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Ahead of the Supreme Court rul­ing, Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena, in an in­ter­view with , speaks about the steps taken by him to ap­point a new Prime Minister and his in­ten­tions for the fu­ture. Ex­cerpts:

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - INTERVIEW - By Kelum Bandara

Q Af­ter you ap­pointed a new gov­ern­ment, you spoke with con­fi­dence that it would get the re­quired par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity. It is not so now. What hap­pened ac­tu­ally?

Based on ne­go­ti­a­tions un­der­taken by Prime Minister Mahinda Ra­japaksa along with the rel­e­vant par­ties, I was in­formed that it would be pos­si­ble to muster the sup­port of 113 mem­bers. I ex­pressed my views in this re­gard de­pend­ing on in­for­ma­tion fed to me by the rel­e­vant par­ties in­volved in ne­go­ti­a­tions only.

Q In your view, what is the rea­son for the in­abil­ity to get the re­quired num­ber at the end?

It is not a se­cret that a mon­e­tary value de­scended upon MPS in this ex­er­cise. In the ac­tual sense, the price tags were at­tached to the MPS. It is like ten­der call­ing in nor­mal busi­ness op­er­a­tions. I per­son­ally learnt that some MPS asked for Rs.500 mil­lion. I did not talk to any­one per­son­ally. In my po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, I have not of­fered even a petty cash in­duce­ment to a lo­cal gov­ern­ment mem­ber at least. I will stick to this prin­ci­ple even in the fu­ture.

If we look at our post-in­de­pen­dence his­tory, we have ex­pe­ri­ence in this re­gard. We re­mem­ber how the gov­ern­ment of late Prime Minister Sir­i­mavo Ban­daranaike col­lapsed in 1964 over the leg­is­la­tion to ac­quire Lake­house. I heard that price tags were at­tached to the MPS for the first time in 1964 when 11 MPS in­clud­ing C.P. de Silva from Polon­naruwa crossed over in a move to top­ple that gov­ern­ment. That is as far as I can re­mem­ber. I do not know whether any such thing ex­isted be­fore that. Since then, the po­lit­i­cal crossovers have taken place un­der dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ments.

In 1994, in the event of the elec­tions to the South­ern Pro­vin­cial Coun­cil, the mem­bers were lured through cash of­fer in­duce­ments in the same fash­ion.

Late Pres­i­dent R. Pre­madasa only brought the Act govern­ing the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. Be­fore the en­act­ment of this law, I re­mem­ber the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tion con­ducted un­der the old law in 1969. Af­ter that, such elec­tions were con­ducted un­der the new law en­acted by Mr. Pre­madasa. The new law rec­ti­fied all the la­cu­nas pre­vi­ously ex­ploited to fi­nan­cially in­duce mem­bers at lo­cal gov­ern­ment lev­els to change par­ties. Be­fore that, un­der the old law, Gam Saba mem­bers were at­tached with price tags of Rs.400, Rs.500 or Rs.100 as an in­duce­ment to switch sides. I re­mem­ber vividly how Gam Saba mem­bers changed their par­ties for such cash of­fers. I re­mem­ber what hap­pened to the Gam Saba mem­ber of our vil­lage. Peo­ple laid siege to his house. The tyres of his ve­hi­cles were punc­tured. In that sense, it is not a novel phe­nom­e­non in our coun­try. We have a dis­grace­ful his­tory in this re­spect.

This time, I heard some bar­gained them­selves for sums as high as Rs.500 mil­lion.mr. Mahinda Ra­japaksa could not muster the ma­jor­ity be­cause of such high price tags quoted by the MPS. If not for that, he could have got the ma­jor­ity. Then, the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal tur­moil could have been averted well.

Q In your ad­dress to the party con­ven­tion, you spoke with con­fi­dence that the cri­sis would be re­solved within one week…

Yes, def­i­nitely.

Q How are go­ing to re­solve it in a week?

