The Sunday Leader

“Elections Must Be Held Under New Laws” – - Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero

By Ashanthi Warunasuriya

The Chairman of the National Movement for a Just Society and Chief Incumbent of the Kotte Sri Nagaviharaya Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero is known for his straightforwardness and courage in the country’s political arena since the 1980’s. He has been a much talked about figure in recent politics as being one of the most prominent figures who helped the new government to come into power.  In an interview with our sister paper Irudina, Venerable Sobitha Thero said that the government and President Maithripala Sirisena made a commitment prior to the presidential elections to end the Executive Presidency and reintroduce the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. However expressing his dissatisfaction with the present government for their lethargy in executing the promises made to the people he said that the present coalition made a commitment to change the electoral system and that the Commission to Investigation Allegations of Bribery or Corruption will be properly implemented and perpetrators will be penalised.

Excerpts of the interview:


Q. You were one of the key figures who were in the forefront of the political campaign to oust the previous regime and bring about the change in politics of this country. However after the appointment of the new regime, you have kept a rather low profile and remained silent. Why is that?

A:  Once the job is done there is no point in making a big hue and cry about it, hence I have taken a back seat. I have done my part and now it is up to those who were elected to keep their promise to the people, so now I am waiting patiently to see if they will honour their promises to the people or not. However since it is only a very short time since the new government was elected, lets give them some time and see what happens.


Q. You promoted the concept of a just society and good governance?

A:  Yes I did.


Q. But there are allegations that the current regime has deviated from their pledges to the people. What is your opinion on that?

A: This cannot be described as a deviation but what I see is a rather lethargic approach. Justice was meted out to the former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka and the former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. Further president Maithripala Sirisena has drastically reduced his expenditure, in comparison to the exorbitant expenditure of the previous president, setting a good example to the other politicians. However in spite of these changes I still do not see the new government addressing the main topics that were promised prior to the elections.


Q: Talking about the main topics, do you agree that even the most basic issues have not been addressed as yet?

A:  Yes people are wondering why this government has yet not addressed the issues that they promised to address, and under these circumstances, there could be severe consequences. However we are hopeful that they will address these issues during the 100 days as promised. This government is made up of all educated and experienced politicians. Hence they decided on the 100 days subsequent to weighing all the pros and cons and because it was achievable. Hence now it is their responsibility to keep their promise to the people, and we are waiting patiently and watching to see what they do.


Q: There are allegations that the new government is targeting their political opponents in a hate campaign though good governance was promised and not in accordance with the law. How do you see this situation?

A:  No I don’t agree with that. The whole country is aware of the corruption and malpractices that were committed by the previous regime. Moreover if you take Wele Suda’s case he has revealed everything.


Q: But do you agree that while the sharks are free, the government is only targeting the small fish?

A:  There must be some reason why the present regime is not taking action against these people. These reasons have to be looked into and I hope in the future these issues will be addressed.


Q:  Do you see the present government taking revenge from certain politicians who were considered un-loyal to the leadership?

A: If that is the case then they should be punished irrespective of which party they are from. These allegations must be investigated and dealt with and UNP politics need not come into play here. If anyone is wrong they should be punished.


Q: Prior to the presidential elections, there was a greater political intention than simply sending Mahinda Rajapaksa home. Don’t you think that the intention has now changed?

A: Well we never intended to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa and put another person to the same chair. What we had was a change of policy, which was for the betterment of the country, preservation of democracy and good governance. We tried to get the former president to make these changes but we went for these changes only since he failed to do so.


Q: Recently there was talk of staging the next general election under the preferential system and by reducing the powers of the president. What is your view?

A:  No there was no such promise made by us. There are three main components in the 100 day program. There is no requirement or reason to reduce or change them. They made certain promises and they must keep to those promises. We are waiting patiently to see what they do. However its a must that they hold the next general elections under the new election laws.


Q: As you say what exactly is the new election laws you want implemented?

A:  It wont be a simple process. But they need to look into the report submitted by a committee headed by Dinesh Gunawardena and make the necessary reforms. Accordingly there should be a responsible minister for every electorate. Further there are many MP’s from smaller political parties that cannot think of contesting an election and winning. Therefore according to the new system we can grant them positions to serve the people from the seats obtained overall.


Q: While the people have received some concessions in the interim budget, there is a scarcity of essential commodities in the market. Further essentials such as rice have not been reduced and the rice market is being monopolised by a handful. Why has the new government not touched on these areas?

A: People expect to reap the harvest as soon as the seeds are sown. This is not possible. There were many issues to resolve that were left over by the previous regime and it takes time.

One cannot expect changes overnight. On the one hand when the price of paddy is increased it is natural that rice prices will also increase. There could be practical difficulties that arise and these have to be resolved as we go along. Even the constitutional changes cannot be done in a day so let’s give them some time and wait and see.


Q: There was a lot of talk about the port city project and this government made a promise to stop this the moment they are elected. However so far they have not been able to do so. Do you feel that the current government is caught up between the Indians and the Chinese?

A. The issue is that even when a new government comes to power they cannot scrap the agreements that were signed by previous rulers. This has to be done without tarnishing the good relations between these countries and us. China has already spent billions on the project and it is unreasonable to just scrap the whole project just like that.

The Government needs to have a proper discussion and try to resolve the environmental issues that exist and if these cannot be resolved and there are severe environmental implications then the project can be stopped.

Politicians should not just blurt out what comes to their mouth without properly analysing the issue. These are international agreements that have been signed between countries and these cannot be scrapped as and when new governments come to power as they want. These issues will have to be resolved in an amicable manner so that it will not harm the good relations between Sri Lanka and these countries.


Q: There are allegations that there was an international conspiracy behind the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Is this true?

A: It has become normal to come up with all these international conspiracy theories and electric chairs etc. No one asked him to call an election two years before his term was up, and he made this decision on his own. Hence if there was a conspiracy it has to be him who was responsible. This statement has become an election tool and now it has become a big joke.


Q: Is it true that you were behind the conspiracy to oust Rajapaksa?

A:  Yes but it was not a conspiracy that was done secretly. I have been very open about everything.


Q: As monks you talk so much about political changes, yet no one talks about what needs to be done for the preservation of Buddhism in the country. Why?

A:  Measures are under way for the preservation of Buddhism in the country. Hence there is no need to talk about it at this point. A good minister has been appointed to see to the Buddha sasana ministry and under his capable hands we are certain that he will carry out his duties effectively and efficiently.

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