After the March incident in Kandy last year, there was disaster in the country. On the second day of violence at that time, three parliamentarians came to my room and asked me to intervene. Immediately, a delegation left for Kandy. We met all concerned - the Mahanayakes, the Bishops, Moulavis and the service commanders. We were able to bring about a certain amount of amity. After that we realized that Parliament has to play an active role. We went to places where communal tension was likely.
It was pre-planned. There was a political hand behind it. Let the security forces and the intelligence agencies reveal those who were responsible!
Q There is a call for de-radicalisation of local Muslims. Did you see signs of radicalisation among them?
Of course, there was a handful. There was a lot of things happening, especially in the east. Many people were concerned about it. But for some various reasons, adequate actions were not taken to control it. Actually, National Thawheeth Jama’ath leader Mohamed Zahran Hashim was to be arrested. But for some reason, it was not carried out. There had been lapses. I do not know whether there was political interference. This is, however only a handful of people who were engaged. I met a large number of Muslim organizations which were very respectable and responsible. They condemned terror attacks completely. In a way, we are also to be blamed that there was a lapse. Also, if you take the hotels, you would see many types of people walking in carrying bags. Nobody was there to check. In a hotel, no one is allowed to take a bag to the breakfast lounge. But we haven’t done that here. The country’s security was completely ignored. What is important for us now, is to be a part of a security conscious nation. The Muslims are ready to live as Sri Lankans.
Q When you talk about radicalisation, you need new laws to curb the trend. What are the new laws being contemplated by Parliament?
You must have one set of laws for the whole country. You cannot have different rules. Be it for marriages, education or anything, there has to be one nation and one law. It has been agreed in principle by everybody. When you talk about changes with regard to the attire, I must compliment the Minister of Muslim Religious Affairs, his Secretary and the officials. They had been able to talk freely with the leading Muslim clerics to bring about certain recommendations. In the future, there is legality and transparency in what we do. They also agreed to the dress issue.
With regard to the age of marriage, there is a general thinking that it should be 18 or above. It is an international protocol. Meanwhile they have all agreed that Madrasas should be brought under the purview of the Education Ministry.
Q How far have you progressed in evolving the new laws?
It is being done. Parliament plays a big role in connection with this. It has several oversight committees which cover some of these aspects. We had several meetings and I myself chaired some combined meetings in which relevant ministers in charge of the subjects, such as education, judiciary and Muslim religious affairs were present. These are being pursued under the guidance of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Most of these restrictions were introduced under the emergency laws. The state of emergency is unlikely to be extended after the present period. These legislations must be passed in Parliament as a result. We are ready for it and the Parliament is ready for it. I have spoken to the relevant Ministers and asked them to prepare themselves for this.
I accepted the No-confidence motion despite technical errors in it. I insisted that it should be taken up for debate as early as possible
Q How soon would you be able to enact these legislations?
My view is that we should finish the task by June.
Q Is it practically possible?
Why not? If there is a will there is a way. So we can certainly do it.
Q You were accused of not giving a prior date for the debate on the no-confidence motion against Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen over his alleged involvement in giving political patronage to some terror suspects. But, you hurriedly granted such a motion against the 52-day government of Mahinda Rajapaksa. How do you see this?
I accepted the No-confidence motion despite technical errors in it. I insisted that it should be taken up for debate as early as possible. Yet, I cannot decide it on my own in accordance with the Standing Orders. Anyone with an iota of knowledge on parliamentary affairs knows it.
It was a different situation during the 52-day period, as it was not a lawful government. I was requested by the 122 MPs in writing to install a lawful government and restore democracy. No such request was made this time. So, it is a different situation.
Q However, some charges that were made against the Minister look legitimate. He had contacted the Army chief and inquired about some suspects. What do you think of these charges?
Well, I do not want to comment on those charges. There is a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) sitting. If the Minister had influenced the Army Commander, then it is wrong. He said he didn’t do it. I think the PSC would summon the Army chief and question him. We should wait for the outcome of the report.
I assigned June 18 and 19 as dates for the No-confidence motion, because there were some urgent Bills that were to be taken up during the first parliamentary week of the month. We have only three days and the dates are fixed by the Leader of the House. I cannot use my influence. When they wanted to debate the matter in July, I made a request that it should be done in June. I expedited the matter. Even when there were discrepancies, I accepted the motion. I immediately entered it in the Order Book. There was no delay on my part.
Q How do you look at the threat to Parliament?
The information we had got from the intelligence agencies indicated that Parliament was to be bombed on the morning of April 21. Obviously, there might have been some reason for this to come out. There were maps of the House found in the possession of one of our subcontractors. Also, he had a vehicle with a false bottom. Obviously, it was to carry ammunition and explosives...
Q How would you assess the current level of threat?
We have taken adequate precautions on the advice of experts in the field. Security to our own MPs have been beefed up.
Q What do you think of the new Counter-Terrorism Bill which is before Parliament now ?
There are two views on this by two political parties. At the end of the day, the two parties should come together. There could be pros and cons. Therefore, the government and the opposition must sit together with the national interest in their minds. They should agree on some common agenda.
Q We are facing the presidential elections at the end of the year. Your name is quoted as a candidate. Are you contesting?
My parents taught at Ananda College, Colombo and at the village temple. As a child, I used to visit first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake along with my father. Mr. Senanayake trained me not to give preference to posts and honorifics but to fulfill the responsibilities which the country needs.
I only said that I am ready to do my duty for the country, if there is any request. I started politics with clean hands and I assure that I will quit politics with clean hands.
I was not intended to contest for the presidential election. But for whatever the position that involves me in nation-building, I am prepared to consider it
Q Does it mean that you would contest if there would be a unanimous request...
As for all the positions I have secured in the party, I have never canvassed, suggested or applied for them. They were offered to me. I was not intended to contest for the presidential election. But, of course, for whatever the position that involves me in nation-building, I am prepared to consider it.
Q Do you see such a request is coming up?
Well, a lot of people do mention my name. If there are aspirants in the party, I do not want to stand in their way. That is why I do not want to fight and gain it. If there is unanimity in the party and they assign me a role, I will accept it.