Champika Stands His Ground

Rajapaksa now claims that many mistakes were made during his rule. He says that he now sees things more clearly and that if he is re-elected he would rectify all these mistakes and be in a position to better govern this country. He blames certain ministers and allies who were close to him and says his mistake was to ignore their wrong. He should not blame others. His biggest mistake is himself that he cannot correct
– Ranawaka

By Camelia Nathaniel

champika-ranawakaWith the Supreme Court determining that the 19th Amendment is consistent with the Constitution but certain sections of the amendment require a referendum, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) General Secretary and Minister of Technology, Research and Atomic Energy Patali Champika Ranawaka said that this was what he argued and the Supreme Court has vindicated his argument.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Ranawaka said that it was clearly stated in the 1972 Constitution, the head of state, head of executive and the head of armed forces were vested in the president.

“But the head of cabinet and thereby the head of government was the prime minister and this system is called the cabinet system. The 1978 Constitution clearly states that the head of government, head of executive, head of state and the head of armed forces is the president. So the determining factor is who heads the government? If it is headed by the prime minister it is a cabinet system, if it is headed by the president it is a presidential system. Hence what was proposed on the 13th of March by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is a cabinet system, where the head of government, head of executive, and the head of armed forces will be the president and the head of cabinet will be the prime minister. So the Supreme Court clearly stated that you need a referendum when you are going to have a cabinet system in which the prime minister is the head,” he explained.

However Ranawaka denied allegations levelled against him that the reason he is opposing the 19th amendment in its current form is purely because he does not want to abolish the executive powers of the president, because he is vying to be the president some day. “Those who could not face our argument objectively are trying to sling mud at us. If you are vying to be the president in this country you should get at least 50+ votes of the entire country. The soothsayers cannot make presidents. It is much easier to become the prime minister than to be the president where the criteria is that you be a member of parliament and you command the majority of parliament that is about 113 people. But to be the president you need the mandate of millions of people. So this is a mudslinging campaign against me because I opposed the very core of this prime minister’s 19th amendment, which was a form of conspiracy to change the Constitution for him to become the first citizen of this country,” Champika charged adding that the PM wants to do this via a change in the Constitution, as he would not be able to do it via a people’s mandate.

This is the main issue that he is being targeted, the minister pointed out.

“We opposed this 19th amendment on several grounds. The first is its incompleteness. People desperately want to change the electoral system, and this amendment deliberately ignores it, because the UNP and the JVP think that they can simply win elections by this PR system. So they want to dissolve parliament without passing this amendment,” added Ranawaka. He said that it was the PM’s strategy; that is why they deliberately did not include the electoral reform in the 19th amendment. So his party opposes it, he said.

The second is it is totally against the people’s sovereignty if we to establish an executive premiership or cabinet type of government without holding a referendum. He pointed out that the people elected the president. With the 1972 Constitution, the president was not elected, but nominated by the Prime Minister. He was a ceremonial president. “But an elected president is not a ceremonial president. The prime minister is a mere member of parliament and he can simply get the preferential votes from a particular district or he can be appointed through the national list. Hence the bigger mandate is what the president gets from the whole country. Hence this proposal is going against the people’s sovereignty.

That is why the Supreme Court, too, rejected that amendment.”

Explaining the third issue he said the 19th amendment was in contrary to the mandate of the people. The JHU does not want to change the constitution or any article therein which is subject to a referendum, and is against the abolishment of the executive presidency. “What we suggested was abolishing the unlimited executive powers of the president – implementing a new presidency answerable to the cabinet and the judiciary. So completely abolishing the executive presidency is in contrary to our mandate. Further practically they should get 2/3 majority in parliament. That is why we opposed it when it was presented to the cabinet on the 13th of March. But on the 15th of March we had a meeting with the UNP and the SLFP, and there we agreed to a compromised formula in which the president is the head of government, head of executive, head of state and head of armed forces and to remove eight important powers vested in the president.”

The powers to appoint ministers, to take their powers out, to nominate ministerial secretaries, supreme and appeal courts’ judges, dissolve parliament and the immunity clause, the term limitation, pardoning convicted persons etc., according to Ranawaka, should not be with the president. On the 15th of March the cabinet too had approved this consensus reached at the party leaders meeting.

