- ”What exists now is a Sumanthiran-Ranil Government” Mahinda
- You declared in public that you obtained membership of the SLPP. This was also announced via your Twitter account. Are you now denying that this was not so?
By Anuradha Herath
Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa says that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has to be held accountable for the Treasury Bonds fraud. “I have no deals with Ranil,” he added.
Who is the Opposition Leader of the current Parliament?
A: Actually, the person who should be the Opposition Leader is the Leader of the Party that represents the largest number of MPs in the Opposition.
Is that you?
We had two Prime Ministers in the country for more than 50 days last year. Now there are two Opposition Leaders, as R. Sampanthan also claims he is the Opposition Leader.
A: Sampanthan is being controlled by Sumanthiran. Sampanthan went but it was Sumanthiran who brought him back. This is not only a conspiracy. This is clearly a campaign run by Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Government.
Are you saying it is Ranil Wickremesinghe who is controlling Sampanthan?
A: It is not clear whether Ranil Wickremesinghe is controlling Sampanthan or vice versa. But, we are certain that it is Sumanthiran who is controlling Ranil.
You did not vote against any of the Bills tabled by the UNP which were detrimental to the country. Therefore, certain parties allege that you are not suitable to hold the post of Opposition Leader. Do you disagree with this argument
A: I have done what was required at the required time and place.
For example, you did not vote against the Singapore Agreement or the Hambantota Port Agreement?
A: But it was I who carried out the battle against those things. I now give leadership to these battles. The time when I did everything has now passed. There was a time when I used to battle on the street. But, now there are enough young members in our party who can do that sort of thing.
What is your Party?
A: I was elected as a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. It is mentioned in the Constitution of the SLFP that if a member of the Party served as a President of the country, that individual is appointed as an Advisor of the Party for life. If I am to be removed I have to be recognised separately. I have not been removed. Therefore, I am a life member of the SLFP.
Are you representing the Podujana Peramuna as well?
A: When the SLFP entered into a coalition with the UNP to set up a Government, we obtained permission from the Party to act as a group in the Opposition. MPs asked the Chairman of the Party about this. So, when we took over leadership of the Opposition, inevitably, a new Party was formed to represent that group. However, I have not obtained membership of that Party as yet.
You declared in public that you obtained membership of the SLPP. This was also announced via your Twitter account. Are you now denying that this was not so?
A: No. Everyone expected to obtain membership in time for the next election. We have to have a Party to contest from. Then Parliament was dissolved and a fresh election was to be held. The matter of SLPP membership was discussed in this context. If I say that I am going to obtain membership, it has to be given back to me as well.
There is an allegation that you are saying this now because your game plan was not successful.
A: When we received an invitation from the SLFP Chairman to form a Government we accepted it. That was all that happened. Nothing can be done about it being successful or unsuccessful. The reasons that led to the change of Government still exist to a certain extent.
There are some who regard the occurrences of 26 October as a conspiracy. Comment?
A: Actually, it was not a conspiracy. One party in the coalition left and there was a ‘bonus period’. Then they left the agreement. When that happened the President gathered together the group that commanded the majority in Parliament, and invited to form a Government.
When you take what happened on 26 October, did you get caught to the President’s trap, or both of you got caught in each other’s traps?
A: Neither of us set up traps. I don’t consider what happened as a trap. A situation arose where the President could no longer continue with what was happening in the Government. The reason is because President Sirisena was the former General Secretary of the SLFP. I have known him since the 1970s. There is no way he could just passively watch while the policies of the UNP were being implemented and how the properties of the country were being sold off. As the leader he would have approved of those at that moment. However, finally his principles won over. We could have seen the results of that decision, had there been an election. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court issued a verdict saying holding an election was not lawful. We do not accept that. But we have to accept the verdict and that it is correct and we have no possibility of appealing.
But the Supreme Court verdict said the Constitution was violated and not that it was unlawful to hold an election
A: There are two arguments in this. The opinion we submitted was not accepted. I did not read the verdict completely. But it is mentioned that the verdict was issued based on the 19th Amendment. We are not going to talk about the other things. However, we do have problems about them.
Apart from Sarath Weerasekera, all of you raised your hands to pass the 19th Amendment. But, today you are criticising it?
A: Actually then I was not in Parliament. The decision was made as a Party.
Did your group raise their hands that day without reading the Amendment Bill?
A: The situation that existed in the country at that time had an impact on that vote. I was defeated and I had handed over the Party reins, and Maithripala Sirisena had made a certain decision and told the Party about it. Then they could not oppose it. I do not think anyone read it in depth.
