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‘I don’t rule out the possibility of MR and MS patching up differences’-Basil
Published Date: 08/09/2017 (Friday)

By: Kelum Bandara

Former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, in an interview with Daily Mirror, spoke about his plans in view of the next elections. Rajapaksa, who spearheads Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna under the Flower Bud symbol, said that his side will win at future elections under any circumstances. Following are excerpts of the interview.  

  • The river flows to the sea, not the other way round
  • New political force led by MR to appeal to all ethnic communities
  • There are three standpoints among SLFP MPs serving the Govt
  • This Government doesn’t have a vision nor a mission
  • Recently TNA leader R. Sampanthan publicly invited Mahinda to join hands
  • Our vote base was split on ethnic and religious lines last time due to the activities of the Government as a whole
  • In literary terms, whatever the pitch we play on , we will win
  • It’s clear. We will contest in alliance with like minded parties



Q There are reports about a group SLFP MPs planning to leave the Government to team up with the Joint Opposition. Also, President Maithripala Sirisena said he would make the Government function till 2020 without any problem. What is your plan?
When he talks about running the country till 2020, he is referring to the power vested with him in terms of the Constitution. In fact, that is what he, along with Ven. Maduluwave Sobhitha Thera- who spearheaded the National Movement for Social Justice- advocated at that time. Ven. Sobhitha Thera worked for the scrapping of such powers. The President is advocating the very same position he pledged to abolish. People have to decide on how reasonable and justifiable it is. That is what late President J.R. Jayewardene also said when introducing the Executive Presidency in 1978. The President was elected to abolish it.   

The Local Government Elections will amount to be kind of a referendum for people to vent their frustration against the Government. It’s long overdue. The elections have never been postponed in this manner. We know the predicament of those who delayed elections in the past. After the postponement of election from 1975 to 1977, the SLFP was routed. Even President J. R. Jayewardene postponed elections by conducting a referendum. The present Government has done so without any valid reason.   

If the elections are conducted, the SLFP has three options. One is to go solo. The second option is to team up with the UNP and contest under a common symbol. The third option is join hands with the Joint Opposition against the UNP. The SLFP faction, currently remaining with the President, has members supporting these three options. If they go for the first two options, the party will be ruined politically. If they join hands with us, the party can be resurrected. Even President Sirisena will be able to keep afloat in politics then. The SLFPers will be divided on these three lines, I believe. One group will join us definitely.   

Segments of the society, whose basic needs were realized, started looking at fresh aspects in consideration for votes. In fact, it was the previous Government that addressed their basic needs such as good roads and education

Q Do you see any possibility of the President and the former President joining hands?
I saw media reports about talks to that effect. There is no such meeting to my knowledge. I don’t rule out the possibility of it happening either. Let alone, a river flows to the sea. It is not the other way round. People are only with the Joint Opposition. Others can join these people as a river flows to the sea.   

Q There are reports that the President asked them to remain till December. What will happen then?
It’s up to them to decide on. They will take the appropriate decision.   

Q There is speculation that the Government is planning to postpone the election further without conducting it in December. What are you going to do about it?
This Government doesn’t have a vision nor a mission. When we enacted the law providing for the election under a new system, we amended the Urban Council Ordinance, Municipal Council Ordinance and Pradeshiya Sabha Act alongside. This Government turned everything upside down by making amendments to the law we brought it. Now, I cooperated with the Parliamentary Select Committee headed by Dinesh Gunawardane to introduce the Ward Based Electoral System. I submitted SLFP’s proposals on behalf of the party. In fact, President Sirisena signed the document with these proposals as the then SLFP General Secretary. I worked out these proposals in consultation with those in the party.   

Q The Government finds fault that the election was delayed due to delimitation issues created at that time. What is your response?
Actually, the report of this committee was released during the present rule. The report was announced in a gazette notification by President Sirisena in 2015. What was announced in the gazette notification was not the recommendations of delimitation of wards during our time. They had enough time to amend them.   

Then, the Asoka Peiris Committee was appointed. That committee has made minor changes. In some cases, there are changes to the numbers assigned to wards. As for the Badulla District, the changes are negligible. If the entire delimitation process was inaccurate, there should have been major changes.   

It has been more than one year after the process under the present rule was over. Yet, the elections are delayed. Why is it?  

In literary terms, whatever the pitch we play on , we will win. It’s like our cricket team in the past. Our team used to win everywhere.  

Q Do you believe that the elections will be conducted?
We trust the Election Commission of Sri Lanka. There were complains that the pitch wasn’t ready for the match. Now, the Government has incorporated amendments prepared by the Commission.   

Q Will you form a broad front to contest the elections?
It’s clear. We will contest in alliance with like minded parties.  