The Supreme Court was sup­posed to com­plete hear­ing sub­mis­sions on the court case in this re­gard by De­cem­ber 7. The rul­ing will be de­liv­ered by Mon­day or be­fore. That is what I be­lieve. I gave my as­sur­ance ac­cord­ing to this be­lief. The rul­ing re­gard­ing the dis­so­lu­tion of Par­lia­ment will clear the air for ev­ery­thing to set­tle. It will end the cri­sis. If the court rules in favour of dis­so­lu­tion, there will be an elec­tion. Then, the prob­lem is over. Other­wise, I will have to af­ford the op­por­tu­nity for the party with ma­jor­ity sup­port in Par­lia­ment to form the gov­ern­ment un­der some­one hand­picked by me as the Prime Minister.

Q Yet, you said you would not give premier­ship to UNP leader Ranil Wick­remesinghe at any cost. The UNP in­sists that it will nom­i­nate only Mr. Wick­remesinghe to the post. Then, it will lead to fur­ther stale­mate. Won’t it?

I have cat­e­gor­i­cally stated that I am not ready at all to ap­point some­one, un­fit for the coun­try, and cor­rupt, as the Prime Minister. I have not changed my stance.

Q Then, is it pos­si­ble for you to hand­pick some­one other than him?

Why can’t I do it? There are 224 oth­ers other than Mr. Wick­remesinghe. Can’t these po­lit­i­cal par­ties iden­tify even a sin­gle MP other than Mr Wick­remesinghe?

Q In your speeches in the past, you al­ways said that you had won over the world. You said Sri Lanka had only friends, no en­e­mies in the world. But, your ac­tion for the change of gov­ern­ment is crit­i­cized by the west­ern en­voys. What will hap­pen to the in­ter­na­tional trust you built?

No en­voy has threat­ened us. There is no un­due in­flu­ence or pres­sure on us. They ex­pressed their opin­ions. They held talks with us. When­ever I called for a meet­ing, they par­tic­i­pated in it. They met me in­di­vid­u­ally or as a group. They ex­pressed them­selves. I put forth my po­si­tion. It is a feat of democ­racy as I can see. The me­dia have played it up as a huge cri­sis. These are not se­ri­ous mat­ters in my view.

Q When you de­fected from the Mahinda Ra­japaksa gov­ern­ment in 2014, you made a scathing at­tack on him. You joined hands with the UNP lead­er­ship. To­day, you say Mr. Ra­japaksa is even bet­ter than Mr. Wick­remesinghe. What is the rea­son for your change of at­ti­tude?

I will re­fer to a ru­ral proverb. The true colours of a bird be­come vis­i­ble only when it takes flight. It is the same story with Mr. Wick­remesinghe. The true na­ture of Mr. Wick­remesinghe also be­came ap­par­ent only af­ter he took over power. I never thought Mr. Ranil Wick­remesinghe would be such a per­son- stub­born, adamant, and not ready for di­a­logue or to lis­ten.

Mr Wick­remesinghe makes a hue and cry about democ­racy. But, he is the per­son who ruled out demo­cratic space within the UNP for the last 25 years. Dur­ing the last four years, he ar­ro­gated to him­self the pres­i­den­tial pow­ers in ad­di­tion to be­ing the Prime Minister. I main­tained si­lence in the face of such ac­tions as I wanted to be grate­ful to him.

He ar­ro­gated to him­self some pres­i­den­tial pow­ers on mat­ters such as bi­lat­eral agree­ments with other coun­tries, diplo­matic en­gage­ments, agree­ments with the for­eign lead­ers, and for­eign in­vest­ment. Ac­cord­ing to the Con­sti­tu­tion, the Pres­i­dent has the sole au­thor­ity on land power. With­out my au­tho­riza­tion, he pro­ceeded with the Ham­ban­tota Port deal and the Free Trade Agree­ment with Sin­ga­pore.

Dur­ing my elec­tion cam­paign, I, along with him and oth­ers, said that the work on the Port City pro­ject would be sus­pended. Af­ter the elec­tion, Mr. Wick­remesinghe, with­out con­sult­ing me, con­tacted the pro­ject com­pany and sus­pended the work. He never dis­cussed terms and con­di­tions reached with the com­pany for sus­pen­sion of work. Af­ter a few months, again with­out con­sult­ing me, he gave the go-ahead for the pro­ject on fresh terms. It is im­pos­si­ble to reach any agree­ment with a for­eign in­vestor on land mat­ters with­out au­tho­riza­tion by the Pres­i­dent.

