Namal Rajapaksa, the son of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Hambanthota District parliamentarian, in a candid interview with the Dailymirror responded to allegations against him, the state of the country, broken promises and the way forward.
We are in the last phase of the election campaign. How do you see it progressing as of now and where do you see it headed towards?
This has been one of the shortest election campaigns this country has witnessed. This is an election in which the campaign lasts for only 3 or 4 weeks, and I think we have done very well. When we go to the village and speak to our people the response has been very good.
Is it cause for concern though that many of those who voted for this government, have now steered away from you all?
Not many. There are a few of those who left us. We saw the same thing happening during the last presidential election where General Fonseka, who was my fathers’ right hand man, contested against him. It is basically the same thing because Mr. Sirisena was one of my father’s closest friends and allies for the last 47 years. So it isn’t anything new to us, or for our party. If you are to look at the history of the SLFP for instance, out of the 14 General Secretaries, eight of them had at some point left the party. So I don’t think it is right to say that everyone who was with us are now against us. There are a few people who have gone, but I am very sure that the vote base did not shift with them. It is just the individuals who have shifted for personal reasons.
But one of the main cries of even the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), who were with your father right throughout is that this country is moving towards disaster, with rampant corruption, family bandyism, nepotism etc. Don’t you agree that there is some sort of justification to what they have been saying?
No! I don’t agree, because many of these allegations don’t have any sort of base or foundation. The corruption allegation has been used over the years starting from 1947 when G.G. Ponnambalam was accused of it as the Minister in Charge of Fisheries. Since then successive governments have been blamed for corruption. But what they refer to now has no ground, and it looks like it is simply said because of the lack of any other campaign slogan. For example they are talking about the corruption revolving around the highways, but the actual fact is that the tender for its construction was given way before President Rajapaksa came into power, although the construction never took-off. So every person who blames President Rajapaksa for the allegations regarding the highway, to look at the work of the predecessors because it wasn’t him who gave tenders. At the same time what they ignore is the ground situation - the amount we have paid for land acquisition, the bridges, exits, and other safety mechanisms that have been taken in building the highway. They just make the allegations for the sake of making them with no grounds or reasons.
But Champika Ranawaka wrote a book titled “ Aala Paalu Aarthikaya” in which he details specifically of how in the power sector or the construction sector there have been rampant abuse of state resources and corruption?
Well that book has a story, but it is devoid of fact. It’s a story with no proper proof. Even I can write a book about something but that doesn’t make it fact. There was a book written about a previous president as well, but its not what you write. Rather, it has to be based on fact and proof. One can always argue and build up some sort of story or drama out of it, but that doesn’t mean it is true, isn’t it? What people should always look at is whether it is based on facts.
Moving on, one of the main cries of the SLFP’s old guard is the people who have surrounded the President today are all new people. Those who were not with him when he came in to power nor throughout his career as a politician. For example, the most vociferous campaigners and strategist today among others are Johnston Fernando and Sajin Vaas Gunawardena. It is alleged that these people have corrupted the thinking of the President . Don’t you agree?
No. I don’t agree with that, because the SLFP’s old guard is still with the President. But yes of course, there are certain upcoming leaders who have been highlighted. Now they haven’t been highlighted by the President or the government, but they have highlighted themselves because of their talent. So when one wants an excuse to bring someone down or to attack someone, this is the sort of thing that they would resort to. These have no proper base.
Moving towards the work that you have been doing with ‘Tharunyata Hetak’ and the youth, in actual fact we have many youth desperately wanting to get out of this country. There have been no industries at all that this government has created. Do you think the Youth are actually benefitting from this government?
No one can say that there are no industries in Sri Lanka, there have been many industries initiated than there was before. But they haven’t fully taken-off as yet and that is the fact. If I was to ask you the same question as to how long would it take to start and create a sustainable business, or build a 40-storey building?, the answer should be at least 4 to 5 years. We ended the war only five years ago, and we have begun our journey. The Ports have been established, there are industrial zones around the country, the Oluwil Port is currently underway together with the Colombo city expansion. The backbone of any industrial country is its solid infrastructure. To this end we have created solid infrastructure which would pave and help the industries. If you build roads, highways, ports, airports, 100% electricity, and other such infrastructure, then in time you will see people investing in factories. Otherwise what we would only see are the city-based businesses developing.
Do you think the rural masses who form the majority of this country, benefitting from these development drives. We still have a very large number of families depending on the Samurdhi. Have they benefited from this development drive?
Obviously they have. If you go to the villages you will see how it has impacted them. The rural areas have witnessed a lot of growth, more schools, clean water, electricity, more teachers, good roads resulting in the upliftment of the living standards of our people. Talking about the Samurdhi beneficiaries, at one point, the biggest allegation that the opposition brought was that the Samurdhi was cut down, now they are blaming us for giving the Samurdhi. That is why I am saying that all these allegations are baseless, and are campaign-oriented. This is politics without policies. They have to argue on policies and debate them, instead of making baseless allegations, or break reputations.