But, it was this same Maithripala Sirisena, who according to you had betrayed your Party and left you, that offered you the Premier post. Why did you accept it?
A: I know that whatever decision Maithripala had made and whatever he had done, it was all to do with politics. We did not have the possibility of rejecting that request at that time.
However, some seniors in the Party, such as Kumara Welgama, were staunchly against your decision. Are you regretting not heeding their advice?
A: He said a lot of things. It was his personal opinion. That was it.
In your letter of resignation you mentioned that you set up an Interim Government for a period of two months. But your intention was to go for a General Election while holding the PM post, wasn’t it?
A: No. At the time I took over, I said, I am accepting this in order to go in for an election. Even before accepting it I had made that statement.
Did you not engage in an effort to increase your voter base by giving promises and money to provide relief to the people?
A: It was not to increase our voter base. We saw how people were being burdened by taxes. We saw the price of a barrel of oil. While the price went down to 28 and 29 US Dollars a barrel in the world market, a large sum was being charged for fuel. They did not provide that relief to the people. Then they were making profits of billions and millions and maintained this for more than three years.
You reduced the price of fuel three times. Did you expect to gain people’s attention?
A: No. I could give relief to the people because it was possible to do so. Even now, it is possible to reduce the price of fuel. These people are imposing taxes on everything. Businesses collapsed. People were sacked from their jobs. The number is over 400,000. Some have not even gone on record. As soon as they came in they put a brake to development. I think they would have fulfilled every condition imposed by the IMF. Even now, the plight of the people has to be seen to. I believe that since this is an election year, the forthcoming budget will provide a lot of relief for the people. They will give as much reliefs as possible and try to increase their margin of victory. If that becomes successful, they will cut back everything next year. That is their mentality. But that is wrong. If they think they can deceive the people always, it is wrong.
You had the opportunity to defeat the UNP Government by defeating the budget. But, you opted to topple the Government through the 26th incident. Wasn’t this a mistake?
A: No. At that time we had no way of defeating the budget. Due to certain incidents, through the crisis, they all banded together.
What led to them banding together?
A: I think that when we presented the No-Confidence Motion they all joined together. That is what initially happened to us. Then the SLFP and the Opposition joined together again.
Was this what led you to take 16 SLFPers into your fold?
A: Just like what happened with the UNP, when the SLFP joined the Opposition we became stronger as a Party.
It was said that the group from the SLFP came based on the instructions of the President. Did you also make an intervention?
A: No. They came and spoke to us. We took them in and I need not mention each one by name now.
You said that you will not accept a ‘charity’ Prime Minister post. Finally you had to take over such a post, didn’t you?
A: Yes, in truth. It cannot be said that it was a ‘charity’ Premiership. When we are granted a position we are always ready and prepared to topple the Government. I had to give leadership to that attempt to topple the Government.
You and your group said on several occasions that you will topple the Government in two Poyas?
A: We did that precisely. I said Vesak Poya. There is another Vesak Poya coming up.
You said during the LG Election period that you will topple the Government. Now you’re saying you will topple the Government at the first opportunity. Aren’t you misleading the public with such statements?
A: No we are not misleading them. We showed the public what we could do. We said we will topple the Government in two Poyas. We did that. There is another Poya coming up soon.
But, then again, an issue that could have been resolved in Parliament had to be taken up in Court, and as a result a historic verdict was delivered. Comment?
A: As I said earlier, we accept it as a verdict only. If there was a higher Court, we could have appealed the verdict.
Are you aware of the fact that a Government can be toppled through a No-Confidence Motion?
A: Yes, it can be done. The problem is that we have to know exactly what our numbers are. It is with that understanding that we have to move forward. Generally, a Government is not toppled through a No-Confidence Motion. What it means is that awareness is raised among the people of the country about it.
On 13 and 14 November two successive No-Confidence Motions were adopted in Parliament. But, you did not leave PM post?
A: Subsequent to the Court verdict it was not ethical for us to remain. Then I had to go.
A certain group says that bringing in a No-Confidence Motion against Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister was wrong. What is your opinion?
A: That is the opinion of the UNP. But we have to consider the opinion of the people. If I had not accepted that post, there would not be any relief for the public even in the upcoming Budget. It is because we took steps to reduce the prices of goods that they will also do so in this budget. Money did not go to the villages in terms of development. Now, money has started flowing in. The results of what happened are now being received by the people. These people did not think about the villagers. Instead they charged taxes from everybody.
Some say you did not receive enough support from your own camp to make up the required 113 majority. Is this true?