Q At the last couple of elections, your side lost votes, not only among the minorities, but also among the majority community to a great extent. How are you going to rectify it?
Our vote base was split on ethnic and religious lines last time due to the activities of the Government as a whole. We can’t hold former President Mahinda Rajapaksa solely responsible for it. Most of the Ministers, who served during our time, are now part of the present rule. In the Gampaha District I represented, there is a large Catholic community. These votes were divided on religious lines, impacting the final result. In the Southern Province, we lost only two urban electorates- Galle and Matara. They are electorates with large concentrations of non-Buddhists.   

We, as the political force led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, want to represent all the ethnic and religious groups. The Government’s ad hoc decisions have impacted all, cutting across ethnic and communal lines. In fact, the estate Tamil community has been the worst hit by the actions of this Government. They are hard hit today by increases cost of living. They are unable to afford to have three meals a day. Their housing conditions are dire. We have started addressing these people.   

Recently, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan publicly invited Mahinda Rajapaksa to join hands and resolve problems that exist. Sampanthan met with Rajapaksa recently after that. He said only Rajapaksa could bring peace to the country. Likewise, he said only Rajapaksa would be able to unite the communities one day.   

Q But, the political parties representing the minorities remain full-hearted with the present Government. How can you attract votes then?
In the run up to the last Presidential Elections, as far as the minority political leaders were concerned, they left us at a later stage. In fact, their people, particularly Muslims, abandoned us much earlier. We sensed it. One Muslim leader met me before the day he left us, and talked to me for two or three hours. He said that the Muslim people had made up their mind to vote against Rajapaksa. Therefore, he said his presence would be of no use. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) also said the same to me. It means people no longer follow leaders. Muslim people are ahead of their political leaders. We experience the same in the estate sector.  

In the past, we addressed these people through various political agents. We have moved away from this practice now. We will build our own political organizations within these communities to address them. When Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was formed at that time, late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike involved Muslim leaders such as Bathiudeen Mohamed etc. There was a socialist Islamic front in our party. It was scrapped after the 1977 defeat. Then, we started mobilizing Muslims through other organizations. The SLFP and the United National Party (UNP) had Muslim leaders at secondary and third levels.   

After the formation of the SLMC by A.H.M. Ashraff, the Muslim leaders lost their bases in the mainstream parties. There would have been a need for a separate party for Muslims at that time. It was harmful. Ashraff realized it later. That is why, he nominated a Sinhalese on the National List to Parliament. Unfortunately, he died prematurely. The next SLMC leadership didn’t care about those things. The mainstream parties should directly address these people now.   

Q Have you appointed new Muslim leaders for this purpose?
Actually, the demise of Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana is a great loss to us. The death of A.H.M. Azwer is another blow to us. We have identified village level leaders for the party (Us) from among our Local Government members. We have provincial level leaders. In the future, we will produce national level leaders.   

Q Actually, at the last elections, you lost the votes of the Sinhalese community in great numbers. How do you address it?
We have to give serious mind to it. Gampaha is the district with the highest number of professionals and educated people. It also serves as an education hub due to the large number of private tuition classes for Advance Level students. Apart from major businessmen, we find medium and small scale entrepreneurs here. There was a shift among these people at the last election. In addition to professionals and middle class voters, first time voters went against us. They will become the decisive factor at future elections. Their expectations were shattered during the last couple of years. The higher the expectations, the greater the disappointment. That is what happened to these people.   

Even Muslims and Tamils pinned high hopes on the Government. Their hopes have been dashed today.   

Segments of the society, whose basic needs were realized, started looking at fresh aspects in consideration for votes. In fact, it was the previous Government that addressed their basic needs such as good roads, education and healthcare facilities etc. Then, they scaled up the next level of the social ladder. After that, they considered having a  change. They were sensitive and listened to criticism levelled against us by the other side. Some were baseless allegations. There was the legitimate allegation of a Samurdhi official being tied to a tree.  

The Local Government Elections will amount to be kind of a referendum for people to vent their frustration against the Government. It’s long overdue. The elections have never been postponed in this manner 

Q In a sociological context, it’s a natural phenomenon for people to be sensitive to broad concepts such as the rule of law, corruption free society with their upward mobility. Why didn’t the previous Government pay attention to it?
That matter was raised. A Minister, who was with us and is now with the present Government, raised it. We discussed it at great length. Yet, this particular Minister advocated tough rule- as in Indonesia and Malaysia at that time- to take the economic development to the next stage. He stressed the need for such rigid administration to improve the per capita income of the country from US $ 4000 to US $ 12,000. He said all Asian countries achieved this target with some sort of dictatorship and not through pure democratic models. President Rajapaksa directly objected to it. In the fight against terrorism, we only launched a humanitarian operation.   

As you said, we knew this phenomenon. Alongside, there was another school of thought. They said there were basic issues confronting people in other districts of the country. Rather than addressing the concerns of the urban people, some advocated the need to address basic needs of people in other districts.    

Source: Daily Mirror

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