By Gagani Weerakoon
Leader of the National Freedom Front (NFF), Minister Wimal Weerawansa, at a discussion held recently, was reported to have reached a consensus on tipping the scales in favour of Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera contesting the presidential elections as a common candidate.
In an interview with Ceylon Today, Minister Weerawansa explains the reality behind the media reports, and why he thinks the recently appointed three-member international advisory panel to guide the Presidential Commission to investigate complaints of missing persons, is a dead rope given to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, by a force catering to the agendas of the West.
Excerpts of the interview:
Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera met you and your party recently. What were the issues you discussed at that meeting?
A: Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera had requested a meeting with us to discuss his proposals and the movement he represents. Accordingly, we met at our Party Headquarters and discussions were mainly on three key points, suggested as reforms. One was on abolishing the Executive Presidency, the other was on reinstating Independent Commissions and the third was on electoral reforms. On the other hand, we explained what the issues were, that we could reach a consensus on, and outlined on what matters we could not reach agreement.
I cannot say that we reached a consensus or agreed to their reforms. But as our party, the NFA too, believes that the country needs reforms in certain areas. All I can say is that the discussions were held on a very positive note.
You said the issue of reinstating Independent Commissions was one of the issues discussed. What are your suggestions on reinstating the Independent Commissions?
A: As a person actively committed to establishing Independent Commissions and also as a man who witnessed how those Independent Commissions operated, I have less or no faith at all on those so-called Independent Commissions. At the time those Independent Commissions were operating, they were not accountable to Parliament or to the Executive, on their actions. Those who were appointed to those commissions were in fact, working of their own will, towards solving the problems of their relatives. When an ordinary man got fed-up with the conduct of a
particular commission, they came to us; not to the ministers or other MPs. We could not stop these people seeking our assistance, although we took their grievances to Parliament. Therefore, I don’t think we should have commissions with supreme independence. If the Executive is the problem, whatever the Independent Commissions of the future, should at least be made accountable to the Legislature. We also explained this to Ven. Sobhitha Thera and noted that on such issues, we could not agree to such reform.
You also met several political parties and religious leaders with a set of proposals. What happened to your discussions with the SLFP? Did they agree to your 12-point resolution?
A: The discussions are still ongoing. There are things that could reach a mere consensus and there were several proposals that need a plan of action to achieve it. During our discussions we recognized eight such reforms that need a plan of action to go ahead. They are expected to give us a report on what they could agree to from our 12-point proposals and we are hopeful that at least they would agree to the economic reforms we suggested, as it is needed for the country.
But it was reported that the discussions with the SLFP failed?
A: Those ports are not correct. In fact, Minister Dullas Alahapperuma issued a statement after the SLFP Central Committee meeting that the party is studying the reforms suggested, and that the NFF proposals should not be treated negatively.
You were on a war path with the government in the recent past. Have you declared a truce now or have your grouses been redressed?
A: Well, those discussions surfaced with the presentation of these 12-point proposals. Now that the government has agreed on principle to the reform suggestions and is in the process of coming up with a strategic action plan to realize those reforms, we cannot hold on to my earlier criticism, any longer. If yet, we see any shortcoming or mistake made by government; we will continue to speak out on what is wrong, until, government corrects it. This we will do even if they accept our 12-point proposals and put those into action. We will never try to cover a mistake by the government. We will try our best to use whatever force we could to get the government on the correct path; whenever it goes off the track.
Minister, don’t you think you have become a joke now because you always threaten to walk out but never kept your word?
A: Well, those who are waiting for the government to collapse would only say that. Those like the miserably failed UNP and the JVP will like to see walk out. But our intention was not to topple the government, but to correct its action and get it on the right track. If the government is willing to listen and ready to rectify its wrongs, why should we walk out? We do not want to strengthen the hand of the enemies of the government by leaving the government, for no reason. Also, if there is a genuine need we will not hesitate to walk out.
What is the NFF plan for future elections? Have you decided whether to go solo or to contest under UPFA ticket?
A: As for the Uva Provincial Council Elections, we have not yet taken a final decision. We are discussing the matter whether we should contest the two districts, alone, or under the UPFA banner.
Now, the Election Commissioner has allocated three more seats to Moneragla, taking it away from Badulla. Do you consider this right?
