Amidst allegations about widespread election violence, how is the JVP positioning itself for the Uva Provincial Council Election?
A special significance has been attached to the Uva Provincial Council Elections. It is something more than a provincial council election. Early next year, the government seems to be planning a presidential election. Therefore, this election has virtually become a political experiment to assess the standing of each party ahead of such a major election. Today, the Uva people have begun to feel the pinch of the exploitive approaches of this government. The general public is rising against the government. Therefore, the government intends to use violence to suppress that emerging public surge and has done it. Today, one is scared even to talk over the phone. That fear psychosis has gripped people in the Uva Province today.
How do you get your message across to the general public against this violence?
The government might have been successful in restraining various political fronts, individuals and organisations through oppression. Yet, ours is a different political outfit. We will not shy away from such oppressive violent approaches. We will never turn back in the face of oppression and will continue with our campaign as planned, come what may. There are various forms of violence - intimidation, attacks on party supporters, and the use of armed groups.
Do you point your finger at any party or individual as responsible for this situation?
It is clear that the ruling party is behind such violence.
Yet, Minister Susil Premajayantha charged that the JVP was also involved in violence. How do you refute this allegation?
Minister Premajayantha is responsible for the import of inferior quality petroleum, which damaged vehicles, and caused major losses. That happened when he was the subject minister. When he was the education minister, there were frauds in Grade I admissions. Now, he is the environmental and renewable energy Minister. I am aware of his involvement in aiding and abetting in the unlawful felling of trees and running of illicit quarries. Today, he is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
For his survival, he is supposed to make any statement to please the Rajapakse administration. The government, or the president for that matter, should declare whether they are going to conduct free and fair elections or elections plagued with violence. Normally, unleashing violent goons with firearms is not the way to conduct elections. If the use of violence is the government’s policy, we challenge the government to announce it publicly. If they are for such a policy, we can work out alternative strategies to stand up to it. We need clarity now.
The Elections Commissioner should tell openly whether it is possible for him to ensure free and fair elections or not. Only he has powers in terms of the acts passed in parliament to take action in this direction. We also ask IGP N.K. Ilangakoon to announce in clear-cut terms whether it is possible for him to contain violence raging in the province. If he is unable to act, he should say it openly.
Yet, the Elections Commissioner complains about the lack of powers to deal with some cases. What are your views?
We can discuss how he can legally be empowered more. Yet, he should be able to use powers already vested in him to arrest the current trend. First, we are asking him to act with powers already vested in him. If anyone is unable to act within the parameters of power already given, he or she cannot do a better job with more powers. On the nomination day, processions were prohibited. But, a ruling party candidate conducted a vehicular procession. An assistant elections commissioner who tried to stop it was threatened with death by this candidate. Video equipment that filmed the incident was dashed on the ground. We know the present election law does not have enough teeth. However, the commissioner should properly use whatever powers he already has.
What kind of election law violations can he stop with powers already vested in him?
He can stop voters being bribed through various ways. He can stop conducting unlawful processions, and running party offices. The present law is strong enough to take action against all these things.
What are the pressing problems you have identified in the Uva Province?
Poverty is the most serious issue. In interior rural villages, people do not have proper food, housing, and educational facilities for their children. They lack basic healthcare. Their nutritional intake is minimal. The majority of expectant mothers suffer from anaemia. Seventeen percent of children below five suffer from severe malnutrition. In the estate sector, people are deeply engulfed in poverty.
Everywhere in the province, 60 percent of children are unsuccessful at the G.C.E. Ordinary Level Examination.
Only two percent of students qualify for university education after their Advanced Level Examination. The future of those dropping out from major exams is at stake.
How is the JVP seeking to address these issues?
Our economic system needs a major overhaul. We need to have a manufacturing economy. Currently, 93 percent of the country’s sugar is imported. The bulk of our chillie requirement is imported.
