Joint Opposition’s MP for the Galle District Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, in an interview with the Daily Mirror, spoke about the current political developments and how the country should move forward. Here are excerpts of the interview:
- Building of social pressure makes them leave
- UNPers are also disillusioned with the Govt
- In politics, one can expect the unexpected
- Present Provincial Council system is sufficient
- If President formed a Govt with UNP, why can’t he join hands with MR?
- The UNP failed to ensure development when compared with what we did at that time
Q In the current political climax, what is the Joint Opposition up to?
It’s a matter for the members who have joined the Government to decide in this regard. You can see a clear contrast of policies between the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). It’s clear that today’s governance is based on the policies of the UNP. Then, it’s up to the SLFP members who value the party’s policies to leave the Government. It’s a matter of time. I think a significant number of members who are with the Government will leave. The rest will also take a decision. Social pressure is developing gradually. Therefore, those who wish to remain with the Government will also have to decide some time later.
Q In your view, how ready are you to form a Government?
Politically, it’s a game of numbers. We need 113 members to form a Government. We have only 51 at the moment. Quite a number of the UNPers are also displeased with the status of the economy. They aren’t happy with the current leadership of the party. It’s a matter of time before they also come out.
Q Some people talk about uniting the Joint Opposition and the SLFP section in the Government. Yet, there’s a lot of antagonism between the two main leaders-President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. How feasible is the suggestion to unite the two factions led by them?
In politics, we can expect the unexpected. The President was able to form a coalition Government with the UNP. The SLFP and the UNP were parties that were at loggerheads with each other. If they could come together, why can’t President Sirisena and the former President come together? Those possibilities are open actually. We can expect the unexpected in politics. They criticize each other. The situation can change overnight. We never know.
It isn’t a long time since we passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. In this instance, a two-thirds approval is needed to dissolve Parliament. That’s to avoid haphazard elections.
Q The UNP and the SLFP were at loggerheads with each other over political issues. However, there is bitterness between the President and the former President over some personal reasons. What do you say about it?
I don’t see them as personal issues. Everybody wants to obtain power and retain it. Earlier, he (the President) said serious things about the Rajapaksa family. Nothing happened over a period of time. Probably, that side would have realized that nothing could be done. We, as outsiders, can’t see what is happening within. Anything is possible.
Q As an MP representing the Joint Opposition, what is your opinion on the move to unite the two factions?
As a person who believes in democracy, I prefer a change of Government after some time. I think it’s good for the country to experience a difference. We governed the country for 20 years starting from 1994, barring a two-year period in between. It was good that people wanted to experience a change. People who voted for the Swan symbol can see for themselves what is happening in the country. They see the restrictions in the public service, pruning of Government subsidies and the neglecting of the agriculture sector. I think it’s good that the people experienced these things. When it comes to the next General Elections, people can consider the potential of the two sides and make an informed decision. But, people are denied of elections. The local Government Elections are being postponed. There are moves underway to postpone the Provincial Council Elections. As a result, people can’t express themselves. If we go for an election, we will be able to see what people are thinking. Unfortunately, people don’t have the opportunity to vote.
Q How do you view the constitution making process?
Right from the beginning, opinion was adivided in this regard. Some people wanted to boycott it from the very beginning. Some others believe that we should participate in the process to know what the Government is up to. Unfortunately, the SLFP hasn’t put forward its proposals. Also, the UNP hasn’t put forward its proposals either. There are certain drafts available consequent to the report by the Public Representation Committee. We learned that there were moves to set up a Federal form of Government. We are opposed to it.
They see the restrictions in the public service, pruning of Government subsidies and the neglecting of the agriculture sector. I think it’s good that the people experienced these things. When it comes to the next General Elections, people can consider the potential of the two sides and make an informed decision.
Q Actually, your father strongly advocated the devolution of power. What is your position on the devolution of power?
The provincial council system is sufficient given the current situation. Actually, there are economic related issues in the north and the east. The Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council has failed even to spend the total allocations that were made. In that sense, even the powers vested with the council aren’t used properly. Why should they ask for more powers? After the enactment of the 19th Amendment, the executive powers of the President were also curtailed. I think we have to retain the Executive Presidency in the current form. We have to be happy with the 13th Amendment. I believe the status quo should remain.
Q With the 19th Amendment, the President has lost the power to dissolve Parliament for four and half years. What is your opinion?
It’s good to have a stable Parliament. That is more important. The President can’t unnecessarily interfere with the duration of the Parliament. I think what has happened is good. The Executive Presidency was under criticism for a period of time because the President could control Parliament. When it’s taken away, it’s good for democracy. Parliament enjoys independence for four and half years.
Q Today, the Parliament can be dissolved with a two-thirds majority under the 19th Amendment. Some argue that a simple majority should suffice to seek such a motion and dissolve Parliament. What is your position?
It isn’t a long time since we passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. In this instance, a two-thirds approval is needed to dissolve Parliament. That’s to avoid haphazard elections. If it’s a simple majority, it will provide for the constant dissolution of Parliament. There is nothing wrong with the current clause.
Q What is the way forward for the Joint Opposition?
It’s a bit of a complex situation in politics where the country is concerned. The people who voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015 are still with us. Some have joined the Government for personal benefits. They look for personal favours. At a decisive election, everyone will join hands with us. There will be two political camps in the country. One is the UNP led camp and the other the anti-UNP camp.
Everybody wants to obtain power and retain it. Earlier, he (the President) said serious things about the Rajapaksa family. Nothing happened over a period of time. Probably, that side would have realized that nothing could be done.
Q Initially, you said some UNPers are also disillusioned with the Government. How certain are you about it?
We keep in touch with them in Parliament. We talk to each other about politics, personal issues etc. It’s a common thing. The UNP talked about one million job opportunities. It fell far short of meeting this target. The UNP failed to ensure development when compared with what we did at that time. The UNPers aren’t in a position to deliver. We can understand their disappointment.
Q It means they will join hands with you later on?
It has to be a decisive election. People defeated the person who defeated terrorism. Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated the scourge of terrorism that plagued this country for 30 years. I have no doubt about the impending predicament of the present rule.