history in the making"
Minister of the caretaker government, Mahinda Samarasinghe says
Sri Lanka is witnessing political history being created, when for
the first time a party enjoying a majority in parliament has been
sacked by the head of state against its wish and forced to face an
election despite being able to continue in parliament as a
majority government for another four years. He says it is
unfortunate the country has been plunged into further instability
as a result of
How do you view the sudden dissolution of parliament by President
I don't think it took anyone by total surprise because there was
speculation for some time that a snap election was in the offing. There
was however a big contradiction in the President's actions when we
consider the pledge given to the previous parliament and through the
parliament to the people that she will not dissolve unless the
government loses its majority in parliament or is defeated at the budget
votes. This was in fact a pledge put in writing under the President's
signature and sent to the Speaker, which was also given lot of
may be witnessing political history in the making, when for the first
time a majority party has been sacked against its wish and been forced
to face an election despite being able to continue in parliament as a
majority government for another four years. By these actions, it is
unfortunate that the country has been plunged into further instability,
which has in turn started to affect the prospects of peace, investor
confidence, economic development and finally the general wellbeing of
There were moves to impeach President Kumaratunga immediately after the
UNF government came to power. Does the party now regret not doing it?
I know for a fact that the UNF never considered in a formal manner
an impeachment against the President. There were individuals in the UNF
who were agitating for an impeachment not only when they came into
government but even when they were in the opposition. There were others
who joined in the fray thinking that this would prevent early
dissolution. The Prime Minister I believe never seriously considered
this as an option because he felt that on the one hand an impeachment
has to be sustained once presented and secondly, he was always prepared
to face the people, confident that his government's record was clean.
am also of the view that this was correct. We should never resort to
shortcuts to remain in power and given the highly politicised
environment that we are in I don't think anyone could have confidently
said that the required two thirds for an impeachment motion could have
been got. In addition, there is a requirement that it has to go up to
the Supreme Court.
It is said that one of the reasons for the President to dissolve
parliament was corruption in the UNF government. What are your comments?
Corruption charges have been levelled against 14 ministers by a
group of former PA parliamentarians with a lot of publicity. In
retaliation, a PA provincial council member has handed over allegations
of bribery and corruption against a large number of former PA ministers,
PA parliamentarians and the President herself. Are we to believe that
just because some politicians go and allege that ministers and
parliamentarians have resorted to corruption that it is immediate proof
that the allegations are correct? I don't think any right thinking
person would take that notion seriously.
have always advocated that politicians who are subjective personalities
should not get involved in such accusations and counter accusations and
that we should put in place and strengthen independent institutions
manned by the correct people who could entertain bona fide
representations from the public and also be given the powers to be
proactive in line with their mandate and look into such allegations in a
impartial and independent manner. Those who are trying to justify the
dissolution of parliament with corruption charges should also then be
asking for the removal of the President because she also has been
accused along with several members of the PA.
Another charge is that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been slow
to take action against those accused of corruption. Your views?
The Prime Minister cannot be expected to act just because a group of PA
parliamentarians on the eve of an election takes TV cameras and goes to
the Bribery and Corruption Commission and hands over baseless
allegations as much as the President should not be required to act
against allegations made by political personalities against some of her
leading political stalwarts.
What are the chances of the UNF winning the forthcoming election?
I am very confident that the people will understand and appreciate the
events of the last three to four months and the negative consequences
resulting from those events and give us a resounding majority to put in
place a stable government of our own in order to put the peace process
back on track and continue implementing the many development projects
that the government had embarked on and had plans on implementing with
solid international support.
UNP has still not started its campaign proper and in the next six weeks
we will carry out an effective national as well as grassroots campaign
to explain to the people what is at stake. It is important that people
are made to understand that the multicultural, multilingual and
multireligious secular nature of Sri Lanka is protected and nurtured
towards eventual peace and stability in our country. Only the UNF can
assure this in today's political context. I am confident that the people
will understand this.
What are your views on the mixed economic policy the SLFP-JVP alliance
hopes to introduce if elected to power?
Sri Lanka may be the only country in the world except for perhaps Cuba,
where a major political alliance is advocating a controlled and planned
economic policy. Even China and Russia have adopted a free enterprise
economic philosophy and are enjoying the benefits of rapid economic
growth. The JVP which has advocated an economic policy of no imports
will only destroy whatever economic advancement that we have been able
to build up.
dread to think what the populist economic platform of the JVP/SLFP
alliance will do to the economy. I am also sorry that a major party like
the SLFP which has under President Kumaratunga stood for an open
economic policy has had to compromise on this stand for the sake of an
alliance with the JVP.