We import paper to meet almost the total requirement of the country. We import most of our essential items. Today, we rely on a service economy. Instead, we should opt for a manufacturing economy which ensures employment for our youth at various categories, be it managers or security guards.
Also, there should be criteria for the equitable distribution of wealth generated through such an economy.
To assess the public opinion ahead of major elections. How is that theory applicable to your party?
We firmly believe that the present regime should be unseated at any cost. We cannot further tolerate the plundering of the country’s wealth, the deterioration of law and order, rampant corruption, drug trafficking and the international isolation of Sri Lanka. No ruler should be allowed to be at the helm of affairs for 18 years at a stretch. The present President has held office for 12 years now. It is more than enough. Based on the public opinion reflected through the upcoming elections, we will work out our strategies for the next elections. Our main aim is to unseat this government.
What is the nature of your political strategy?
We are in the process of negotiations with political parties and organisations. We should not announce anything unilaterally. We will consider it seriously only after the Uva Elections, and take any decision.
There is a general belief that there will be a common political formation comprising all the parties in the opposition as happened at the 2010 Presidential Election. How true is it?
There is no need to rush into any decision. First, the President has no moral right to contest for the third time. The Constitution did not provide for that. The JVP will not hesitate to take a decision in favour of the country and the general public. A two-thirds majority is required to amend certain Articles of our Constitution. For the amendment of some other constitutional provisions, a referendum is required in addition to the two-thirds majority in Parliament. It means a party should have a two-thirds majority in the House to amend the Constitution. It is a huge mandate. Yet, the present government enjoys a two-thirds in Parliament only through political manipulations. It did not get a majority at the elections. It lured some opposition MPs into its fold through the offer of various benefits. Legal actions initiated against some members were retracted after they joined hands with the government. Therefore, the enactment of the 18th Amendment through such a manipulated majority is morally unacceptable. We cannot understand why there is a plan to declare an early presidential election. There are two more years for the completion of the current term.
We will push for the declaration of the presidential election only at the appropriate time. If the government declares it prematurely, we will face it anyhow.
Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva has also challenged the constitutionality of the president contesting for the third time. Do you subscribe to that stand?
We should not be taking what he said seriously these days. More than giving legal interpretations, he seems to be giving political interpretations.
Do you think there will be a common candidate this time?
We have not reached any finalisations in this respect, but believe that we should rally the people of this country around a common programme for a phenomenal change in the entire system.
What are the issues identified to be addressed through such a common front?
It is about ensuring equality, rule of law, good governance and equitable economic opportunities.
It is said that the abolition of the executive presidency is the primary target of this common political formation being planned at the moment. How true is it?
It is true that the executive presidency has caused enormous problems in our society today. Yet, the abolition of it alone does not suffice in addressing these issues. We do not expect to replace one party with another in governance. We should look beyond that to bring about a phenomenal change in the country.
Have you identified a specific person to be nominated as the common candidate?
We have not decided on anything yet.
There are reports that JVP will not support any UNP stalwart coming as the presidential candidate.
Yes, it is true. Then, a UNP stalwart cannot be a common candidate. Then, there cannot be a common political approach.
Is there a change in JVP policy under your leadership?
Actually, we did not have any problem regarding our policies and approaches. Yet, there were concerns about relating these policies to the general public. There are certain areas where we need changes. We are now striving to explain our political ideology to the general public.
What is the outlook of your policy on international relations especially under the changing circumstances in the world?
Today a new world order is emerging. In the 1990s, the communist bloc based in Soviet Russia and the capitalist bloc based in the United States held sway in world affairs. In the 1980s, our neighbouring country was with Russia. Today, that country has close ties with the US.
China is emerging today as a new economic powerhouse. India is making giant strides in that direction. The global powerbase is shifting in this way. In the Arab world, anti-US sentiments are rising high. Bearing all such developments in mind, we will opt for a foreign policy that ensures economic benefits.
We will pursue our foreign policy to get technology and capital required for the development of our country. We will deploy a set of diplomats armed with knowledge and skills to pursue our interests in the international arena.