The Sunday Leader

The Country Is Practicing True Democracy – S. M. Marikkar

By Camelia Nathaniel

UNP Colombo District MP S. M. Marikkar claims that while the government is on a positive drive to revive the country from the depths of ruin, there are still some elements who are attempting to bring down the government through their negative actions. He said that unlike in the past where the whole government was compelled to agree with the dictatorial leadership and decisions taken by them, today the country is practicing true democracy, where everyone has a right to their own views. In an interview with The Sunday Leader he pointed out that some are trying to interpret this as instability within the government and attempting to paint a bleak picture of the stability of the government. However Marikkar said that the government was established on a sound footing and in spite of the tackles by certain characters, the government is determined on a true democratic course and the benefits of this process will be felt by everyone in the country in due course.

Following are excerpts of the interview:-

Q:  The government has decided to postpone the vote on the Resolution for the Appointment of the Constitutional Assembly, do you think they are deliberately postponing it?

A: The opposition is divided on the constitutional reforms. Therefore their stance is not important to us as the majority people gave us the mandate and established a Maithripala Sirisena rule within the country in order to abolish the executive presidency and to bring in a new constitution. Especially to prevent a dictatorial rule to establish a constitutional framework that amplifies the democratic rights of the country. Hence just because some parties try to tackle us and hamper our journey, we will not falter and we will definitely proceed on our path.


Q:  But the government has been accused of not genuinely being interested in establishing the constitutional assembly, why?

A: Yes some parties are trying to show that the government is not interested in this, but we all know that these parties who are trying to say that we are not interested, such as the JVP, are in fact working towards their own political agenda and this is just another of their slogans to try and discredit the government. I personally believe that parties such as the JVP should be within the political arena, but our government is not ready to step back from the plans and ideas taken for the progress of the country.


Q: There are allegations that the reconciliation process is far too slow and not entirely satisfactory. Do you agree with this charge?

A:  The president too made a statement in this regard at the Independence Day celebrations. After the war ended in 2009, if the actions that had to be taken had been taken at the right time, we will not have to face most of the issues today. The president too would not have to scream that he is being taken to the electric chair. However since we gained power last year, Mahinda Rajapaksa was spared from the electric chair.

However as a country we are bound by certain obligations to carry out certain deeds as per international requirements. However, the government has to carry out their obligation to the international community, not jeopardising the integrity of the country nor sacrificing the war heroes. But the issue should not be whether it is done slowly or fast, but the main focus should be to ensure that the reconciliation process is done properly. The stance of the government is also to carry out this reconciliation process in a proper manner safeguarding the war heroes and also being fair to the parties concerned.


Q:  The government is accused of wanting to bring in a new constitution, but will this solve the national issue?

A: Our government has a clear vision with regard to the country’s economy, education sector, fisheries and agricultural sector. We also have a clear vision with regard to eradicating poverty and creating employment. The government has also mapped out a plan and strategy with regard to the development and progress of the country as a whole for the next five years. However that strategy will be implemented in stages. We cannot however implement all these strategies overnight and work miracles. Even to bring forth a child to this world, one has to patiently wait for nine months.

When we took over the country last year, what we got was a country where the economy was in the doldrums, and dictatorial ship was foremost, and corruption, malpractice and fraud was the order of the day. But we do have a plan to salvage this country from this plight. We must understand that the people gave us the mandate not just to save the country from the dictatorial clutches of the Rajapaksas, not just to correct the corruption and fraud, and revive the economy, or punish those who committed wrong, but to establish a righteous society that respects the rule of law and respects true values. Hence we are trying to do that through constitutional reforms, because within a few months of assuming power, we already brought in the 19th amendment and took the first step in creating this change for the better. But the rest has to be done through the constitution. The reason is that even we will not be in power forever, but we must establish the basic framework through the constitution for the establishment of a righteous society, so no one can ever again take the country to dictatorial rule. Hence it is the very people who aided the previous dictatorial regime to do everything, who are the ones that are trying to destabilise this government and the work that they are doing to create a true democratic country. But the government is very stable and cannot be dislodged until April 2020, and we will carry out our task within a formulated framework in stages under the guidance of the president and the prime minister, and no one can stop our journey.


Q: The government did promise to bring in the right to information bill, but why is it taking so long?

A: It was our party’s stance that this right to information bill should be brought in. This has to be done in a proper manner where every aspect has to be looked at carefully.  Our government is one that pays attention to the people, civil societies and follows a very democratic path. This is why even with regard to the constitution we have commenced a campaign to gather the opinions of all the people throughout the country. We will definitely deliver on the promises we made to the people. However the problem is that some want everything to be implemented overnight and then they try to attack us saying we are not going to do certain things. This is something that is common in the political arena. But I can assure you that the government will definitely bring in the right to information bill.


Q: Is the right to publish also included in this bill?

A:  I think it will be included. I too was in the media for years and this subject is one that is close to my heart too. Hence we need to discuss this in a broad sense and bring in this bill.

I feel that the media should be given the freedom to report, point out mistakes. Similarly, the required clauses should also be included to protect the privacy of the politicians too. As much as we are committed to establishing democracy to the maximum, and ensuring utmost freedom to the media, we must also on the other hand keep in mind to also make sure the privacy of people are not jeopardised in the process. This is my personal view.


Q: While the government spoke about the freedom of the media in a big way, now there are allegations that the government is trying to suppress or control the media to a certain degree. Do you agree?

A:  The Prime minister has the right to criticise as a citizen of this country. Similarly we all have the right to criticise anyone if we are not in agreement with their actions. The Prime Minister too expressed his true feelings. We have not sent white vans to abduct journalists, nor have we sent gunmen to attack or kill journalists, like what was done in the case of Lasantha. Neither have we attacked journalists and created a situation that forced them to flee the country. The PM only expressed his opinion on a certain matter.

There are still Rajapaksa henchmen in society who are trying to create chaos. Democracy does not mean that people trying to destabilise the country should be allowed to do so. If the government is doing wrong or if we have mistakes or some of us are engaged in fraud or corruption, most certainly point it out. Our prime minister will never defend that. We promised the people democracy and if anyone is trying to destroy that the PM has a right to criticise them and we all have that right.


Q:  Is it true that many clashes have occurred within members of the government?

A:  There are no problems within the government. But we are not like the government during the previous regime and we are certainly not expected to raise our hands in support of anything the president or the PM says. We have a very democratic government and everyone has the right to express their opinions irrespective of whether it is in accordance with the majority or not. Even with regard to the electoral reforms each of us have differing opinions, and we have every right to express our views. This is true democracy. I am personally opposed to the complete abolition of the preferential system, which is my personal view.


Q:  Why are you against the abolition of the preferential system?

A:  I am personally against it based on a few reasons. Firstly this system was brought so that the smaller parties to get a fair representation in parliament. There are a lot of positive aspects in the preferential system, but that does not mean there aren’t any negatives, there are. When the 14th amendment was brought in it did not get passed but I feel that this is the best time to reconsider it again. In this current system even a single member contesting the election against even the two major parties, he has the chance to win in from any district. But if the new system is brought in a person from the minority community will have their opportunity to contest closed from many districts other than from the North, East or central Colombo. This is what I am against.

Secondly, I agree with the theory that there should be an MP t for every seat, but I cannot agree to a system to bring close all thugs and drug lords, through this system. I am against that. In the new system every single vote is very important. Hence every unscrupulous character in the electorate will also have to be accommodated. This will pose a great challenge to democracy itself. Hence we need to discuss this issue properly and look closely at the 14th amendment.



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