The new alliance says the existing MoU signed between the UNF government
and the LTTE had to be amended for the continuation of the peace
process. Do you think this would in any manner facilitate the peace
There are contradictory signals coming from alliance partners on the
MoU. The JVP says that the MoU is no longer in existence which is
tantamount to saying that we should be prepared for war. There are
others in the SLFP who are saying that the MoU is in place and that the
ceasefire is being observed but that they will amend the MoU.
is typical of an alliance which has been hurriedly put together hoping
to defeat a legitimately elected government in order to occupy seats of
power without a well thought out economic or political strategy to take
the country forward. I dread to think the ambiguity which will emanate
after the elections if ambiguity is evident to such an extent at this
The SLFP-JVP alliance also refuses to accept the LTTE's interim
administration proposals as basis for future negotiation. On the other
hand the LTTE is firm in its view that the interim administration
proposals should be the basis for talks. How do you view this
The LTTE has dismissed not only the JVP, but also the possibility of
talking with the PA in the light of both these parties refusing to even
consider the interim administration proposal as a basis for future
negotiation. The UNP on the other hand has come out with its own
proposals which will be on the table at future negotiations. Any
successful negotiation must include all of the relevant players in the
scenario, otherwise it would lack the legitimacy which is needed for
our government is formed on April 3, we will immediately start
discussing with all political parties in the south so that a bipartisan
consensus could emerge from the south in order that we could demonstrate
to the LTTE and others that whatever position we take finally, would
stand the test of time. I don't think the SLFP/JVP alliance could ever
charter such a clear path towards eventual peace in this country, having
taken ambiguous and extreme positions at the outset.
PA Parliamentarian John Seneviratne says though the President was
willing to gazette the defence power under the Prime Minister if such a
necessity arose, the Prime Minister was not willing to accept this
position. He also said the Premier was keen only to grab the Defence
Ministry, thereby missing the chances of pursuing the peace process.
What are your comments?
The Prime Minister at no time went before the President and asked for
the three ministerial portfolios taken from his government to be given
back to him. What he consistently advocated was that if he was to handle
the peace process, these three ministries should be with him and that if
the President did not wish to give it back, she should take over the
peace process and handle it herself and he and his government would
support her in this endeavour.
is unfortunate that the eventual casualty of this impasse was the peace
process itself. We have a legitimate reason to believe that the events
which took place in the last three to four months was inspired by a plan
of action decided and executed to go for an election, rather than
ensuring the territorial integrity of the country as is being fondly
said by speaker after speaker on the SLFP/JVP platforms. I leave it to
the people to decide on April 2.
What has the UNF got to offer the public afresh?
The UNF government turned around the economy from a negative growth rate
to a 5.5% growth rate within two years. All major economic indicators
were rapidly improving at the time of dissolution. An unprecedented
amount of foreign aid at the Tokyo conference for major projects about
to be embarked on would have created the catalyst effect for further
rapid economic growth.
record number of legislative measures were put in place to strengthen
the legal framework of our country to facilitate this growth. Sixty-four
mega development projects have already been announced by the Prime
Minister for the implementation in the next five to 10 years.
year was going to be the year of employment generation and enhanced
income for everyone. All this has had to be temporarily put on hold but
we will come back with greater strength and implement all of this and
restart the peace process so that people will continue to enjoy the
security and relative economic prosperity as a result of a ceasefire
negotiated by the Prime Minister.
fact that in the last two years any citizen of this country regardless
of his or her ethnicity could move around freely without going through
the harassment at check points or barricades and fact that none of our
soldiers were killed in battle is demonstrative of what we have done in
a short period of time. Are we going to sacrifice all this because of a
selfish political agenda of extremist forces in our country?
Do you foresee a danger to the lives of the contestants of the UNF
especially after the President took over the defence powers from the
I think it is incumbent on all of us to ensure a free and fair
election and it is also incumbent on the police, armed forces and
primarily the elections commissioner to ensure that such an environment
is delivered. The voters should be empowered and be made to understand
that they have the power to penalise those who violate security and a
free and fair election environment.
confident of victory -
Alliance Parliamentarian and former Labour Minister, John Seneviratne
says widespread corruption in the UNF government compelled President
Kumaratunga to dissolve parliament. He said that if the government was
allowed to function further under the leadership of Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe, it would invariably have destroyed the country. He also
said the SLFP-JVP alliance is certain to win 12 to 14 districts this
time. "The masses are sick of the present government and well aware
of the corrupt practices of some of the ministers and high-ranking
officials. The President decided to call for fresh polls only since
there was a demand from the people," he told The Sunday Leader in
How confident are you of victory for the SLFP-JVP alliance at the
I am 100% confident of victory for the alliance at the next
election. Judging from the results of the last election, we would win 12
to 14 districts, which we lost to the UNP as a result of our votes being
split between the PA and JVP in the 2001 December election. Now, as a
result of the formation of the alliance, we will poll those votes and
are sure of victory in those districts.
