JHU Will Change The Country’s Political Culture – Patali Champika Ranawaka
By Waruni Karunarathne
The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the United National Party (UNP) have had conflicting ideas on several issues, especially pertaining to their stance on the devolution of power, a federal system and the UNP’s pro-West neoliberal ideas. Even though, the JHU initially declared to contest the general election under a separate front, they changed their stance and joined the UNP led good governance front. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, General Secretary of the JHU, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka reiterated that the JHU has not changed its stance but has set out to change the political culture in Sri Lanka where the JHU has played a decisive role in changing the policies of the UNP and building a platform to meet people’s aspirations
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: What was the necessity for you to have a separate election manifesto when the UNP led good governance front has released a common election manifesto?
A: I have not launched a separate or new manifesto. We have already unveiled a manifesto which includes a five point action plan to improve our economy. In that we highlight a kind of accelerated economic plan to create more jobs and to uplift the country’s economy. Secondly we focus on establishing a new and effective anti-corruption mechanism. The third point is to improve our infrastructure facilities including cyber space facilities. The fourth point is the political reform package which enhances the freedom of the society. In the fifth point, we totally focus on education that will build a knowledge base economy. We give emphasis on these five points because all these years, the UPFA’s manifestos have been mere words. They launched two manifestos in 2005 and 2010. But in reality every policy was decided by the Rajapaksa family members. They launched the Mahinda Chinthanaya and various other policy plans, but the family policies were affecting the country’s policies.
Q: You have clearly articulated the JHU’s stance on a federal system. But how would you look at the maximum devolution of power as promised in the UNP led good governance manifesto?
A: The maximum devolution of power is promised only upon reaching consensus. They clearly stated that if all parties agreed and reached a consensus, they can devolve power while preserving the unitary state of the country. However, for that they need to have a consensus among all stakeholders unlike in the past. It is not like in the past where they had the Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact, the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact and the JR-Rajiv pact. This time, it requires an agreement among all parties like what we had for the 19th Amendment. The JHU’s stance has been very clear about the devolution of power. There is a provision for Provincial Council in our constitution. We accept it as a law but in principle we are totally against devolution of power. If consensus is reached among all the parties, then we will decide what decision to take. The most important thing is to preserve the unitary state of the country. That is the priority when talking about a federal system or any other system.
Q: The UNP is seen as a pro- West party. As the JHU being a nationalistic party how do you work with them on the same platform?
A: The UNP has changed its economic strategy now. They are now for a socio market place economy. We have clearly stated that we are going to preserve our precious environment and we are going to adopt innovative strategies to move forward and promote green agriculture, green energy and environment friendly behavioural patterns. We will simply be adopting green economic policies. The UNP has had a neo-liberal stance. Now it has been changed to a neo economic model based on equality and environmental sustainability and towards individual happiness. At the same time, we give emphasis for under privileged and uneducated groups of the society who need to be protected. We will establish a social net that will protect those who are living under absolute poverty line. We can now see clearly that the UNP is shifting towards a socio democratic context. Evidently, they have shifted from their earlier stance on economy and power devolution. Therefore we can work with them in the same platform.
Q: You have decided to contest under the UNP led good governance front, before that the JHU declared that they would contest independently. You had been strongly criticising the Ranil Wickremesinghe led UNP government towards the latter stages but then decided to join the UNP front. What made you change your stance?
A: Our decision was backed by a few reasons. On one hand, we knew that the UPFA is not going to change – they have the same candidates, same policies and the same leadership. People who worked with President Maithripala Sirisena during the presidential election wanted to carry forward the mandate given by the people. In order to protect that mandate, we had the need to form a broader alliance for the benefit of the country. On the other hand, our country’s economic situation is in a very grave condition. Therefore, we have to have a joint effort to ensure economic growth, lessen the debt burden of the country and to generate new jobs for our people. We are a middle income country and we have to somehow tunnel through this middle income territory. To achieve these objectives, the JHU has not feared handling power like the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). We joined the government – we exercised our power – and we set examples to all the other ministries how to govern this country and how to govern our ministries. For that purpose, we decided to form a new alliance with those who were in Sirisena’s campaign. It has succeeded. Almost all the people who supported Sirisena’s campaign except JVP and TNA are now with us and we believe this is the right platform to achieve people’s aspirations.
Q: Do you think you have also fallen under the category of politicians who crossover to gain political advantage? Explain as to why you don’t fall under that category?
A: No, absolutely not. We have not crossed over. We have always stood by our policies. We changed the politics of the country. When we joined the UPFA, we changed the SLFP’s policies and the country’s policies. At that point we joined the SLFP as they were not in a position to defeat LTTE and to adhere to the unitary state of this country. It was us who changed their policies. This is not a mere crossover.
This is about changing the party context, changing their directions and changing the whole political culture of the country. By joining the UNP led front, we changed the UNP’s economic policies and we were instrumental to change UNP’s stance on a federal system. That is a great achievement. We have not crossed over – and, we have not changed our stance.
Q: How do you think your crossover and change of stance has affected your votebase? Do you think your move is fair by people who relied on you?
A: It has not affected our vote base at all. It can be vindicated after the general election on the 17th of this month. People will give us a resounding victory this time.
Q: Some have made assumptions that if you get elected to parliament, once again you will make a move to join Mahinda Rajapaksa and the UPFA. Would you be able to give an assurance to your voters that you will not make such a move and betray their votes?
A: No, we will not do that. We will be in Parliament for five years with the same front. We are asking for a new mandate for us to be there for five years. We will not crossover but actually some UPFA members will join the United National Front (UNF) after the election.
Q: The UNP has also promised to work with the UN with matters pertaining to alleged human rights issues and war crimes in the country. What is your stance right now on carrying out investigations on alleged war crimes and human rights violations?
A: Our stance has been very clear on the matter. We should adopt some internal mechanism to address these issues. The Rajapaksa regime appointed two committees – one is the Commission to Investigate Missing Persons chaired by Maxwell Paranagama and the other one is the committee consisted of Desmond Silva.
We will get both committees to submit their reports and see their recommendations. Thereafter we will consult all the parties and try to establish some internal mechanism to address these issues. We are not going to betray our heroic forces under any circumstances.
Q: Would you be able to explain as to what is the current state of operation of the Norochcholai coal power plant as there have been lots of disputes about the topic in the past? Is it still incurring losses?
A: Now, there is no problem. It no longer incurs losses. It has three phases – one phase is undergoing a maintenance period and the other two are in operation. The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) earned a profit RS.18 billion for the first six months of this year. In the CEB’s history, it has not earned such a profit before. It shows how well we have managed the CEB within the last six months period.
Q: You have been trying to promote alternative sources of energy. What is the future you see for Sri Lanka in terms of using alternative power and energy?
A: We are very positive about promoting alternative source of energy in Sri Lanka. There are technical constrains to absorb wind and solar power which is a global problem. But because of the intensive R&D programme that issue has been resolved. We have an ambitious plan to use 100% renewable energy after 2030.
Q: What do you expect from people at the forthcoming elections?
A: I would like to request people to elect educated professionals and tested and trusted people to parliament.