Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, in an interview with the Daily Mirror, spoke about the proposed move by President Maithripala Sirisena to call for a referendum and the crisis involving the President and the Cabinet.
Q What do you think of the crisis involving the Cabinet and President Maithripala Sirisena?
It is a bad precedence. Probably, this is the first time that such a crisis has erupted; probably in the world. There are two parties to the crisis. One or the other should take a step back. Or else, both the parties should make a compromise. The country is destabilised further under these current circumstances.
The Cabinet is important in policy implementation. No Government policy could be implemented without the Cabinet.
Q Who do you hold responsible for this crisis – the President or the Prime Minister?
I think both. In governing the country, they, both, should reach a consensus and forge ahead. They should learn to respect each other. Otherwise, the country cannot be governed. It is only the United National Party (UNP) that elected President Maithripala Sirisena while voting me out. President Sirisena, for the first time as the Leader of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), addressed a meeting at the UNP headquarters ‘Sirikotha’ once. It happened for the first time in the history of the SLFP. It’s also the President who sought assistance from the UNP. So, both of them should be made to account for the current mess.
It’s difficult to govern the country given the current scenario. It’s important to have an election as soon as possible. It should be either the Presidential Elections or the Parliamentary Elections.
Actually, the military of any country shouldn’t be allowed to gain a foothold in Sri Lanka. It applies not only to the United States, but also to China and India. We would not allow our soil to be used against the security interests of our friendly countries
Q Why are you requesting for a snap general election ahead of the presidential elections, which is anyway scheduled to be held by the end of 2019?
We’re ready for any election. Either election is not a problem for us. Whatever it is, we need an election at this hour, so that people can decide upon. At one point, the President afforded the opportunity for a general election, but the judiciary ruled it out. Today, we see the consequences of that judicial decision. If we had conducted the elections at that moment, we could have averted the present crisis.
The country plunged into further instability eventually making way for the Easter
Q The Presidential Elections are anyway scheduled. Is it practical to have a general election ahead of it?
There could be practical issues. We, the main opposition, are on a sound footing regardless of whatever election that comes first. I don’t know the response of the Government to our call for a general election. The Joint Opposition is scheduled to discuss this matter.
Q Was there a discussion with the Government on the dissolution of Parliament?
No. We have conveyed our message through the media. We always request to have elections.
Q Parliament could be dissolved only with a two-thirds majority. This means the government’s support is needed. Is it possible for you to get it?
The President is ready for a general election. When I met him, I asked him to get in touch with the Prime Minister and reach a consensus in this regard. The President believes that he can dissolve Parliament by getting the approval of the people through a referendum. As far as I know, it is impossible. Parliamentary consent is needed for it. I learned that the Attorney General has been consulted in this regard.
Q What is your assessment of the security situation in the country after the Easter Sunday attack?
We aren’t satisfied with the security situation in general. But, it’s better than before; that can be said going by what the Inspector General of Police and the Army Commander says. This isn’t something similar to LTTE terrorism. As with the LTTE, it amounted to the execution of orders that came from its leadership. Here, we don’t know who gives orders to carry out attacks. Anybody can become an extremist and carry out terrorist attacks. Extremism leads to terrorism.
Q What do you propose as a measure of de-radicalisation if you would resume power?
It can be done through some legal measures. Likewise, some decisions can be taken after consulting the religious leadership.
Q What are the legal measures you contemplate?
We have to introduce legal provisions after consulting the religious leadership. We have to unify personal laws. We have Thesawalami Law, Kandyan Law and Muslim Law etc. There has to be one age limit for marriage applicable for all communities. Then, we could prevent polygamy. I have toured Middle Eastern countries and Africa where polygamy is practised. When such families are invited for official functions by their Governments, only one wife is allowed to be present from a single family unit.
In Sri Lanka, in the case of polygamous families, all the wives are invited for such functions. We have seen the husband seated in-between his two or many wives during official events. It isn’t a practice you find in other countries as far as I know. The Government seems to be encouraging it. With regard to Government functions, a husband should be allowed to accompany only one wife.
