While on to its fourth consecutive week of political instability, Sri Lanka is once again in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. With a confused Government, the people have started questioning their democratic rights. It was quite evident that members of the Joint Opposition showed little or no respect when they disrupted Parliamentary sessions twice. On both occasions, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) failed to show their majority. “Why should the UPFA remain in Government forcibly,” questioned United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) heavyweight Kumara Welgama while speaking to the media last Friday. He also said that he would never accept a ministerial post in the coalition Government.
In a candid interview with the Daily Mirror, Welgama reiterated on the possible alternatives Mahinda Rajapaksa could have used to become the premier and what needs to be done to put the country back on track.
Q You hold an independent view on the current political situation as opposed to other members in the UPFA. Why is that so?
I was appointed to the post of Chief Organiser of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) back in 1982 by our first woman Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. I have fought many elections and in fact have fought them the hard way. I am a very honest member of the SLFP. My electorates have been Matugama, Agalawatte and Bulathsinghala which were areas dominated by the red parties including the Lanka Samasamaja Party. I have seen great politicians such as Dr. Colvin R. De Silva, Anil Munasinghe and Mangala Munasinghe. I studied at S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia which is the school that produced three other prime ministers including D. S Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake and S.W.R.D Bandaranaike. So I have that reputation as well. This honesty has been inculcated in me since my school days mainly because I was a regular at Sunday school as well. Thanks to Madam Sirimavo I learned the fundamentals of being a politician and those lessons have made me who I am today.
We could have gone into a provincial council elections and won. Or we could have gone in for a Presidential election with Mahinda as the candidate
Q Why did you refuse to take up a ministerial post in the coalition Government?
Back in 2005 I told Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga that Mahinda Rajapaksa is the most eligible candidate to be the next President. I was in fact the first member to hold a meeting in Matugama to support Rajapaksa. When Sirisena was appointed as the President on January 8, 2015 he was appointed as the SLFP Leader as well. During the first steering committee meeting he said that the SLFP and the UNP would join hands to form a coalition Government. I was the first to oppose that move. So what I predicted in 2015 has come true as that coalition Government was a failure. I also said that if such a government is formed I will never take up a ministerial post because I have a chance of getting one as I’m a senior member of the Party.
Then there have been discussions to appoint Mahinda with Basil and Chamal Rajapaksa at Prof. G. L. Pieris’s residence to see the possibility of appointing Rajapaksa (MR) as PM. Chamal was opposed to this decision and we knew that Sirisena had a hidden agenda. He’s cunning that way. Otherwise he wouldn’t just appoint MR as PM. Ministers such as Keheliya Rambukwella and Mahindananda Aluthgamage who supported this decision thought it will be a good opportunity to put a stop to the privatisation of various ventures. While I immediately opposed this decision, I also said that I will support Mahinda to get a majority and if he wanted a 2/3rds majority as in the Constitution I will vote in favour of him as well.
Q The events that followed from proroguing Parliament to the chaotic parliamentary sessions have put a black mark on the country. Is it good for elected representatives to behave in this manner?
We now face a crisis. The country has two prime ministers; one at Temple Trees and the other at the PM’s office. The speaker has to take a proper vote. He could have taken it electronically because the voice vote would never work given the chaos. But what I say is that whoever who doesn’t show the majority should respect the rule of law and leave. This applies to both the SLFP and the UNP. With the chaos that transpired in Parliament it has put a black mark on the country. I saw how foreign diplomats filmed everything and it was all over media.
With nepotism, people did lose faith in them and because of that we have suffered many losses. But I hope he too has learned his lessons and will not encourage such activities in future
Q In an earlier instance you said that Mahinda would have had a better way to become Premier. What alternatives could he have possibly opted for?
We could have defeated the Budget which was supposed to be read on December 5. We could have gone into a provincial council elections and won. Or we could have gone in for a Presidential election with Mahinda as the candidate and won it. But they blindly took this vague decision and you can now witness the crisis.
Q People have taken to the streets, crying out for their democratic rights. Where do they stand?
There’s a case in the Supreme Court and we hope that the judgment would be given on December 7. Depending on that we can go for a fresh election where people can vote, let their voices be heard and elect a fresh Government. But we still haven’t been able to make that democratic move yet and the whole world is watching us.
Q The International Monetary Fund suspended its loans due to the political instability prevailing in the country. How will this affect the economy?
The loan, worth Rs. 1.85 billion, is on hold. In fact it’s a huge blow to the economy. People will rob each other to find food and money and the situation would be similar to countries such as Venezuela. On January 14, 2019 we have to pay USD 1000 million and at the end of next year we have to pay USD 2546 million. Without money how can we propose a budget? Sirisena did have better ways to solve this issue. As at now, everybody has to get together and think about the country. One faction is worried that the other will file cases against them and vice versa. With these tensions we can’t return to normalcy.
People will rob each other to find food and money and the situation would be similar to countries such as Venezuela. On January 14, 2019 we have to pay USD 1000 million
But what I say is that whoever who doesn’t show the majority should respect the rule of law and leave. This applies to both the SLFP and the UNP.
Q What will happen to the Budget?
Where is the money to propose a Budget? The On Account budget will be tabled, but that is 1/4th of the actual budget.
We are experiencing huge economic losses. So the world needs to see who the actual leader is and we have to work to regain what we lost during the past few days.
Q Do you think that Parliamentary proceedings would run smoothly on November 23?
Yes. Everybody has learned a lesson now. Both sides had their faults. Some were carrying knives while the others meddled with the speaker’s chair and broke mics.
When people voice out their opinions on TV we can see how they scold the politicians today. I hope and pray that they would act more sanely on Friday.
Q Don’t you think that President Sirisena acted prematurely in deciding to appoint a PM?
He has always taken decisions in a hurry. Not that I’m blaming him, but he didn’t know about the 100-day programme or about the petrol and diesel price hike.
When Mahinda was President he took firm and far-sighted decisions. He decided to put an end to the war and he did it. The country needs a leader like him.
Q Two reasons why the Rajapaksa regime was overthrown were because of nepotism and corruption. With Rajapaksa coming into power, chances are high that Gotabaya too would enter the political scene. What are your views ?
People may have a fear. Mahinda was determined to put an end to the war and Gotabaya helped him. For that we need to give them the due credit. When J. R Jayewardene was in power, Vadamarachchi was under attack. This was when Lalith Athulathmudali was the Minister of National Security. What resulted was J.R going to India and bringing back a provincial council we didn’t want. Likewise they didn’t take farsighted decisions. With nepotism, people did lose faith in them and because of that we have suffered many losses. But I hope he too has learned his lessons and will not encourage such activities in future.
Both sides had their faults. Some were carrying knives while the others meddled with the speaker’s chair and broke mics. When people voice out their opinions on TV we can see how they scold the politicians today
Q As a result of the prevailing political instability tourist arrivals have declined despite this being the peak season. How can we recover what we have lost during the past few weeks?
We lost Rs. 20 million as a result of tourist cancellations. What we need to do is establish a proper Government, show the majority and pass the Budget if we are to head back to normalcy.