Former Minister and Leader of the SLFP (M) Mangala Samaraweera spoke to Daily Mirror on the metamorphosis of President Rajapaksa, the diplomatic crisis faced by the country and his serious consideration of joining the UNP.
Q:What is your view on the manner in which the government handled the appointment of the Panel of Experts, by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and the actions of Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s party outside the UN office recently?
In fact it was only a few days prior to this incident that I said in Parliament that it would be people like Mr. Wimal Weerawansa that would drag this country into diplomatic disarray because of their attitude and the way that they deal with complicated, nuanced diplomatic issues. Today Sri Lanka is facing one of post-independent Sri Lanka’s biggest challenges and it most certainly not the time for raised-sarong-diplomacy or the big-frog-in-a-small-well-syndrome. We need experienced people to deal with the complex issues that are at hand. All in all, I am very sad about what is happening because although these actions are being taken by people like Mr. Wimal Weerawansa, in the final count all of us are held responsible and it reflects badly on the whole country. These people are the ones who are the real threat to the sovereignty of this country.
I actually don’t blame Mr. Wimal Weerawansa because he and the extremist politics he represents has all along been endorsed by the President and has more or less become official government policy. Mr. Weerawansa was merely an actor in a Rajapaksa written script.
This sort of behavior is what makes the Eelam lobby stronger. With all due respect- each time people like Wimal Weerawansa open their mouths Prabhakaran must be having his last laugh from even beyond the grave. In a way it justifies the propaganda that the Eelam lobby has been spreading across the world.
At least now the government must realize that we must deal with these matters in a responsible manner and engage with the international community and we have to deal with the UN and the European Union. Or ofcourse the other alternative we have is to go down the road of Zimbabwe or Myanmar. We must remember that Sri Lanka has always been highly respected despite our small size and relative economic weakness. But now we are now on the verge of being labelled as an international fugitive.
Q: What do you think will be the fallout of these actions of the government?
It is the government that is responsible for the situation that has arisen. Way back in 2006 when I was the Foreign Minister I saw the direction of the government gradually changing towards the end of the first six months of President Mahinda Rajapaksa taking office. Actually within the first six months he surprised the international community by his actions- because the international community thought ‘here is a person who wants to bring a peaceful solution to the country’. And because of the confidence that we gained from the international community we were successful in getting the European Union, with the active support of the USA to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organization.
Further through American lobbies we managed to stop LTTE arms procurement from South East Asia.
But sadly we began to lose the trust that we had gained in mid 2006, with the emergence of the white van culture, with the killings of members of Parliament like Raviraj, Maheswaran, Joseph Pararajasingham and the killing of the 17 aid workers and the 4 students in Trincomalee and the culture of impunity that came with it.
Finally, I wrote to the President putting down all my concerns about the impending perils to the country but it fell on deaf ears. On the 13th of December I wrote to the President, within a month I was thrown out of the Foreign Ministry and six weeks later I was out of the government altogether because they didn’t want to hear what I had to say.
I am not trying to get some cheap satisfaction by saying “I told you so”, but now all what is said would happen to our country is beginning to unfold.
All in all the root cause of our downfall is the systematic strangulation of the rule of law in this country. It is because the government purposely and systematically started undermining the rule of law that we are now beginning to pay this price- GSP+ has been lost and we are facing the threat of being hauled in front of the ICC. Despite Sri Lanka not being a state party to the ICC. Thanks to Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe- in 2002 Sri Lanka did not become a party to it on the basis that we had a judiciary that was independent enough to deal with any allegations if and when they arose. But today that independence has been compromised.
However, even at this late stage I think that the government can turn around the whole situation by engaging the democratic forces within this country and the international community.
Q: You said that at the beginning of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first term he did manage to win over the support of the international community but this began to change latterly. What would you say was the reason for this change?
This is something that I have been trying to sort out in my mind. What changed Mahinda Rajapaksa? Mahinda Rajapaksa who was my friend in 1989, when we both entered Parliament was a champion of Human Rights.
In fact at the time I started the Mothers Front to look into the disappearances that took place in that period he was the co-convener along with me. He is the one who took all these causes to the UN and the EU. How did this champion of Human Rights of 1989 metamorphosed into a person whom some are calling the Bush of South Asia, is a good question. A person who as recent as 2004 received a Doctorate for Human Rights from India, is now on the verge of being hauled in front of the ICC.
My answer of course is, I don’t how correct I am, but I think it was the influence of one of his younger brothers, who basically started deciding who the ones around the President should be; he created this nationalistic ring around the President where the more extremist elements of the UPFA started taking the upper hand and making the decisions.
While I was in government, on good terms with the President as the Foreign Minister I met with the President very early in the mornings to be briefed and to brief him and would approach even his private quarters. But this particular younger brother had informed the staff at Temple Tree not to allow “peace-crows like Mangala” to get too close to the President. In this manner they started weaving this web around him and now the President is a virtual prisoner of the nationalist forces of this country.
I still believe that Mahinda Rajapaksa left to his own devices would not have gone in this direction. His own family, which is seen by some as his strongest point, will be his downfall.
Q: As a former Foreign Minister how would you evaluate the actions of the present Foreign Minister, whom the opposition is saying is at least partly to blame for the diplomatic crisis Sri Lanka is facing?
Disastrous. But having said that, I don’t blame the foreign minister, because the Foreign Ministry has wholly been controlled by the Presidential Secretariat.
The trend started when I was in office- where relatives or friends or hangers- on were appointed as diplomats to important missions abroad and the experienced professional diplomats were shelved and amateurs and hangers-on were given important postings. This laid the ground work for the present crisis. Therefore it is unfair to blame the present External Affairs Minister .
Q: What plans do you have for the SLFP (M)? Will you consider joining the UNP?
Of course I have been a committed SLFPer. By the SLFP I mean the policies of the SLFP. In 1989 it was a party which represented the social democratic cum liberal ideas that I always believed in.
Unfortunately under the Rajapaksa’s the SLFP has been more or less hijacked by the chauvinistic extremist forces in this country and has completely veered away from the founding principles of SWRD Bandaranaike and what we fought for all our lives. And within the present context it is more and more clear to me that the UNP as the only truly Democratic Party left within the Sri Lankan political scenario is the only party that represents the policies which I have been fighting for throughout the years. I find it increasingly easier to work with the UNP, because the UNP is beginning to represent all that I believe in.
I have still not become a member of the UNP. There was an invitation from the leader of the opposition and I am seriously considering that option.