Q These personal laws have been in existence for decades. Then, all the successive Governments have to be held responsible for failing to unify them so as to have a common identity for the wife. What do you feel?
Actually, the crisis has emerged only now. There would have been polygamous families. It has come out only now. It was kept in the dark at that time. So, the country didn’t see it as a problem.
Q The economy is unstable. How do you intend to revive the economy if you became the leader of the country again?
If there is a stable government, the economy would take off. Tourism would grow. Taxation has to be simplified. Otherwise, it’s difficult to encourage investments.
Q What are your economic priorities?
First of all, we need stability. Such a development would send a positive message to the world. National security is very important. We’re going to take over an unstable country.
Q Does that imply that you now face the same challenges as when you assumed power for the first time in 2005?
It’s more confusing now than then. We faced the same fiasco in 2005.
We’re ready for any election. Either election is not a problem for us. Whatever it is, we need an election at this hour, so that people can decide upon. At one point, the President afforded the opportunity for a general election, but the judiciary ruled it out
Q You had talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who visited Sri Lanka. How do you see Modi’s reelection?
It was a good meeting. His visit has to be weighed in today’s context. He came in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. His visit is a positive signal to the promotion of tourism. It’s a guarantee that there is improvement in national security.
Q You have interacted with Modi on several occasions. What is your view about his reelection?
He’s a political leader who has consistent ideas. He’s a strong leader.
Q Modi has taken a strong position against Islamic terrorism. How useful would his leadership be in curbing terrorism in Sri Lanka?
Stability of the Modi Government in India is beneficial to Sri Lanka. I don’t think it would be a disadvantage.
Q There are talks about a military to military cooperation agreement with the United States. It’s reported that US personnel would enjoy legal immunity here. What is your view?
Actually, the military of any country shouldn’t be allowed to gain a foothold in Sri Lanka. It applies not only to the United States, but also to China and India. We would not allow our soil to be used against the security interests of our friendly countries.
Q During your time, you faced challenges from the West. How did you counter it?
We didn’t encounter any problems as far as investments were concerned. We sought financial assistance from China for infrastructure development in the form of borrowings and grant aid. The US is the largest financial investor in Sri Lanka. It means we got assistance from the western world as well. That is because we had a stable government. When the economy starts improving, investors arrive.
We need to take steps to develop ties with the Western world.
Q Yes, relationships in the economic front were good. I am referring to challenges in the economic front.
We received assistance to defeat terrorism when George W. Bush was the President of America. But, things changed in the US Government after him. We have to negotiate and move forward.
Q What is your opinion of the Parliamentary Select Committee that is probing the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks?
Our MPs also signed the motion calling for the setting up of this committee. Yet, we never thought that the PSC would be a mere publicity stunt for the Government. The PSC questioned intelligence chief Sisira Mendis. Afterwards, he was asked to step down. The Government has made a mockery of the PSC. The Government’s intention is clear. It’s targeting a particular personage. There was a system at that time when we used to obtain information from the LTTE. We infiltrated the LTTE. Likewise, we have to infiltrate extremist, radical groups. For that, we need money. It’s something normal. Otherwise, we cannot plant informants. They won’t divulge information without a return.
Q There’re talks between Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). How realistic is an alliance ahead of a national election?
Talks are underway. I don’t know how it would end. We receive mixed messages. On one occasion, the President said he would offer support if there is a new leader in the UNP. I don’t know whether the statement is tactical or genuine. We have to take stock of things in the wake of such messages.
Q What is the stand of SLPP?
We have to negotiate.
Q How optimistic are you of talks?
I remain optimistic. I don’t look at anything pessimistically.
Q When will you announce the presidential candidate of your party?
We would do it at our convention.
Q When is it?
On a day in September, we would make the announcement. There are different views. We have one person interested in contesting. There may be others.
Q President Sirisena is also interested in contesting. What is your view?
There is a rumour that he is planning to contest. I cannot trust rumours.