“I did not know till the last minute”- Mahinda Rajapaksa

Mahinda Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka’s “ex-disputed PM to now disputed opposition leader” Mahinda Rajapaksa says that he was unaware till the last minute of his October 26 appointment (as Prime Minister) that he was to be appointed. Rajapaksa also says that he has not obtained the membership of SLPP (Pohottuwa) contrary to the widely held political opinion.

Speaking to a national Sinhala weekly Irida Lankadeepa, Rajapaksa said that the photos circulated in media of him accepting SLPP membership, was not about accepting membership but one of handing over his application to join SLPP. “The document I was holding was not membership card since the card did not have my name printed on it. It is now for the Speaker to make a decision. I am still a lifelong member of SLFP. I am a patron of the Party and a Patron never retires” he said.

Asked to give an explanation of the entire episode from October 26 to date, he said: “Nothing specially happened. That same Mahinda Rajapaksa who was existing then, still continues to exist.”

Asked of the latest dispute on his opposition leadership Vs TNA Leader Sampanthan, he said: “He (Sampanthan) can express any opinions that he wants to.”

Asked of the failure to show the majority in the House he said; “Who said there was no majority? The majority was there! But could not produce it due to certain reasons that impacted on certain persons.”

Q: Was it a question of money?

Rajapaksa: “No, not ONLY the money. I did not call anyone to join. Some UNP MPs staying abroad phoned me to tell they will come and join me. I cannot reveal these names -Some others within UNP too were against them joining us.”

Q: Why did you resign from PM?

Rajapaksa: “Courts to decide on January 16-17 and I could have stayed till then. But I cannot just watch country getting unstable.”

Q: Ranil Wickremesinghe has been appointed as the PM while there is a court judgment pending on the legality of him being the PM.

Rajapaksa: It is no issue for him- He went into the Temple Trees just to preserve his Premiership. He was living at the Fifth Lane at the time this happened and as soon as my appointment was made he immediately went to Temple Trees declaring “I am the PM”- Each individual is different in their own ways.

Q: Some say you could have been patient and could have held on for another 1-1/2 years…

Rajapaksa: Yes some say that. Most of those who say this are UNPers.

Q: But don’t YOU think such waiting could have been better? Didn’t this pull you down?

Rajapaksa: No setback whatsoever. We started this battle of opposing since the SLFP married UNP and started a (different) journey. But with this October incident we broke this SLFP-UNP marriage. We managed to get SLFP back to an identity/stream of an “anti-UNP, anti-colonialist, and a people oriented” force that it used to be.

Q: What is your next step?

Rajapaksa: Unlike TNA and JVP which sits as opposition and pretends by false criticisms of the government, we really sit in opposition and oppose th government. Unlike TNA and JVP we will topple the government at the earliest opportunity. We won’t safeguard the government.

Q: JVP says you and President Sirisena conspired but it was defeated…

Rajapaksa: What conspiracy? JVP does not have a people’s mandate and they were the one’s conspiring. I don’t know whether JVP has been given a mandate to safeguard UNP and establish governments. I believe that those who voted for JVP expected an anti-UNP stance and not a JVP role that would sustain UNP.

Q: TNA and JVP are in the Opposition. Therefore, can’t you bring a No Confidence Motion?

Rajapaksa: The speaker gives his final decision based on voice vote. He hears wrong voices. He does not hear our voice.

Q: When you declared an Election, officials of the Elections Commission go to courts and file action?

Rajapaksa: Yes, there is no point in calling them as Independent Commissions. Just look (closely) at the makeup of these Commissions. In that speech where President Sirisena got PM Wickremesinghe to sit in front of him and admonished him, there are some very serious allegations- where President appointed qualified personnel as Commission members and Judges but they were removed by PM Wickremesinghe and Wickremesinghe’s own choice of persons were appointed to those designations. This is a serious allegation and affects everyone. President even accused PM Wickremesinghe of usurping on President’ s powers and taking over them by the PM. PM Wickremesinghe did not reject any of President Sirisenas allegations.

Q: This Parliament has a lifetime of 13 more months. Will President be able to dissolve it after that?

Rajapaksa: This Parliament won’t last that long.

Q: How long?

Rajapaksa: About six months.. or even before-this is what we can see when we observe the political situation in the country.

Q: Will you bring motion to dissolve the Parliament?

Rajapaksa: How can we? We won’t know how TNA and JVP would react. Apart from them we cannot expect other factions in Parliament would support a dissolution motion.

Q: You got a place in history as the Leader who ended the war. You also received a place in history as the 50 Day Prime Minister…

Rajapaksa: That’s OK. That too is a record. What I proved here was my self-confidence. I can sit both as a President as well as an MP. I have sat in both positions and it did not change me either.

Q: Were there any victories that you recorded for the country in those 50 days?

Rajapaksa: Yes of course- look at the number of tax relieves we gave in that short time. We brought down the Cost of Living, reduced Fuel prices- but most important achievement was that we were able to end the two-thirds majority power of the government. If we could not demolish the two-thirds power, a Federal Constitution would have become the reality on November 7.

