- Speaker’s stubbornness triggered turbulence in P’ment
- Executive, Legislature and Judiciary cannot function in contrast to each other
- PM is working to get majority in House
- It is good that SLFP factions are united
Fisheries, Aquatic Resources Development and Rural Economic Affairs Minister Wijith Wijayamuni Zoysa speaks about the change of government. He served in the same post under the previous UNP-led government representing Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s faction loyal to President Maithripala Sirisena. Excerpts of the interview:
QHow do you see the decision taken by the President to bring about change?
I always stand by the decisions of President Maithripala Sirisena. He takes well-calculated decisions. The President said he offered the premiership to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya first, and then to MP Sajith Premadasa. Since they refused to accept the offer, the President offered it to Mahinda Rajapaksa. He accepted the post. The President took the decision, be it correct or not. He is the head of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). I am a long-standing member of that party. I stood by the President. That is it.
QNow the new government faces a crisis in mustering the majority in Parliament. How can you resolve it?
Minister Wasantha Senanayake, who defected from the new Cabinet, returned to it. Prime Minister Rajapaksa is acting to ensure the majority. I believe there will be no problem.
QWhat do you think about the turbulence in Parliament recently?
I find fault in both sides. Primarily, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya should act in understanding with President Maithripala Sirisena. In my view, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary cannot function in contrast to each other. The three arms of governance should collaborate and follow a common path. Only then will there be stability in the country. I noticed these three arms taking different routes. It does not bode well for the country.
The President delivered an announcement to the Speaker to be read out in the House. There is a procedure to be followed in the conduct of Parliamentary affairs. I have years of experience in Parliament as a member. The Speaker, at the beginning, reads out the announcements by the President. That is the practice. Yet, he did not do it on that day. The Speaker acted in a ‘stubborn’ manner and steamrolled his way in the presence of foreign envoys in the VIP gallery. It triggered turbulence in Parliament. It is not a healthy sign of any democracy. That is what I see.
QThe UNP called this an unlawful government. But the government says it is legitimate. In that context, how feasible is it for you to discharge ministerial functions?
Relevant officials, in a situation like this, tend to be neutral without doing much work. But the ministers, if they are smart enough, can do some work even under present circumstances. I do my work. My officials cooperate with me. The others can also do the same. Nothing prohibits them from working. We do normal work.
QPresident Sirisena forged ties with his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa shedding their political rivalries. Did you anticipate it?
It is the nature of politics. In fact, it is a characteristic of politics. Nobody can rule out such developments in politics.
QIs this unity good for the country in your view?
There is nothing wrong with it. The SLFP factions have united. It is good in the greater interests of the party. This should translate into the betterment of the country as well. That is my wish. We should come out of the present impasse. There are four key persons here; the President, the Speaker, the Prime Minister and the former Prime Minister. They are duty-bound to address it. We are also responsible.
QAfter the electoral defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015, you compared it to a situation in which the father is dead in a family (Appachchi Malo). You said there was no use of lamenting over and over again if the father were dead. Now, you have to do politics again with Mr. Rajapaksa whom you referred to as a dead duck. What do you feel now?
I spoke to him. His son MP Namal Rajapaksa called on me. His brother Basil Rajapaksa contacted me over the phone. I met with the Prime Minister upon his request. I categorically told him that I could not be bought over by anyone in politics. I take decisions based on ideals only. I have a party. I have a leader. I act according to my conscience. If we crossover to another party, it should not be driven by inducements in terms of money or perks. If you are a politician with ideals, you should change your party in the national interests only. It is wrong to change politics for money and perks.
During the time of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, I experienced a similar political crisis. One MP from our district joined the other side. But I did not. We sat in the opposition. After a struggle, we won again.
- The President has every right to openly speak about what he feels is correct. He does not look at anything from his party’s point of view
- The three arms of governance should collaborate and follow a common path. Only then will there be stability in the country. I noticed these three arms taking different routes. It does not bode well for the country
QRecently, with reference to your ‘Appachchi Malo’ story, you said Appachchi resurrected after being placed in a coffin made of Rukattana wood. It is a kind of wood used for anti-venom treatment in traditional medicine. What did you imply by that statement?
Take a look at the situation. We are mobbed by local and foreign journalists eager to know what is going on. Whenever they see us, they flash their mikes and bombard us with questions. It is sometimes done with disregard to our privileges as MPs.
Once, a journalist asked whether I smuggled a sharp tool into the chamber of the House. I asked him not to raise such idiotic questions (Boru Prashna). I have been in politics for 30-40 years. In fact, we did active politics during the 1988/89 terror period.
QI am asking about the Appachchi Malo story…
That is what I am saying. We have buried the past. If we talk for hours, the media only highlight a few rhetorical points that sell for them. So people wonder whether we provide jokes. Some of these sayings are not even found in the traditional usage of our language. Some proverbs and sayings are not even found in traditional folklore. I myself have coined them. I am intending to publish a book on them. Once it is launched, you can read them.
QWhat is your experience in doing politics with the UNP?
I felt uncomfortable in certain instances. I boldly struggled on those occasions. I stood for the protection of local dairy farmers, dry-fish producers and the renovation of irrigation tanks. I struggled hard for it. I must tell you that our voice was heard.
QDid you wish to continue with the UNP-led government or to form an SLFP-led government?
The President is someone taking intelligent moves. He is competent enough to take quick, intelligent decisions. He is a politician with a thorough understanding on cohabitation politics. We are his followers. We can work with anyone. If President Sirisena and Prime Minister Rajapaksa can work together, why can’t we?
QWill you contest the next general election under a common front with Mr. Rajapaksa?
Yes, I will! It will be a common front.
QWhat are the reasons for President Maithripala Sirisena and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to be at loggerheads in the past?
First of all, we must understand that there were two opposing parties governing the country. Our policies are different by and large. The President is the head of State. Whatever anyone may say, the President and the Prime Minister forge with the government. The President has every right to openly speak about what he feels is correct. He does not look at anything from his party’s point of view. If officials of his staff get involved in anything wrong, the President will not try to exonerate them. In that sense, he is an amazing character. Our country is not used to such personage. The President expresses himself fearlessly.