- We are an alternative political force
- Gampaha District comprises a majority of educated voters
- A candidate’s campaign budget would be around Rs. 10-15 million
- Cabinet decisions overrule the law
Ananda Sagara Thera,
convener of Protect Sri Lanka Organisation is preparing to contest at the upcoming Parliamentary Election from the Our Power of People Party (Ape Janabala Pakshaya) ticket. Having voiced strongly against looming environmental issues, Ven. Ananda Sagara Thera believes that a political intervention is needed to put an end to environmental disasters taking place in the guise of development.
QWhy did you decide to contest the upcoming Parliamentary Elections?
We have strongly voiced against racial tensions, ethnic issues and environmental issues from a civil society perspective. But even after all these efforts it is a majority of uneducated people who gets elected to Parliament. Most of them are not sensitive towards these issues. This is the dilemma that we faced and the solution is to replace their seats with intellectuals. If we are to find solutions to these issues and if such solutions require a political intervention then we have to get elected to Parliament.
QYou have strongly voiced against various environmental issues. One may think whether you had a political motive in backing these efforts?
Yes. But if we had a political agenda then we should have been working with mainstream political parties. We have thought of an alternative political force. There needs to be a voice that would voice against both mainstream parties at the Parliament. They should be intellectuals. If we had a political agenda we wouldn’t have faced all these challenges.
QThe Our Power of People Party is a new party. Do you think it can make a change in a short time?
This is a new party with new people. If we take contestants from mainstream parties in Gampaha they have their own agendas. But we are new. So it’s the people who should decide whether they would vote for the same lot who are involved in nefarious activities or whether they should vote for an alternative party who would truly be a voice behind their issues. It is true that we don’t get publicity and one of the issues is the manipulation of media. This effort is to show people that there is an alternative.
QWhy did you decide to contest from Gampaha District?
Mainly because it comprises a majority of educated voters. There are also around 500,000 floating votes. We need to change the tribal mentality of people who are worshipping mainstream parties. But we have identified the most people who are concerned about the issues we raise and we are trying to field three or four intellectuals from our Party as potential candidates.
QThose who contest say that there should be gentleman politics. But it is those who sling mud at others and those who make false allegations that get more votes. Can this be changed?
It’s a difficult task. There are candidates who spend millions for their campaigns, but we have only printed a handout so far. We don’t have a way to spend for food, lay asphalt on a road or provide electricity to get more votes. Many people think one has to contest to Parliament from the mainstream parties. If we campaign we should include the photo of our leader. People have such primitive mindsets. Therefore this system needs to be rejected and avoided altogether even though it is challenging. Even if we don’t succeed we are providing a voice for people who have neutral views.
QDo you think campaign financing should be regulated?
Yes, there is a law, but it has not been enforced. I too have declared my assets to the district election secretariat. How do I go with a few defenders, look after supporters, rent out spaces in prominent locations to be converted to campaign offices etc? There are 13 electorates in the Gampaha District. So if we put 13 vehicles to all electorates you at least need Rs. 75,000, the rent to pay for an office space is around Rs. 40000, and you need at least a minimum of 500,000 posters that would make the cost around Rs. 200,000. The printing cost alone would be Rs. One million. A TV advertisement to be aired during a prime time would cost between Rs. 600,000-700,000. Therefore the entire campaign budget would be around Rs. 10-15 million. This money is often given by businessmen and they give it with their agendas. These agendas are to either get illegal permits for sand mining or do private constructions in protected areas. So the businessmen feed the politician and politician gives a hand to the businessmen. If these activities are audited many fraudulent monetary transactions would be exposed. The Elections Commission should therefore be involved in regulating the process.
QIf we look at environmental issues, in most instances they have been brought to the attention of relevant subject ministers. But there seems to be a failure in enforcing the law. Why has that happened?
There are no issues in the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO) although there are certain places that need to be amended. One example is the plan to remove the 05/2001 circular. This circular was issued to allocate provisions to the Department of Forest Conservation to develop and protect lands with state forest patches. Initially these lands were also under the purview of government agents and Divisional Secretaries and were heavily misused. This circular gives authority to the DFC to check whether there are elephant corridors, catchment areas, endangered, endemic Flora and Fauna in lands that are requested to be given away. But if it’s removed the GAs and Divisional Secretaries will be able to acquire land without any audit process. But now Cabinet decisions overrule the law. Nobody takes permits anymore. The mangrove site in Negombo is being filled to construct hotels, people are dumping garbage in Muthurajawela while filling another portion of the marshland. This is one of the most important wetlands that prevents flooding in Colombo and Gampaha. All this is because businessmen and politicians have agreements. We can breathe because of the environment, the country has already been sold out and they are trying to destroy the remaining Flora and Fauna as well.
QThere’s a notion that once ordained, monks shouldn’t engage in politics. Your comments.
I too agree that once ordained, monks shouldn’t be engaging in politics. There are several political perspectives. One of them is party politics. We have seen how certain monks talk in favor of various candidates. What is wrong is politically manipulating people with a saffron robe. But we are a neutral political force.
There needs to be a voice that would voice against both mainstream parties at the Parliament. They should be intellectuals. If we had a political agenda we wouldn’t have faced all these challenges
QIf you get elected to Parliament what would be your three main priorities?
I will commit more time to voice against environmental issues. But I will also work towards strengthening national unity and developing a sustainable economy with agriculture and other local industries.
QIf you lose..
We will continue our efforts to voice against environmental issues. We will not think that people have rejected us. It is the outcome of a struggle to be a change within this corrupt system. This is an attempt to show people that they have an alternative party, an alternative group of contestants that they could vote for.