Q: How many days of negotiations that preceded October 26 appointment?

Rajapaksa: I believe it was about two weeks’ of negotiations- counting in the day I was appointed, I met President Sirisena only four times. And I did not know I was to swear in a PM that particular day.

Q: How did the process begin?

Rajapaksa: Comrade Vasudeva Nanayakkara called me and informed me. Thereafter the process was joined by SB, Lakshman Wasantha Perera, Dilan Perera and Thilanga Sumathipala. Then Comrade Vasudeva came and called me to take up and I rejected. I directly rejected. Thereafter I told them I shall place it before the Party. I don’t take such decisions alone. I discussed with others and met President three times.

Q: Where did you meet President?

Rajapaksa: Don’t ask those details. Can’t reveal.

Q: How is the understanding between President Sirisena and you?

Rajapaksa: We have a very good understanding between us. My acquaintance with him began in the 1970s. An issue surface between us in 2014. He left me and won. His decision to leave me was correct-an opportunity came and he took it. I don’t see anything wrong in it. This was an issue of the people. People voted for the other side instead of voting for me. If you cannot accept defeat just as a win, then it is a problem ..

Q: Don’t you think President Sirisena trapped you again?

Rajapaksa: No I don’t think so- I did not get into a trap. I it was a trap I got into then it was due to my mistake and not due to his skill. Specially from a political view I haven’t got caught to a trap.

Q: It is said the President dissolved Parliament on legal advice. But the Supreme court ruled it illegal.

Rajapaksa: We don’t agree with the Supreme Courts’ s decision. Since the decision was from the Supreme Court we have to accept it. However this does not mean that President made a mistake. Even the President said he did it in good faith. He said he gave the people the opportunity to make the decision.
Q: Do you believe President did it in good faith?

Rajapaksa: Certainly Yes. His decision was based on the opinion of legal experts. But the Supreme Court without giving it to the people gave it to 127 MPs. We don’t agree with this decision but still respect it.

Q: Did you accept PM appointment in such a rush to overcome the lawsuits against you?

Rajapaksa: Totally untrue. They continued to sell national assets. Then started giving our lands for foreign bases. Then were getting ready to bring in the Federal Constitution. We were only critical of these. Then how could you drop these developments? By taking back power. We took to power at the very first opportunity we got. There is no point in being in opposition if you don’t take over the moment the opportunity is presented. We took this decision for the sake of the country. If the same opportunity is presented to Sampanthan, won’t he too do it?

Q: The International Community was against you this time too-why is it that they are so opposed to you?

Rajapaksa: International pressure was there in 2015 elections as well. I openly criticised about that. This time diplomat was applauding while sitting in Parliament gallery. THE question is, whether is that the appropriate conduct? During 2015 elections US Foreign Secretary said around six hundred million US dollars were spent to topple three countries- one of which was Sri Lanka. Then the former British PM said the UK too should get the credit for it. If you analyse it right our country has gone back to pre-1948 times. Today it is the white man who even digs Mannar mass graves. The on the current situation of Sri Lanka today should be based on a wider angle than a political view.

Q: Under these circumstances what is your take on the Executive Presidency?

Rajapaksa: We are against Executive Presidency from a political view. But the LTTE is still active based from abroad. Under this situation we need the Executive Presidency.

Q: Which do you seek first-a General election or Presidential Election?

Rajapaksa: It is better for all the concerned to go for for a General election first and then to go for a Presidential election.

Q: Did President Sirisena got you all closer to him to get your support for the next Presidential Election?

Rajapaksa: No. In my personal discussions with the President he never indicated to me even once that he is coming to contest. I know that when some told The President to do so he replied to them saying it is not relevant at this moment.

Rajapaksa: There is much more time for that.

Q: The name Gotabaya Rajapaksa was mentioned some time back?

Rajapaksa: Various names have been uttered at various times. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Welgama, Mervin Silva… see how many powerful names been uttered. I am the only one who does not say that I would come forward to contest.

Q: How will you face a General election? As SLPP or SLFP?

Rajapaksa: We will contest as an Alliance.

Q: Three MPs from the SLFP crossed over to the government- More are reportedly getting ready. What’s happening?

Rajapaksa: Anyone who crossed over to the government takes their destiny in their hands with them.

Q: Was it because Basil Rajapksa’s lack of support that you could not muster the two-thirds majority in the Parliament?

Rajapaksa: I do not agree with this. Basil was of the opinion that if we are to take Muslim MPs let us take them as a whole party. Some others wanted to break the Muslim parties and take in factions. Yet another situation was that another faction of MPs who was with us but telling others not to cross over to our side saying “Don’t come to this side because we are coming to your side. We haven’t decided yet-around 10-12 People from us are likely to join the government. Therefore, don’t fall into trouble by coming to this side”.

Q: How will you work with them in future?

Rajapaksa: It is not difficult to work with me. These are no big issues for me. If anyone contests from our side, then whoever they are, we will assist all of them equally in the same way.

(Source: Asian Tribune)