A: If my memory is right Elections Commissioners in the past, removed three seats from Colombo District and allocated those to Kalutara and Gampaha. Even there were instances where several seats were taken away from the Jaffna District and allocated, elsewhere. None of us made a fuss about it. Even the TNA did not complain about it, because anyone with a basic knowledge knows that there are provisions and according to the mandate of the Elections Commissioner, he can do so. Those who are complaining now could have protested against these allocations at that stage. This is another excuse to cover-up their imminent defeat. Since, they cannot talk about computer ‘jilmarts’ after every election; they have come up with a stupid excuse that appears intelligent on the surface. Even if those three seats were still with the Badulla District, they cannot win the district as it is the UPFA that is going to win both Moneragala and Badulla.
Minister, it is said that you are planning to become the common candidate; other people have been invited to be a common candidate.
A: Thank God no one has so far invited me.
What if someone invited you to be the common candidate?
A: I sincerely hope no one would insult me that way… I hope and pray that not even a person who despises me would get the idea to disgrace me that way.
Why do you consider it as an insult?
A: That would be an honorary title given to the person who will definitely be defeated. No soul who comes forward as a common candidate could win an election. Even if it is a golden name, what is the point of having such title, common presidential candidate, when you are going to lose?
But Minister don’t you feel that someone is always using you as a mouthpiece to achieve their goals?
A: If it is the need of the country; the need of the hour…If I am the individual, to play that role, I do not mind being used or misused as a mouthpiece, for the betterment of the country. If you take incidents in the past, I have being instrumental in making someone else’s victory work for the betterment of the country. It is with this intention that we worked in 2004 to defeat UNP and to salvage Chandrika Kumaratunga. We in turn, opposed her to make Mahinda Rajapaksa win because she was going ahead with the PTOMS and catering to the needs of our enemies. At that hour, the need of the country was Mahinda Rajapaksa. Likewise, even if I have to continue being used for the country I will do so.
Minister, the government came under severe criticism recently for aiding and abating Sinhala Buddhist extremism. As a minister of the Cabinet and a coalition party to the government, do you have anything to say in the defence of the government?
A: If we take the Aluthgama- Beruwala incident as an isolated case, it is not the Sinhala Buddhists that started it. It all began with a group of Muslim extremists. The incident that started with assaulting a Buddhist monk, unfortunately ended with damaging properties and the lives of people on both sides. However, at the end of all these events, what is being highlighted is that there is Sinhala Buddhist extremism. Everybody blame those so called Sinhala extremist groups while cleverly burying Muslim extremist groups. The anger and anxiety faced by people in the area over police inaction to quickly apprehending the youth who assaulted the monk, was fuelled by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS). This clearly shows who wanted these conflicts created.
Both types of extremism are not good for the country and what government is attempting now is to defeat both factions. But, now both accuse the government of supporting the other. Muslim extremists accuse the government of supporting Sinhala extremists and vice versa. The truth is that government is being targeted by both parties because it has nothing to do with either. But one thing is clear. Even though, there is an opposition in the Sinhala Buddhists against Sinhala Buddhist extremisms there is no such phenomenon amongst Muslims. Even Minister Rauff Hakeem is busy pointing finger at Sinhala Buddhist but does not speak a word against those Muslim extremists operating with funds received from Saudi Arabia. This problem could not be solved without checking the actions of all the extremist groups. I think the government should take steps to ban all groups that spread religious views, other than those three or four main religions prevailed in the country for more than 500 years.
A gazette notification issued last Thursday to extend the mandate of the Presidential Commission to investigate complaints into the missing persons also appointed an international panel to advise the commission. Was the NFF aware of this move?
A: Well the President does not need to discuss everything before he takes a decision. But, we see this as a trap which the government or the President happily jumped into without much of thinking. Probably the government or the President must have considered these three member panel as merely an advisory panel. True that the commission will only have to accept their advices only if it is willing to. But the problem will arise once the commission refused to adhere to the advices given by this panel. This is not an isolated move but a strategic act by someone to get the government in trouble. This panel could in return report to the UNHRC in March that the missing persons’ commission could not be trusted as it did not adhere to their advice. Someone gave a dead rope to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and now the damage is done. Also what we do not understand is the need of this three-member panel, being gazetted.
By Gagani Weerakoon