One of the main architects of the ‘January 8 silent revolution,’ the outspoken Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne is noted for his advocacy on democratic rights and plural politics. He asserts that his interest always lies in the country and not the party which comes second to him.
The former President may be somebody in the UPFA but not in the SLFP, which is headed by President Maithripala Sirisena. Nobody can take action within the party without consulting him.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said President Maithripala Sirisena’s recent speech would have a crippling impact on the UPFA’s election campaign as the President has explained his stance clearly to the nation. Dr. Senaratne who predicts the imminent defeat of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the upcoming General Elections said the situation in which the former President was re-elected to office in 2010 after the 2009 war victory does not prevail in the country today while the majority vote is likely to be divided 50/50.
Interviews by Uditha Kumarasinghe
Q: UPFA politicians charge that President Maithripala Sirisena’s recent speech has an adverse effect on their election campaign while others assert it as worthwhile. Your observations?
A: Yes. It would have affected them because the President explained his stand to the nation. Every word will go against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his clan who are leading the SLFP at the moment. The President’s speech would have an adverse effect on the UPFA election campaign. Most SLFP stalwarts say they have been greatly affected because of this recent speech by the President.
Q: What are the prospects for a true UPFA victory with Mahinda Rajapaksa who has a strong support base in the North Central, Sabaragamuwa and Southern Provinces?
A: As the incumbent President says, Mahinda Rajapaksa can never win. How can they win without mustering the minority votes? After the 2009 war victory, he had a good opportunity to win the election because at that time, the entire country stood with Mahinda Rajapaksa. A similar situation does not prevail today. His has tarnished his image with corruption, nepotism and other charges. Today the majority vote is divided as fifty-fifty. With that he will be badly defeated at the General Election.
Q: The UPFA election campaign would be dented if not for the Dinesh-Vasu-Wimal-Udaya group. Do you see any truth in this?
A: No. All these people are ineffective in their campaign. Most of the people think that they are the people who took the SLFP led UPFA to the extreme. Sometimes the UPFA could be greatly affected because of their actions.
Q: The United National Front for Good Governance( UNFGG) could have mustered more vot es if any of those charged with financial crimes were prosecuted and punished. In the end, it was all “sound and fury, signifying nothing”. Do you agree?
A: Yes. It is correct. But we have no shortcuts. There are no emergency powers at the moment. We don’t like to use military powers as the Rajapaksa regime used against Sarath Fonseka.
We have to investigate these charges within the existing legal framework which will take a long time. But that is the only way to deal with these financial crimes and other wrongdoings because we don’t want to introduce new laws to take action against the culprits. We have to conduct probes only under the existing law of the country. But sometimes some of those people will be charged during the election period as well. The process is continuing. Others will be charged after the election.
Q: Assuming that the United National Front for Good Governance wins the election, do you believe, you could proceed in the face of irreconcilable policies of constituent parties such as the JHU, SLMC and UNP itself?
A: We have come to a common understanding. That is good governance and the economic development. We are together on both these aspects. I don’t think there are drastic differences in principles or policies. There will be some differences in our tactics. I think we can sort it out in the way we sorted it out during the last five to six months in the same Cabinet with all those stakeholders.
A: It will be within the 13th Amendment under a unitary structure.
Q: Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is a power to reckon with as he has been appointed leader of the UPFA’s Election Committee. Do you think it is easy to defeat the UPFA which has a strong vote base in the country?
A: The former President may be somebody in the UPFA but not in the SLFP,which is headed by President Maithripala Sirisena. Nobody can take action within the party without consulting him. Actually those are just names. Every party has only one leader.
Q: Those who were charged but not punished for corruption, financial crimes and other vices have been given UPFA nominations. Does this mean the UPFA is insensitive to public criticism and good governance?
A: Definitely. Sarath Weerasekera was the only UPFA MP who voted against the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Then former President Rajapaksa went to Ampara and described him as a national hero as he voted against the 19th Amendment.
That is his understanding of good governance and executive powers. This is a leader who doesn’t like any reforms.
I don’t think anybody will support him for his stand. That is why even he doesn’t understand what is good and what is bad. That is why he has given nominations to all the rogues in the party who have been involved in drugs, ethanol, casino and all other corrupt businesses. They will be totally rejected at the next election.
Q: Does the United National Front for Good Governance have plans to form a National Government after the General Election as it is the concept of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe?
A: Yes. We have already laid key emphasis on that. But this would not be similar to the national government formed by the previous regime to offer portfolios and cater to the interests of certain elements.
The new national government to be formed after the election would be based on the core ideals and principals of a true national government.
A: That attempt has been thwarted now. Nobody within the SLFP can take action or pose a challenge to the President as he is the incumbent leader of the SLFP. According to the party constitution, the President has been entrusted with all powers to take the final decision with regard to any party matter.
Q: Your theme is ‘country first, party second’ but your opponents say all this is to suit your interests.
A: This is not a sudden stance taken by me. I have been advocating this theory for a long time. The country should be first and then the party because parties are formed for the country.