A: No. That is wrong. A certain group in the SLFP said publicly that they had not decided as to whether they are willing to establish a Government with Mahinda Rajapaksa. At the same time there were discussions at Temple Trees. When they got to know that, a group from the Ruling Party which was due to join us became weak. It was not because we did not accept anyone who was trying to cross over. There was a group ready to do so. A group went to Mecca. Some of them called me from Mecca itself. In the meantime, some incidents took place. An MP had gone and told the Speaker that four persons were going to join the Opposition and to prepare four seats for them. I think such news reached the President too. Then he made the decision to dissolve Parliament.
Who were ready to join you?
A: No, I do not like to mention names. Those who spoke to me from abroad said that as soon as they came back, they would join me.
Do you think money was being offered to prevent those who tried to join you?
A: It is possible. I do not want to make such an allegation against a parliamentarian. It is possible that could have happened. Or it could even be a rumour.
Some say you are in danger of losing your Parliament seat for trying to take over the Premier post?
A: It is like this. Sampanthan lost his post of Opposition Leader as he went to establish a Government with the Prime Minister. This is the first time that a Government has been established with the assistance of Sampanthan and others. Such a thing had not happened up to now. Then this Government is a TNA + UNP Government. In reality, it is a Sumanthiran-Ranil Government. It is a conspiracy.
Following the SC verdict, it was claimed that the President violated the Constitution during the preceding events. You are a lawyer. Can one go to the SC against the President on that charge?
A: No. No one can go to Court against Maithripala Sirisena. That is why a case has been filed against the Attorney General.
Didn’t you compromise the 10 February election victory with the events that started unfolding on 26 October?
A: No, no. You can wait and see how the next election will turn out to be. If possible, the Provincial Council elections should be held and then we can show you our power. Everyone thought that with the competition between the SLFP and us the votes were being split up, it would be very advantageous to the UNP. But it was proved to be a lie. Every result was different.
Do you believe Western diplomatic missions played a part in overturning your Government?
A: Actually, we saw that very clearly. We saw how the Speaker reacted to the Gallery. How they clapped and jumped up and down when votes were being taken and how they brought in cameras and took photographs. All of this happened inside. That makes it very clear where those people stood!
So, does that mean there was a foreign intervention?
A: Yes, there was an intervention. This Government was brought in by them. They intervened to even defeat me. Certain countries accepted the fact that they spent money to help defeat me. It is another story on whose behalf they spent that money. They mentioned that in public. Such persons would have thought that they have the responsibility of protecting this Government as well.
You said there was foreign intervention during the 2015 Election. But, it was you who made the mistake of going for elections two years early, wasn’t it?
A: If I had stayed on, they would have done to me what they did to Gaddafi. It would have come to a point where they would have conspired to assassinate me. There would have been more conspiracies.
It is also alleged that certain people who were close to you were responsible for your defeat. Is there any truth to it?
A: No. no. What nonsense? However, you have to consider those say so, as well. Who are saying such things! About how they are being destroyed, based on whose instructions?
Some say the Mahinda-Maithri alliance grabbed power from the existing Government.
A: No. What is the responsibility of the Opposition? It is to overturn the Government and acquire power at the first opportunity. That is our responsibility. The responsibility of the Opposition is not to raise their hands in Parliament and protect the Government while pretending to criticise the Government outside. Today some political parties in the Opposition criticise the Government and become heroes on platforms. They berate us mostly. In every story, 75 per cent of the time, the Rajapaksas are to be blamed. The rest of the 25 per cent goes to another party. And they go to Parliament and protect that 25 per cent.
According to the President the losses due to Bonds scam amount to Rs 1000 billion. The losses occurred during this Government was estimated to be Rs 11 billion. Does that mean the remaining Rs 989 billion losses occurred during your regime?
A: No, it has not been calculated as yet. Even the Governor of the Central Bank had said that calculations have not been done as yet. We are waiting until they do so.
But as the Minister of Finance then you have to be held directly accountable in relation to this allegation. Isn’t that so?
A: We do have a responsibility if an incident like that took place during our time. Such an incident did not take place. Such a fraud did not happen. We are saying that very clearly. I think Ajith Nivard Cabraal has clearly replied to that question.
Arjun Aloysius and Kasun Palisena were released on bail recently. Does this show that whichever Government comes in, they protect their own?
A: My belief is that if a court case is not filed within a year, releasing them is justified. They could have filed that case. If a case had been filed it is justified that they remain in remand. The situation that arises after filing a case is different. Is it justified if a case is not filed and other defendants are not questioned?
Arjun Aloysius is the owner of a private company. But, who should really be held accountable for the losses caused to the country?
