Coalition Government Has No Meeting Point – Azad Sally
Leader of the National Unity Front Azad Sally alleges that today the country is in a greater mess that before and while the affluent few are enjoying many ordinary people in the country can barely afford three square meals. In an interview with The Sunday Leader he said as this is a two party government this is like the railway line running parallel but without a meeting point in sight. He says the two major parties have their own methods and agendas and are not compromising and taking their own path which is where the problem is. Sally says as a coalition government they should come together as it is a unity government, in order to work for the best interest of the country. According to Sally, his biggest concern is that while the country is running to the ground, there is very little concern on the part of the leaders and no one seems to care what happens to the country or the people.
Following are excerpts of the interview;
by Roshani Nathaniel
Q. As a person who made a great effort to change the Rajapaksa regime and bring in the good governance regime, how satisfied are you today with the manner in which the government is conducting themselves?
A. I am not at all satisfied. They are very slow and nothing is happening and all the promises they gave are just on statement and nothing is being implemented. However, the rights and desires of the people are being violated and people have lost hope and are disgruntled at the way this government is conducting themselves. They are frustrated at the government for not delivering on the promises made to the people.
Q. Certain factions within the Unity Government are now being accused of safeguarding the Rajapaksa clan. Do you see this happening?
A. Yes I too agree with this and feel that it is what is happening today. The UNP faction within the government is having a big underhand deal with the Rajapaksa family and they are the ones who are now taking every effort to safeguard them from being charged for the crimes they committed during their tenure.
Q. If the previous Rajapaksa regime is not fit to run the country and you don’t see the UNP coalition being fit to run the country, what in your view is the next alternative?
A. This is the current problem. You cant change this government and bring in the old rogues again. However, we have to put this lot on the right track. You have to criticise them and correct them in order to straighten them out. It should be constructive criticism though. This is my view and I am trying my best to point out their shortcomings and mistakes and put them on the right track. As this is a two party government this is like the railway line running parallel but without a meeting point in sight. The two major parties have their own methods and agendas and they are not compromising and taking their own path which is where the problem is. As a coalition government they should come together as it is a unity government, in order to work for the best interests of the country. If these two major parties decide to just run parallel, then this government is certainly going to be a failure.
Q. You have been meeting many ministers in the recent past including the Justice Minister regarding the attack on Muslims. What was the outcome of these meetings?
A. We have been having meetings with many of the ministers. We even met President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ministers Sagala Ratnayake, Wijedasa Rajapaksha and even the IGP. However despite all these meetings nothing has come of it.
During the Rajapaksa regime it was a straightforward attack on the Muslims. But what is happening today is that the Muslims are still being attacked but in a very slimy manner.
My complaint in November was against four people. Priyasad, Abdul Razik, Ambitiya Sumanaratna Thera and Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara thero. They arrested Razik immediately because he had violated the bail application which was to refrain from hate speech or racial inciting. However the same thing is happening with Ambitiya Sumanaratna Thera and Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara. The most dirtiest thing that was done was that when there was a meeting of religious leaders, Gnanasara was brought in. Even the Mahanayake’s were silent. Everyone was addressing the issues in a very positive manner but this monk came and ruined the whole thing. He was shouting and making rude comments.
Even the president had advised him but that was again another slap on the faces of the Muslim community.
Q. With regard to the new constitution, how confident are you that the whole constitution can be correctly redrafted when the simple 19th Amendment has so many mistakes?
A. There was a dire need for a constitutional change but it should not be at the expense of the minority community. We are watching the whole constitutional drafting process very carefully and all the parties are actively involved in it. Therefore, let’s wait and see as nothing is finalised as yet. But, no matter what it should certainly not jeopardise our rights. Whenever issues have arisen we have always taken it up. So let’s wait and see what they come up with.
Knowing this government you can’t simply take their word for it or trust their promises. Therefore, we will have to see what the final draft brings out. They can make alot of promises and paint a rosy image, but when the actual thing comes out it might be a whole new thing altogether. Hence its too early for us to be jubilant. The way the government is operating now is very dangerous.
Q. One of the main topics with regard to power devolution has been the proposed merger of the North and the East. Are the Muslims in favour of this proposed merger?
A. No, but it is something that the people residing in those areas have to decide. We cant be talking about it in Colombo. It is the people in the East that have to decide whether they can live together with the Tamils or not. Even the Tamils living in the East are in favour of the merger.
Q. On the topic of a new constitution, some of the minority Tamil parties are seeking a federal system where power is vested with the Provincial Councils through the devolution of power. What is your view?
A. We will have to weigh the pros and cons first and then see what is best for us and whether the minorities will be affected or not. Then all parties and stakeholders will have to sit down and discuss whether we are in favour or not after considering the positives and the negatives including the loopholes.
