Convener of the Joint Opposition, MP Prasanna Ranatunge, in an interview with Ceylon Today says as a member of the SLFP, he sent a letter to the President regarding how he should prepare himself to strengthen the SLFP.
Following are Excerpts:
? Is it true that you sent a letter to the President? What did you expect to accomplish?
A: It has to do with what is happening in the country today. As a member of the SLFP I wanted to inform the President about the situation prevailing in the country. I also pointed out what steps he could take to strengthen the SLFP.
? Did you receive any response from him?
A: Not yet.
? Were the leaders of the Joint Opposition aware that you sent the letter?
A: No. It is a private letter. I wrote it as a member of the SLFP.
? If you do receive a response, what will be your next step?
A: The President of the country is officially the Chairman of the Party. If he informs me that he received the letter I will know that he will read it. He is the one who has to decide what should be done next. As the Joint Opposition, we have an understanding of the situation prevailing in the country. Then, as a member of the SLFP I have great sadness regarding the fate of the SLFP. The Alliance led by the SLFP had 2/3 power in Parliament. Today that situation has changed. The SLFP has weakened. An effort is being made to build up this party with a group of ‘yes men.’ We have to ask whether by trying to do that they are going to give back the administrative power to the UNP.
? Who are these ‘yes men‘ in the SLFP?
A: Everybody knows who they are. It can be understood from those who are around the President.
? If the President breaks up the Unity Government with the UNP, is the Joint Opposition ready to form a government?
A: What is important is what should happen with good intention. Today, the people of this country and members of the SLFP have a big problem. It was Mahinda Rajapaksa who obtained the most number of SLFP votes in 2015. Then it was with the support of the UNP, JVP and the Tamil Alliance that the common candidate was put forward. During the election he said he will not favour any party. However, subsequently, a certain group used scheming strategies and established a separate central committee. Then a person whom we did not vote for was appointed as the leader of this pack. It was injustice done to the voter. Why do members of the SLFP still accept Mahinda? Why do they reject Maithri? As the former General Secretary of the SLFP and the present Chairman, he should understand this fact and with good intention show an interest in the party. Bandaranaike, it should be thought, left the UNP because he could not agree with those policies. Therefore, he should think about respectfully rejecting the UNP and how to build up the SLFP.
? Even now the Joint Opposition is being invited to join the SLFP isn‘t that so?
A: One day they invite us. Then on another day they go and join the UNP Conference. When it is stated that the UNP will form a government, they applaud that. Therefore, the problem exists as to whether we are being invited with good intentions?
? Is the Joint Opposition inviting them with good intentions?
A: Yes. We have pointed out our facts logically about what has to be done to protect the SLFP.
? It is said the Joint Opposition has deals with the President, and that is how several Electoral Organizer posts have been protected. How true is this?
A: If there were deals, Organizer posts would not have been abolished. In order to gradually destroy the SLFP they are removing popular individuals and appointing a group of ‘yes men.’ It is because we do not engage in deals that we were deprived of our Organizer Posts. We openly criticize this government and the President.
? The Joint Opposition tells the Attorney General, the Secretary General of Parliament and the Speaker that they will submit no-confidence motions. Is this a way of making no-confidence motions worthless?
A: Even though we have 56 Members of Parliament, we were not granted even the Opposition Leader’s post in Parliament. When they allow the JVP, which has six members, one and a half hours to speak in Parliament they permit us only twenty or thirty minutes. The Tamil National Alliance is given two hours. Then we do not have time to speak about the problems of the people.
When such a thing is happening, we can take time and speak about it. At the same time, we can reveal their illegal doings.
? Did the battle to obtain power in provincial councils, launched by the Joint Opposition, become lifeless?
A: What we are asking is that once the tenures of the North Central, East and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils end, to have the elections in September, properly. Then the people of the country will determine what to do.
? Do you have a plan to show a majority in the provincial councils and to acquire power?
A: You saw how the Chief Ministers in Uva and North-Central Provinces changed. Now that law no longer exists. However, none of these people can undermine people’s opinion.
? Did the Joint Opposition provide suggestions for the new Constitution?
A: We handed them over to the Constitution Committee in writing. We state our stance very clearly. The country should be unitary.
We are of the view that the clauses on Buddhism cannot be changed. However, those who are attempting to bring in a new Constitution have not yet handed over their suggestions. They say they will bring in a new Constitution but keep postponing it.