Let’s talk about policies then, the abolishing of the Executive Presidency was a key policy of your fathers manifesto in both 2005 and 2010. But what the country ultimately saw was him enacting the 18th amendment which further strengthened the executive presidency to the detriment of democracy in the country. Why did your government not keep to its promises?
See, he appointed the parliament select committee, but the opposition did not take part. Without the TNA and the UNP were taking part, if the SLFP does it on its own, then, is it really democracy? It would be something that President Rajapaksa wants. What you have to understand is that we need a constitution that everyone accepts - not what the SLFP, or the UNP, or the TNA or the SLMC wants. It has to be all encompassing and should be a collective decision. It is the constitution and not a piece of paper that could be thrown away overnight. So it has to be made after a series of discussions. A Parliamentary Select Committee was appointed and they did not take part in that and now it is unfair for them to ask us why it wasn’t abolished. You can’t do that. But if they had participated, and there were discussions, and thereafter if they had made this allegation, then there can be some justification. But that is not the case.
But despite you saying that, the All-Party Representative Committee headed by Prof. Tissa Witharana which met for years with all parties present to look into the national question, prepared a report which after being submitted to the President was completely forgotten? Isn’t there a contradiction to what you are saying?
No. You can’t actually say that. There is a process to everything, this has to come to parliament, and has to be debated and passed. Without doing that you can’t say President Rajapaksa is not abolishing what he promised, you have to go through the process. When there is a proper process in place, one cannot take part in it and complain. If they want the constitution to be amended then they should have taken part and come up with the proper solution.
Many in the opposition have been very vocal about the princes of the kings family. I have a few pointed questions regarding them. Do you or your family own horses that you have imported from England?
No. We don’t have any horses in Nuwara-eliya or anywhere. As I said, this is again an example of politics without policies and slinging mud at me and us.
A Helicopter is not something you can keep in my office in Hambantota or anywhere else. You can’t bring in something like that just because you are the President’s son. Even if you are the King’s son, you can’t bring down a Helicopter without following the procedures.
Along the same line, the night races in Colombo and the Lamborghinis have been a point of attack. Why would you have a night race in Colombo, rather than feeding the poor when there is so much poverty in the country?
Night races were organised by Carlton Sports, and just because it has the name of our house in Tangalle everyone thinks that we are solely doing it. No. It is a separate organisation. The Night Races were done as a tourism promotion tool. Singapore has night races, and Malaysia has them too. I think we are the only country in the region that does not have Formula one racing. Every other country in the region has a Formula one racing track. This Lamborghini story is a lie; everyone knows we don’t own one. These are just created for political mud slinging. At the same time, I must say that my second brother Yoshita is the President of the Elle Federation and he organised the first Elle Conference in 100 years. Last year the Elle finals were played under flood lights, but no one talks about it. Elle has been a sport that has been neglected for years. When we do something and we are 100% involved and no one talks about it. Instead, if we are just helping something out or helping an organisation that we believe would help the country, then they would start attacking them.
But the thinking behind what they are saying is that you are feeding the super rich, instead of actually focusing on the masses of the country isn’t it?
How can you say that based on one particular project that is happening in Colombo? We have built roads, provided electricity, given clean drinking water and invested millions of rupees to uplift rural infrastructure and the rural economy. Our government and it’s policies are based on the rural economy. Its focused on giving the rural families an opportunity that the urban society experiences. We also do have a policy also of taking the urban development to rural areas, and bringing the rural beauty to urban areas. So, I don’t agree with what you are saying.
There is a sense of feeling that this country is ruled by superstition and rituals, and there is a notion to the effect that even the dates for the election were determined by an astrologer. As a young parliamentarian, are you a believer of these rituals?
Yes! I do believe in rituals. You can’t call yourself a Sri Lankan if you don’t. That is our foundation and that is the culture of many countries in our region. But that doesn’t mean that the elections were decided on what the astrologer had to say. We have to admit however, that we, as individuals from the day we were born have been practicing rituals and doing things at auspicious times. We are happy and proud about it. There is no reason that I should say that I don’t believe in it because that’s who we are.
Mr. Rajapaksa, what is it that you are holding in your hand?
Even my father has something like this. We believe that it is a part of religion and ritual. One thing in my life is that I don’t question God. If its something good and it is blessed, I won’t question that.
Finally, Mr. Sujeewa Senasinghe challenged you for an open debate, are you willing to debate him?
I don’t think it was me who he has challenged, instead I think it was the other Presidential candidate that he had challenged because there is no point challenging me. I’m not the candidate. However, I would debate him after the campaign; I am currently caught up with the elections and the campaign.