Q. Even within the minority groups there are many divisions and differences of opinions that makes it hard for them to come to a compromise. Under these circumstances, do you think it is possible for these minority groups to come to a compromise and will there be issues?
A. The way things are going I have no faith in the whole system considering the manner in which things are moving. We put our necks on the line to ensure a change took place with the hope that it would be a good thing for the country. But after bringing in the change we feel that we have been badly let down.
Under these circumstances I don’t think this group of rulers will do anything good for the minority.
Q. The recent Budget has been criticised by many as yielding nothing for the people. But how would you perceive the budget?
A. As for the budget I feel that it was a good budget and we have no complaints. Last time after the budget was presented by the Finance Minister it was amended over five times by the Prime Minister. What I have said always is that you cannot have three Finance Ministers in this country. For the first time in history the Finance Ministers post is being run by three people. On the one hand it’s Kabir Hashim running the banks, Ranil Wickremesinghe is running the Central Bank and Ravi Karunanayake is only there to sign the notes and look after the customs. This is why all these problems have arisen.
Q. In most of the issues concerning the Muslims, except for a handful of you taking up the issue, the elected Muslim leaders are silent. Are you satisfied that your elected leaders are standing up for the rights of the Muslims?
A. We are certainly not satisfied with our leadership in parliament because we have 21 MP’s sitting in parliament but even when Gnanasara attacked the prophets none of them ever opened their mouths. When he even went to the extent of criticising Allah, they did nothing nor did they complain either to the President, Prime Minister or the police. They did absolutely nothing. That was the best platform for all 21 of them to get together and stand up for the rights of the Muslims but they just did not dare open their mouths and maintained silence to protect their private interests.
These Muslim ministers should have stood in solidarity with the people who voted for them and stood up against the government and demanded that justice is meted out to the Muslims. The Muslim community is really angry with these ministers for not doing what they were elected to do. The people have asked for the resignation of the Muslim minister as we never wanted a drunkard to represent us. For the first time in the history of Sri Lankan politics, the Muslims have got a minister who is a drunkard. He does not know what he is doing and neither does he know what is Tabligh, tawheed or what is Islam. When anyone makes a complaint he simply says ‘oh is it like this? You can ask my brother.’
This brother of his is an ace rogue and all extremist parties are having deals with him. That is why the Muslim community is suffering today. The president should initiate a special investigation. From the time they came the annual haj was totally messed up with family members and friends appointed to the Haj committee. For the first time they have taken salaries for attending the meeting. Even the minister’s brother has taken money. The entire Waqf board is in a mess. The waqf board should comprise good people of good standing, you cant have these ministers bringing in their idiots to sit in the waqf board passing judgement on who the trustees are.
Q. Today there are many protests taking place throughout the country, but the government claims that it is because of the freedom they have been given. What is your take on it?
A. All these protests are connected with the Rajapaksa family and they are planning for a big coup. I have been saying for months that the army is very involved with the Rajapaksa clan and they are planning something very big. If you see the disabled solders when they were trying to enter the presidential secretariat, this was a big blow. They are demanding things and the secretary of defence says very openly that out of 25 he had granted them 23 demands using the powers vested in him. Even the other two demands he promised them would be given to them once the president returned to the country. So why were they protesting? The man who comes to give them water is Udaya Gammanpila. So its very clear who is behind this whole fiasco. All these protests are based on someone’s agenda. However, all this blame should be taken by the Prime Minister and no one else. Because while all the atrocities committed are there in black and white, Ranil is protecting them. They just go to court like going to a five star hotel. If they are arrested they are sent to the merchant ward. Who can complain about being kept there? These very same people put me behind bars for eight days and kept me on the fourth floor with 21 others in an 8×6 cell. We have suffered all that under this regime the Rajapaksa rogues are enjoying life being protected by the Prime Minister. They still have their assets and still they are not being charged.
Q. Why do you think the UNP faction is protecting the Rajapaksas?
A. Because Wickremesinghe was protected by the Rajapaksa government and his opposition leadership post was protected by them. We have been very critical of Basil Rajapaksa earlier saying that 85% of the budget is going to his family and no minister can do any work. Now the same thing is happening and Malik is interfering in everyone’s affairs. Earlier it was ‘Gnathi Sangrahaya’now it is ‘Mithra Sangrahaya’.
Q. What are your political future plans, especially at the upcoming Local Government elections?
A. We will contest the Local Government elections as a single party. But the elections are being delayed because the government is afraid of losing. They should have held the election under the old system and then gradually implemented the new system. Its been over 20 months since the councils have been dissolved. But all the officials of these councils are rogues but still these cannot be allowed to run like this. My biggest worry is that noone seems to be interested. You cant be vindictive and so oblivious to the state the country which is fast plunging.