A: Today, there is no legal action against the accountable party. Companies earn profits by engaging in a business. They engaged in making unnecessary profits. That is wrong. That is a different story, but the Government did not file any case against them. If a case had been filed they would not have been granted bail.
All other responsible political parties except the UNP allege that it is Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who should be held directly responsible for this. But the reports issued by the Presidential Commissions inquiring into this do not mention his name at all. How can legal action be taken against him?
A: You too would have seen that on many occasions I did not make allegations or accusations. I do not make unnecessary allegations against anybody. If we accuse someone we should be able to prove it. However, we should give the benefit of the doubt to the defence. But as a politician I believe that Ranil Wickremesinghe is responsible for this.
It has not been possible to bring back former Governor of the Central Bank, Arjuna Mahendran to this country, up to now?
A: All the requests to bring him have fallen on deaf ears.
But isn’t it the task of the Opposition to intervene in such a serious issue? Have you given up on it?
A: No, no we are engaged in that battle.
On the other hand, 33 allegations made in the PRECIFAC report are against you and your family members. But, the Government has not taken any action regarding these allegations either.
A: President Maithripala appointed two Commissions. When two Commissions are appointed what has to be done is to hand over the report of one Commission to him. The other one is different. The Treasury Bonds Commission one was a different category. Then the defendant was not even questioned in this instance. They did not even bring him in. In our case, it was very clearly said that the ITN has to pay me. But, I was found guilty. Such Commissions are appointed to fulfil their political agendas. If they want to politically attack someone they appoint a Commission.
That means you are accusing the President of appointing such a Commission?
A: No. It was done due to the situation that prevailed at that time. I do not accept it. We are not prepared to recognize the report of that Commission. They appointed three judges to that Commission. But I clearly say that they did not do any justice.
The President recently said a Commission will be appointed to look into corruption and fraud in the Ranil Wickremesinghe Government as well. Will that Commission also meet a similar fate?
A: As I said the two Commissions were of a different nature. Hopefully they will appoint a proper Commission.
You said there was a group of people around you who committed wrongs.
A: They are now with this Government.
Do you think this is the right time to distance yourself from these people?
A: Now they are no longer with me. They have left me. In the face of defeat, they quit. I have won and I have lost. My father too won and lost. I have had that experience from the days of my father. So, victory and defeat are not big things for me. Even if I receive the post of Prime Minister or anything else, it does not mean much to me now.
But, you showed that you would do anything to keep your post.
A: When a Government is established, there is a responsibility to protect that Government. We did certain things to protect that. However, I did not speak to any MP or Minister in the ruling party and ask them to come over to our side. Some persons spoke to me over the telephone.
There is speculation that Sumanthiran is planning to bring a Federal Constitution prior to 4 February. In your opinion, is it possible to bring such a Constitution whenever someone wants it?
A: A Constitution can be brought into Parliament. But then you have to follow the due procedure to pass it in Parliament. You cannot simply get a Constitution passed. Just because Sumanthiran has been given a deadline that he has to do this before 4 February, I do not know whether Ranil Wickremesinghe will do it. But then it is a totally wrong thing to do. The reason is because when 1972 Constitution was prepared, Colvin R. De Silva created a Constitutional Council and for two years he worked on it. Then J.R. Jayewardene made changes together with those legal experts. Today just a group has got together and are trying to bring in a Federal system or some other system. Some people allege that it is being drawn up abroad. Certain changes will be required in this Constitution. There will be changes definitely.
Is there a need for a new Constitution?
A: I believe that amendments are required. There is no need for a new Constitution. If that is being done, it has to be done systematically. We cannot allow a Constitution to be prepared simply by giving it to someone in a Committee or to a person in an NGO and according to what the NGO wants.
You are the leader who ended the separatist war. Don’t you think tossing around terms such as federalism and dividing the country can be a detrimental to the country?
A: Sumanthiran says these things in public. These are not false allegations, and that it is the truth he sees. Only a very few have the needs of the people of the North in mind. Now, see while the TNA was in the Opposition they supported the Government. From the Opposition, they helped make Ranil the Prime Minister and to establish a Government. For that do you need to betray the entire country? Was there any development in even one of the villages in the North? Nothing was done at all. That is why Ranil Wickremesinghe is trying to set up Development Ministries and hand them over to these people, telling them to develop the North in a few days time.
What is being done at the moment is drafting a new Constitution. Don’t you think inflammatory statements should not be made at this juncture?
A:What they say come out through newspapers. What they are trying to do in the North is to create racism and carry out this procedure because of their need for power. I think people will not approve that. The people in the North want to establish a separate Government. They have no other battle slogan. Sumanthiran, Sampanthan and others have made spreading racism into a slogan. Some people thrive on that. They have become a group which depends on the Diaspora.