Unfortunately, he said, the drafted amendment simply does not reflect this consensus and maintain that the prime minister shall be the head of cabinet. “That totally violates what we all agreed upon and that is why we opposed it. A very contradictory 19th amendment was gazetted and a completely different set of amendments were presented to the Supreme Court thereafter. One was gazetted and the other amendment was presented through the Attorney General which clearly violated the Constitution. Article 78 of our Constitution clearly stipulates that any act or any constitutional amendment should be gazetted before it is presented to parliament and at least seven days should be given to them before it is put before the Supreme Court. However this requirement was totally violated. The AG has done a very grave and unforgivable mistake because it is clearly stipulated in the Constitution. The Supreme Court rejected this unconstitutional submission. This also vindicated us,” said Ranawaka.

He said that the PM was in a hurry to gazette this amendment without taking into account their observations or suggestions. PM had presented it to the cabinet around 4 pm on the 13th and tried to gazette it the same evening. It was a 62 page document and no one was allowed to even go through it properly and respond to it. Ranawaka said this was a very undemocratic move by the prime minister and that is why they opposed it. Fortunately the Supreme Court cleared the whole mess and now the amendment can be passed in parliament and pruned the unlimited executive powers vested in the president so as to the president be responsible to parliament and the judiciary and to consult the prime minister when president is to appoint ministers. However he still is the head of state, head of government, head of the executive and the head of armed forces and still the people elect him.

Ranawaka also said that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has made a big mistake by appointing all his close UNPers to key positions. This is not a UNP government, this is a coalition and the powers have to be shared with the parties within the coalition. The PM perhaps assumes that the UNP has been given the power by the people and not to President Sirisena or the coalition. That is the biggest mistake he has made. He has failed in parliament because of that, said Ranawaka. He also charged that even the cabinet ministers that the SLFP appointed and their institutions are yet to be gazetted.

When asked if he is happy with the change that has been brought about, he said he certainly not. The people badly want a change and at the next election they will elect a stable government who can lead this country to a better future, he said. But he was quick to add that it is definitely not the Rajapaksas’ since they ruined this country and exploited it. “The point is when Rajapaksa governed this country, it was a kind of circus. His cut-outs and pictures were all over and it was all about them. This was a very colourful showmanship. He was the alpha male in our society, but on the 8th of January all the illuminations of this pandol had gone out and the showmanship died down and the alpha male simply disappeared.

There was a kind of disillusionment as the people were addicted to this pattern. However this change was a kind of silent democracy,” he added.
Ranawaka said that president Sirisena on the contrary is very humble and not someone who wants to show off his powers and uses them to suppress any one opposing him; people sometimes take it as a weakness. Ranawaka referred to Bandaranaike as well, and said he too defeated the UNP and the iron-fisted Sir John’s government. The people began to strike and protest and said he was a man without proper policies.

However Ranawaka feels that this is a higher form of democracy and people are more educated and vigilant than in the past.

“That is why when the two senior UNPers were trying to safeguard the Avant-garde directors the people immediately realized the truth. When they were trying to use the Central Bank bond issue to their advantage, the people immediately knew it. They are not fools and they are vigilant.

This new atmosphere should be used for a more democratic society and not to go back to the MR showmanship rule. We should use this opportunity to have a more democratic and prosperous Sri Lanka,” he said.

When asked if the issues facing the coalition have given the Rajapaksas a new lease of life, he said the Rajapaksas have had their day and the people are not stupid enough to bring them back to power. However there are some who see a void and they miss that showmanship, and in Sri Lanka some parties’ only stand is being anti UNP. Using leftwing politicians like Dinesh, Vasu and Weerawansa as examples, Ranawaka pointed out their common ground, they oppose the UNP.

“So When Ranil Wickremesinghe tried to show that this government is headed by him and that this is a UNP government, these anti UNP forces feel that we lost out. However this is not true, the SLFP was not defeated, only the Rajapaksas was defeated. This is not a UNP government either, this is a wrong message that Ranil has given that has created this whole mess,” pointed out Ranawaka.

He also charged that a massive amount of money that was siphoned by the previous regime is now being reinvested in grabbing power again somehow. He said that the PM is deliberately not taking any action against the MR camp and letting them to destabilize the president and the SLFP, so that he (Prime Minister) can simply use this situation to his advantage when the elections are called. These reasons are what contributed to the new MR phenomenon. However after the next election, Ranawaka is certain MR would never be able to return. “He should follow Basil who was a wise man who decided to leave and let this process go on. MR also should do the same. Perhaps one fine day he might be able to come back. But not this year or the next.”

Vehemently denying allegations that it was he who had prevented MR from taking action against the BBS, Ranawaka said he only spoke for the democratic rights of the people. “The Buddhists should also be allowed to protest against injustice to them and they alone cannot be suppressed. But I did not support the BBS. Even during the elections, who supported MR? It was the BBS who supported him and still the BBS supports MR. He portrayed himself as a Buddhist leader when he speaks to the Buddhist Sinhalese and tries to show that he is impartial when he speaks to the minorities,” said the minister adding that this is his hypocritical nature and he has no principles.