? Some members of the Joint Opposition talked about hoisting black flags during Narendra Modi‘s visit. Why could it not be done?
A: It was not a decision made in general by the Joint Opposition. What Wimal Weerawansa suggested was that we should object to Modi coming. Even though he said that, he would not have planned it. According to what we understood, Modi was not a Buddhist. Modi came and spoke to his people in the estates upcountry, because these things were happening that we were against Modi. He expressed his views as if the Central Province was one of their colonies. He said houses will be built for all the estate workers.
? But, Mahinda Rajapaksa too met Modi?
A: It is all politics and diplomacy. We do not want to engage in politics by being angry with India. Meeting Modi was a good trend.
It was India, Europe, America and Canada who worked towards ousting Mahinda. Today India has provided an opportunity for discussions.
? What is the view of the Joint Opposition regarding the statement made by the Prime Minister that discussions should be held once again with party leaders, in order to hold local government elections?
A: What we say is not to engage in tricks to postpone the election but to conduct the election. If there were shortcomings in the previous government, isn’t two and a half years sufficient to correct them?
The government knows that if the election is held they will be defeated. It is an act that is being carried out in Parliament. The JVP is also involved in this.
? The Joint Opposition criticizes this government. What is your view on obtaining the GSP Plus tax relief?
A: If, by receiving GSP this country can be made into a paradise, money will flow into the hands of the people in a few months’ time. Businessmen will be granted concessions. It will be possible to talk at length about how this country would become a paradise in six months time.
? Certain members of the Joint Opposition say that SLFP Ministers are holding discussions with the JO about leaving the government. Is that true?
A: The leadership of the party has not given permission for them to discuss officially with us. If such discussions commence, we have to obtain permission from our Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa. What is talked about when we meet at weddings and funerals are not discussions.
? The government is planning to curb racism. There is an accusation that the Joint Opposition is spreading racism and trying to capture power?
A: Even the government has accepted the fact that the Police are not carrying out their duties lawfully. The Police have become henchmen of the government. There is an Inspector General of Police who bends the law. He betrays the Police. He acted together with Rajitha and Champika then to create differences among the Muslims in order to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa. Then Champika, Nishantha Warnasinghe and others stood up on behalf of the Bodu Bala Sena. Rajitha stood up on behalf of the Muslim people.
During the Beruwala incident both these persons accused Mahinda. They talk about racism and differences in religion. Then we have the suspicion whether these are the same people who worked towards defeating Mahinda who are providing leadership to these things. In the future, there will be a Referendum. One attempt is to separate Muslims who are gathering around Mahinda now. The other is that emergency will be brought and the election will be postponed. They are allowing these problems to aggravate and say that they are acting against racism. However, there is no room for racism or religious differences within our politics.
? The Joint Opposition must have an opinion on the re-shuffle as well?
A: This is a joke. It was a small change of heads. Institutions were not changed. What should be done is that those who committed wrongs should not commit further wrongs but should be removed. The person who ruined the country’s economy was given a chance to go abroad and ruin the country. The person who betrayed Sri Lanka was given an opportunity to ruin the country.
? Your brother‘s ministerial post also changed?
A: He was against selling the Port. They thought that he would become a nuisance if they wanted to sell the port. Previously the Port City was removed.
? There are Court cases filed against you. What is the position of those?
A: When legal action was filed I was told there were a number of accusations. However, now what exists is one regarding scolding and threatening and a few other accusations. I trust the judiciary. Justice will be meted out there.
? What are the future plans of the Joint Opposition?
A: I can tell you certain things. Other things I cannot divulge. After the May Day we thought of raising political awareness at village level.
? Will you have to wait for a few more Poya days until the Joint Opposition forms a government?
A: We are in no hurry to form a government. When the opinion of the people in the country is being built up democratically, the people of this country will chase away this government. Even though there is no terrorism, Ministers travel with large security contingents because they are afraid that the people in the South will assault them.
? Is there an attempt to appoint MP Pavithra Wanniarachchi as the Chief Minister of the Sabaragamuwa Province?
A: Several parliamentarians will resign to contest elections. There is room for those who want to go.
? As a former Chief Minister, do you also have such an idea?
A: Let’s wait and see what will happen.
By Denagama Dhammika Ranaweera