At the 2001 December general election the UNF coalition polled 45,000
votes more than the PA and JVP votes put together. Therefore, what is
the basis for your optimism?
Under the PR system, which is existent in our country, the results
are analysed on the basis of each district. A district like Colombo,
where there is a massive voting strength, was won by UNP. In Colombo
central alone the UNP got a majority of 75,000 votes. In the Nuwara
Eliya District, the gap between the UNP and the PA-JVP combination was
very wide. In Kandy too the gap was very wide. As a result of this
phenomenon, UNP got more votes than the PA-JVP combination but when the
members of parliament are elected on the basis of districts, this does
not affect nationally.
optimism for our victory is based on several matters. One reason is that
UNF government that was in power for the last two years has become
extremely unpopular among the masses including those who voted them at
the last election. That is because the UNF government did not have a
clear policy in order to solve any of the problems faced by the people.
If I am to mention some, the burning problem is the unemployment issue.
The government was not able to bat an eyelid in the direction of solving
the problem of unemployment. The unemployment rate has gone up terribly
and the scenario was made worse by throwing out nearly 40, 000 people on
to the road from their places of work.
the rising cost of living. The government did not have a policy to bring
it down. Ever since it assumed office, the cost of living spiraled
without any constraints. Because of certain fiscal measures that were
introduced in successive budgets the cost of living went up, causing
immense hardship to the working class and the low-income groups.
the most agonising feature is the acts of corruption that are reported
practically daily. Apart from what is reported in media regarding
corrupt activities of the ministers of the government, there is much
speculation of very agonising stories of corruption indulged by the
ministers and high-ranking officials and political stooges of the UNF.
The most frustrating feature is the leader of the government - that is
the Prime Minister - does not seem to be concerned about these acts of
violence which have been proven prima facie by the media and the public
general hardship imposed on the public by increasing prices of
fertiliser, which is an essential commodity for the agriculturists
including the small plantation owners and the paddy cultivators and
ordinary farmers is large.
What is the justification for the dissolution of parliament when the
government enjoyed a majority in parliament and had only served two
years of its term?
Well, the performance of the UNF government deteriorated to such an
extent that people began to feel that there is no government in Sri
Lanka. As regards to north and east matters, I believe the government
was giving in too much to the LTTE and also gave a free hand to the LTTE.
I think the government was weak in enforcing even the MoU. The LTTE took
the government for granted and the government found itself in a position
where it could not turn back from that weak position.
wide publicity the economic front had no tangible improvement. The 5.5%
GNP is a normal rate of development in our country. We have been
enjoying that rate of development even when the war was on. The minus
development that we experienced in 2001 was absolutely due to reasons
beyond the control of the government like the drought, the economic
recession in the world, the attack on the World Trade Center and the
airport at Katunayake.
the huge allegations of corruptions against important ministers of the
government is also one factor that makes all of us feel optimistic about
winning the election. If the President had allowed the UNF government to
continue, it would have invariably destroyed the social and economic
fabric of the country.
other glaring factor is the politicisation of the police, which was used
by the government in order to harass political opponents and to protect
the criminals, and people who were engaged in vice like drug peddling
and big time kassipu manufacture and smugglers.
How do you justify President Kumaratunga's takeover of the Defence
Ministry and other ministries?
The Defence Ministry was taken over to ensure that the MoU signed
between the LTTE and the government was adhered to by both parties. This
is also by stopping the LTTE acting in violation of the provisions of
the MoU and putting up camps even in government controlled areas and to
check the LTTE bringing in arms in violation of the MoU since this would
definitely endanger the safety of the country.
was very obvious that the government was not able to contain many acts
of violations. Some of the LTTE cadres that infiltrated the Muslim
villages in the east continued to kill and harass the Muslims and damage
their property. The government failed to contain acts of lawlessness.
The situation was becoming worse day by day and the government was
turning a blind eye. The President made several requests and she kept on
repeating those requests asking the government to contain the acts of
lawlessness that were prevalent and increasing in the north east. She
was compelled to take over the Defence Ministry since there was no
change in the situation.
Despite taking over the Defence Ministry, the Manirasakulam camp
continues to be in Trincomalee and President Kuma-ratunga has not taken
any action to dismantle it. Even after PA Parliamentarian Mangala
Samaraweera announced that the LTTE put up 13 more camps in Trincomalee,
the President did not take any action. Your views?