Ranawaka also made allegations that former president Rajapaksa had been paying the LTTE large sums of money for the safety of his family. Until Gotabhaya was attacked on the 1st of December 2006, MR had been giving millions of money to the LTTE to have a life insurance for his family. While personnel of our heroic forces and people were being killed he was giving them money. What kind of leader would do that,” questioned Ranawaka adding that only time will tell, and some day the military intelligence will reveal how this power greedy clan ignited religious tensions, so that MR could exploit the situation to his advantage. However the minister said that they failed miserably because of the JHU and it was his party who successfully foiled their little game and protected the nation’s pride and restored the peaceful coexistence among the various religious groups. Ranawaka condemned radical Buddhist parties as well as radical Islamists and also those who tried to ignite racial disharmony without any valid reason, so that MR could exploit the poor Sinhala Buddhist votes. He said that strategy and the fear psychosis campaign during the presidential elections were now defeated.

Rajapaksa now claims that many mistakes were made during his rule. He says that he now sees things more clearly and that if he is re-elected he would rectify all these mistakes and be in a position to better govern this country. He blames certain ministers and allies who were close to him and says his mistake was to ignore their wrong. But Ranawaka says that he should not blame others. His biggest mistake is himself that he cannot correct. “His greediness and his uneducated way of handling matters were his biggest downfall and he himself is his biggest mistake. He cannot blame Basil, Namal or any other for his defeat; he should take responsibility for his own defeat. He was elected because people felt he was capable of doing a good job. He could not do that and gave into the pressures of others or kept silent when wrong was being done to the people. So no one else is to blame but he himself and he now cannot say now he is innocent. He is the main cause and he was too greedy to hold onto absolute power. This was his downfall.”

Rejecting allegations that he is a Buddhist extremist, Ranawaka said he follows the Buddhist principles of non violence to the core. Buddhism preaches equality to all human beings and all other living things, he said. Ranawaka said that he completely adheres to and comply with these principles, describing himself as a moderator. However he said he will not hesitate to fight against fundamentalist ideas and violence that are very harmful to our society and environment as a whole.

With regard to the JVP and their political stance Ranawaka said that primarily they do not understand the constitutional implications. He felt that they are simply lashing out at him without understanding it properly. “We are fighting this 19th amendment purely on constitutional grounds and we have made it very clear. They, on the other hand, are Bolsheviks. Within the JVP there is another party called the Sri Lanka Bolshevik party made up of full timers. The JVP should give up this so called Marxist ideology to become a new socialist party. The JVP did grave atrocities against the people. They burnt busses and are now talking about transport policies, they killed people who were going to vote and are now talking about democracy and people’s rights. What kind of government are they planning on forming if they get the people’s mandate? It will be a dictatorial type of Bolshevik government, and will be a single party government. They should change. They robbed the people’s houses, jewellery, and millions of money of state institutions and now they are talking about corruption.”

Ranawaka feels that the JVP should first apologize to the people for what they have done. He accused the JVP of being responsible for killing over 6000 people and robbing over a billion rupees. They should first give an open apology and return what they robbed of the people. They will not do that, he added. “They now realize that people are beginning to understand and supporting out logic, so they are trying to tarnish our image. We are very sorry for them; they have to change their structure, their ideology and philosophy. Then they will have a political future. Now they only criticize people and since they cannot construct things positively. That is why they are opposing us for doing things in a constructive and positive manner that people have accepted.”

Ranawaka also said that the recent Treasury bill ordinance brought to parliament for approval was a big mistake made by the government which has questioned the legitimacy of the government.

Talking about the JHU’s future course of action he explained that they are simply setting the course. When big political parties are trying to introduce a federal form of government, he said, his party defeated that without having a single seat in parliament. When people were being attacked by the terrorists and were forced to kneel down before the LTTE’s neo-Nazi terror campaign, his party was bold enough to challenge the terrorists and somehow managed to defeat them. “MR was trying to appease them by giving them money and political concessions. Because of our intervention MR was forced to militarily take on the LTTE and defeat them. When MR tried to move like a dictator and exploit our national resources for the benefit of his family and it was a national plunder, not one who wanted to oppose him. But we did it and started educating people and somehow managed to defeat MR through this coalition in order to change the constitution. We are now doing that,” said Ranawaka.
He said that his party is setting the course for changing the future of this country, and their next move is to introduce a new set of economic policies to the country based on knowledge economy.