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike created history by forming the SLFP. Now there is an allegation you are trying to bring SLPP to prominence at the expense of the SLFP.
A: I reject that allegation. The SLFP was not established by the Bandaranaike only. It was those two including my father D.A. Rajapaksa who left the Party initially. The SLFP was the political Party they all set up together. We recognize that history. But when the Party makes a wrong decision sometime, with the SLFP joining the UNP again, we had to distance ourselves from that. The reason is because Mr. Bandaranaike left the UNP not to rejoin it ever again.
Are you saying that that anger still remains?
A: Now, we are together again as one group. Everyone should accept that fact. It is possible that there are certain persons, at least one or two who are in pain of mind that they lost their ministerial posts. It is a personal problem.
A person named Namal Kumara revealed a VIP assassination attempt. Now the focus is on his personal details. This has now become a game at the expense of national security.
A: When a complaint is lodged, an investigation has to be conducted against the suspect. I know this from those who work at the CID. Their task is to find evidence against a suspect prove his guilt. They conduct a thorough investigation and file documents. But, in this case, something different has happened. They are now investigating the complainant. Now the complainant has become the defendant. They want to check his credibility. His lawyers should look into this. All this has nothing to do with his complaint. I feel they’re trying to hide something. I feel that if there is a VIP assassination attempt, the Government is trying to cover it up.
The other allegation is that you never make any strong allegations against Ranil Wickremesinghe. Some even hint at a secret Mahinda-Ranil deal?
A: There is no deal at all between Ranil and myself. Where we have to attack him, we do so. If not, we need not keep mentioning Ranil Wickremesinghe all the time. I do not have a disagreement with Ranil Wickremesinghe personnaly. Our issue with him is a political one. It is not the person, it is his policies that we criticise.
Are you saying there is no credibility to the claim that it is Wickremesinghe who shields Rajapaksas from corruption cases?
A: That accusation is completely wrong. Now President Maithripala says that they are the people who brought this up.
There are various allegations against the new Cabinet too?
A: It does not matter to us. Whoever is appointed, it is something to do with the UNP. We are just watching all the drama that unfolds. I saw recently a debate between Thevarapperuma and Sarath Fonseka. We don’t need to watch comedy films. They’re providing us all the entertainment.
The Cabinet was supposed to be restricted to 30. However, not it has been revealed to be 36.
A: Yes, 36 names have been sent to the President.
Can this be identified as a National Government?
A: This is not a National Government.
According to Ranil Wickremesinghe, as there is an SLMC member in the Government, it can be termed as a National Government.
A: I think it is against the Constitution.
The topic of media suppression has come up again?
A: Very clearly, this Government is suppressing the media. It is something that is taking place according to a plan. It is being implemented today. The Government has stopped giving advertisements to certain media companies. This suppression clearly takes on the nature of dictatorship.
There are allegations of abduction, assault and killing of journalists against your regime. Does your party have a moral right to talk about media freedom?
A: So, was it I who abducted Richard de Soysa during Premadasa’s time? They took him and publicly killed him. If I try to relate these people’s characters it will go a lot further. We did not kill anybody. Those responsible for these acts are in the Government today.
In your opinion, what should come first, a Presidential Election or a General Election?
A: I think a General Election should be held first. President Maithripala has the ability to call for a Presidential Election after 8 January. If he does call for one, he should become the candidate.
Is your Presidential Candidate Maithri?
A: No, no, that question has not surfaced yet. When it arises, our Party will get together and discuss the matter and make a decision. He has to decide that a Presidential Election will be held after 8 January.
Then our Party has to decide, whether we will present a Candidate or not. We will decide at that time. It is not something that will arise just yet.
Do you hope to contest from the SLPP? If not, will the SLFP and the SLPP form an alliance?
A: There is talk now of forming an alliance. We believe that rather than contesting alone it would be stronger to face the election together.
In the recent past, your brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa became prominent on political stages. What happened to him?
A: That group is still strong. Whatever anyone says he too is a powerful political character.
The JVP says the present Government does not have the right to rule the country for a long period of time. Are you also of the same opinion?
A: That opinion was put forward by us, initially. Parliament should be dissolved and a General Election should be held.
But JVP wants to first pass the 20th Amendment and then go for an election?
A: When they have entered into new deals with Sumanthiran and others that must be a requirement. We do not have that need. We are saying clearly that this Parliament should be dissolved. And if I mention future plans in brief, we are prepared for a General Election.