I agree the camps that were there are still there. The removal of the
camps at this stage could have been done only through re-activating the
armed forces, which would have been detrimental to the ceasefire that is
prevalent in the country. But the Defence Ministry has been successful
in ensuring that no more camps were put up.
Given the policy differences between the SLFP and JVP on crucial aspects
with regard to the peace process and the economy, do you think a stable
government with a consistent policy can be formed?
I think originally there were certain differences between these two
parties with regard to the devolution of powers and economic policy.
These matters were given adequate attention and prolonged discussions
were held in order to sort out the issues and to settle them. Now I
believe both parties have come to some compromise with regard to these
aspects where they differed earlier. The JVP has publicly announced they
will not implement the JVP policy but work towards implementing a common
programme along with the SLFP.
Does it mean the JVP will be agreeable to the devolution package
proposed by the PA?
Well, the JVP has said more than once they are prepared to bow down to
the opinion of the majority in the party in regard to solving the ethnic
problem and their concern is towards the solution of the problem rather
than sticking to dogmatic concepts.
In the event the alliance is elected to office at the elections, will
you continue with the present MoU recognising the LTTE as the sole
representatives of the Tamils?
As regards to the concept of recognising the LTTE as the sole
representatives of Tamils, we have certain reservations. I think that is
a concept which we will have to discuss with the LTTE. In regard to the
MoU we have already made our position clear that we will abide by it.
But we are of the view that it has to be amended after discussion with
the LTTE. From the very beginning our position has been that this MoU
needs to be amended. We will endorse the MoU signed between the
government and the LTTE subject to amendments.
Are you prepared to resume negotiations with the LTTE on the basis of
the interim administration proposals forwarded by it?
No. On principle we are prepared to resume negotiations with the LTTE
but its interim administration proposals are not acceptable to us.
Nevertheless the LTTE and our party can take this matter up at
discussions that would be held in future.
The LTTE has clearly stated that any future negotiations will have to be
based on the interim administration proposal. Your opinion?
These are matters that are open for discussion. If both the alliance
government and the LTTE are prepared to resume talks, the basis on which
the discussions should commence can be sorted out at that time. In my
opinion, the views held by either side should not scuttle the
discussions for peace in future. If the problems have to be sorted out,
no individual opinion should be allowed to scuttle the prospects for
JVP Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa is on record that the MoU is
no longer in force. Is that the official position of the alliance or
Weerawansa's personal view?
President Kumaratunga announced the official position of the PA and
perhaps of the alliance when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he
had nothing to do with the peace process soon after President took away
the Defence Ministry. In fact, it is at that time that the President
said the MoU was not signed between the Ranil and the LTTE but the Prime
Minister and the government and it does not mean that the MoU is
Would the new alliance continue with an open economic policy and the
economic reform programme including the privatisation programme in
consultation with the donor agencies such as World Bank, IMF and ADB?
Well the economic policy has been pronounced in the programme that was
signed between the two parties and that is going to be essentially a
mixed economy with a leniency towards an indigenous, national economic
concept - to give emphasis for the protection of the local
industrialists, agriculturists and to safeguard the interests
of the indigenous business community.
How would the alliance be affected by the decision of the Sihala Urumaya
to field 262 Buddhist monks to contest the forthcoming election?
I do not know the attitude of the alliance to that suggestion. I am
personally very much against it. I, being a Buddhist, would like to see
the clergy of my religion remaining in such a position where we can look
up to them for spiritual leadership rather than dabbling in today's
Academic Dayan Jayatilleke
at a seminar titled 'Peace Process And Politics' presided by Lakshman
Kadirgamar last week questioned why the President who negotiated for
nearly 10 months with a party that killed her husband to arrive at an
alliance gave up in three months with the government when the issues at
stake for the country were much higher. What are your comments?
After taking control of the ministries, the President invited the UNP
for a formation of a consensual government. But the Prime Minister's
attitude was very discouraging and even at subsequent discussions, he
was not looking at it from a national point of view but from a personal
point of view. He wanted nothing else but the Defence Ministry. This was
in spite of a ruling given by the Supreme Court that the Defence
Ministry could be held by none other than the President according to the
think this was the stumbling block for a compromise between the PA and
the UNF. At the end they were coming out with a different tone but I
think the President did not have much faith in the sincerity of the
government. On the other hand, the clamour for the dissolution of
parliament was also very strong and was ever escalating.
Do you think the Prime Minister could have pursued the peace process
without the defence powers in his hands?
It may be that the Premier may not have been in a position to go on, but
the President said that if he were to face any problem and if there was
a requirement for any powers from the Defence Ministry to be utilised in
the process, she would gazette such powers under the Prime Minister. But
the irony is that the Premier was not amenable.