By Waruni Karunarathne
The All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) led by Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, which is now a part of the UNP led alliance, has decided to contest six districts under the UNP’s elephant symbol and one district separately under their own party symbol. Bathiudeen said that his party joined the UNP led good governance front to carry forward the mandate given by the people at the presidential election and that he is confident of securing 10 seats in the next parliament
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q. The SLMC has also joined the UNP led alliance. Given that the UNP has a Muslim representation of its own, how confident are you of your candidates securing victory to enter parliament at the general election?
A. Our party has fielded candidates in seven districts. In six districts, we have fielded candidates under the UNP elephant symbol and we are contesting the election separately in the Ampara district under our party symbol. We expect one seat in the Ampara district and two in the Wanni. We also expect one each from Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Anuradhapura, Puttalam and Kurunegala. Other Muslim representatives do not make an impact on our voter base. The only difference is that people will vote for us under the elephant symbol. We are sure that eight members will be able to get elected to parliament and with our two party representatives from the national list, we expect 10 of our members to enter parliament this time. We do not want to talk against any of the other Muslim representatives from the UNP or the SLMC. What we can assure is that we have our own voter base and we expect to get 10 seats in parliament.
Q. The SLMC has been working as your opponent. Now that you have come under the UNP umbrella, do you expect to join forces in future to address the issues related to Muslim community in the country?
A. We have worked not only with the SLMC but also with about 17 other minority and minor parties when discussing matters related to the 20th Amendment. At that point, we managed to build a dialogue on minority representation and other issues related to minor and minority parties. When there is a common issue in the country or in our community, we are ready to work together with other parties to address those issues. The SLMC is another party. I broke away from the SLMC and built another party with a set of others as the SLMC was not going in the direction that we wanted it to. Our policies and the SLMC policies are different. They contest the election with their ideologies and we contest with ours. However, we interact with the UNP right now. We contest under the UNP depending on the agreement we have with the UNP.
A. For this particular election we have not signed a separate MoU with the UNP. However, earlier, we have had discussions and we have an understanding as to how we will go on this journey together.
Q. Are you happy about the amount of contestants that you managed to field to contest the election under the UNP ticket?
A. We have one each from the Puttalam, Kurunegala, Anuradhapura and Trincomalee districts. There are six in the Wanni and three in Batticaloa. We are quite content with that.
Q. There are various allegations against you at present. Do you think it will be a disadvantage in the upcoming election?
A. I have not done anything wrong. There were various false allegations against me. The allegations on the Wilpattu issue are false. There are some allegations related to an issue in Mannar which are also false. I have only extended my help to those who were in need of help. I have appeared on behalf of the minority community to address their issues. We have risen to be a very strong party among the community. Even though we are a small party, we were part of the move to make Maithripala Sirisena the President of this country. We clearly made an impact at that point. There were 70 other parliamentarians who came, with me, to support the movement. We did what was necessary for the country when some ministers were too afraid to make a move. We had the courage to make a significant move at that point when there were death threats and various other pressures. We are a party that has a principle and we work according to that. Therefore, our voter base will remain intact.
Q. What is the main focus of the election campaign of your party this time?
A. We have to protect the country. We have to promote a country where all the ethnicities live in peace and harmony. As everybody knows, during the last phase of the Rajapaksa regime, the Muslim community in this country lived in fear. There were attacks on houses, shops and mosques. People feared to step out of their houses. The voice of the extremist groups was strong. People were asked not to eat halal food and Muslim women were asked not to cover their faces. Ven Galagoda-atte Gnanasara thero of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) was acting as the unofficial police but nobody took actions against them. It was not right. That is the reason why we supported President Sirisena.
We are against any form of extremism, from the Muslim, Sinhala or Tamil ethniticies. Everybody should come together for the common good of the country and live in harmony. At the same time, everybody should be able to enjoy all the benefit. People should have equal access resources in terms of development, education or economy. Everybody should consider this as our motherland. The reason Prabakaran took arms and fought for a separate country is because they believed their problems remained unaddressed. Therefore, it is the duty of the whole nation not to let such a disaster take place once again and treat everybody equally.
Just because the government changes, the law enforcement authorities should not change and should not work according to politicians but should take action against the wrong doers. The president, the government and the political parties in the country may change but there has to be a policy plan for the country. Those who come into power should not change that plan for their advantage but should work according to the country’s interests. That is what we believe and promote as a party.
Q. You mentioned that the Rajapaksa regime was accused of backing extremism in the country. At present, that very element seems to be coming back to national politics. How do you respond to that?
A. We will not allow that to happen. That is why we are asking the mandate of the people to enter parliament. Once we get into parliament, we will fight against those elements that promote extremism. Anybody who is promoting extremism against any ethnic group in the country, even if they come with different faces, we are determined to fight against them. In the Wanni district, the Sinhalese are the minority and if anybody treats them unfairly or troubles them, we will not let that happen. Likewise, if people like Ven Gnanasara Thero trouble the ethnic minority in the South, we will not allow that to happen. Rights of every ethnic group in the country are protected in the Sri Lankan constitution. When the constitution protects the people, the Rajapaksa regime allowed the extremist groups to attack ethnic minority. That is something wrong with how they governed. The Rajapaksa regime was a strong regime which put an end to a war and brought peace to the country, and initiated development projects, but they were unable to stop extremist elements like BBS taking power into their hands. That is the reason why people defeated him. People will continue to rise against such extremist elements.
Q. Earlier, you worked with the UPFA alliance and, now, you are with the UNP led alliance. How do you guarantee your voters that you will not break away from this alliance?
A. We are a party that helped Rajapaksa to become president twice. We held ministerial positions under the UPFA and helped the development projects after establishing peace in the country. We worked well with them until the last minute. Then we joined the good governance front to support Maithripala Sirisena at the Presidential election. There were many groups at that point who joined this movement. We believe that Ranil Wickremasinghe is a leader who promotes ethnic harmony and politicians who work for the general good of the country regardless of religions and ethnicities.
We joined them with that expectation. As long as he is going in the right direction, we will remain with him. If he changes his direction, then we will have to leave him. We made a lot of effort to get him the Prime Ministerial post during the last election. In the general election, we will work equally hard to get him a mandate to be the prime minister. We have high expectations that he would not take the path that Rajapaksa took. Rajapaksa behaved like Hitler, ignoring others’ advices and opinion. Wickremasinghe is aware of it and therefore he will not take the same path.
Q. What is the reaction of the people in the Puttalam district to the current developments in the political arena?
A. We have fielded one candidate under the UNP in the Puttalam district. He will definitely enter parliament. I request all the people of this country to help Wickremasinghe to be the Prime Minister of this country for the next five years. During the interim period, he has maintained good relationships with other countries.
He is a very good politician. Now, in the UNP led alliance, we have representatives of all religious groups, ethic groups and social groups and communities from upcountry, South to East. That itself is an indication of the UNP’s policy on promoting ethnic harmony.