Q Does it mean that he acted as if there was no Pres­i­dent for the coun­try?

He acted as if there was no Pres­i­dent for the coun­try. He some­times worked vir­tu­ally putting me in the shoes of a lo­cal gov­ern­ment mem­ber, let alone the Pres­i­dent.

I have al­ready said that I will ap­point a pres­i­den­tial com­mis­sion to probe frauds and mal­prac­tices dur­ing the past three and a half years. It will have an im­por­tant job in in­ves­ti­gat­ing such frauds, mal­prac­tices, im­proper trans­ac­tions and de­ci­sions taken on the con­trary to the pro­vi­sions of the Con­sti­tu­tion. When the Cen­tral Bank bond fraud was probed, there was un­due in­flu­ence on the in­ves­tiga­tive of­fi­cers. In fact, those in­ves­tiga­tive of­fi­cers came un­der scru­tiny. A num­ber of in­sti­tu­tions such as the Crim­i­nal In­ves­ti­ga­tion Depart­ment (CID), the Po­lice Depart­ment and the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Depart­ment con­ducted in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

The CID of­fi­cers in­volved in prob­ing the bond fraud, were sub­jected to inquiries on the charge that their ac­tions amounted to ha­rass­ment of Mr. Wick­remesinghe. These of­fi­cers got in­tim­i­dated as a re­sult, and in­ves­ti­ga­tions were crip­pled. The of­fi­cials who were other­wise con­duct­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions en­thu­si­as­ti­cally be­came dis­cour­aged. As a per­son who was close to both Mr. Mahinda Ra­japaksa and Mr. Ranil Wick­remesinghe, I know the char­ac­ter­is­tic dif­fer­ences of the two. In a fam­ily, only the hus­band and the wife know their com­pat­i­bil­ity with each other.

I have a long-stand­ing po­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ship with Mr. Mahinda Ra­japaksa. I had po­lit­i­cal con­tact with Mr. Wick­remesinghe for four years. I know both well.

Q How do you com­pare and con­trast the two? I am ask­ing that ques­tion be­cause you said you would end up buried six feet un­der the earth if Mr. Ra­japaksa won. To­day, you say Mr. Ra­japaksa is bet­ter than Mr. Wick­remesinghe

As I said at that time, I would have ended up buried six feet un­der the earth. How­ever, my moth­er­land would have been buried with­out any trace, in the man­ner Mr. Wick­remesinghe worked. It is far more dan­ger­ous to see my coun­try be­ing oblit­er­ated from the world map vir­tu­ally.

Q With the en­act­ment of the 19th Amend­ment, you lost some au­thor­ity as the Pres­i­dent. Es­pe­cially, you lost the power to dis­solve Par­lia­ment af­ter one year. You would have been on a strong foot­ing in deal­ing with the cur­rent cri­sis if not for that. Do you re­gret the en­act­ment of the 19th Amend­ment?

No. It is a pos­i­tive piece of leg­is­la­tion. It is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial for the coun­try. It strength­ened the demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions of the coun­try. It up­held hu­man rights and en­sured ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence. We have to pro­tect the 19th Amend­ment.

Yet, there are some grey ar­eas in it trig­ger­ing po­lit­i­cal con­cerns. For ex­am­ple, to­day’s Par­lia­ment is a hung Par­lia­ment. No one has a clear-cut ma­jor­ity. It is a rea­son for this po­lit­i­cal cri­sis to pro­long. It is dif­fi­cult for a party to take de­ci­sions un­der these cir­cum­stances.

If the power to dis­solve Par­lia­ment were re­tained, it would have been bet­ter to deal with the cur­rent cri­sis. Peo­ple have to de­cide. It is their right. To­day, price tags are at­tached to MPS. As a re­sult of this cri­sis, some MPS got BMW cars as in­duce­ments. They drive them with­out num­ber plates these days. They got new ve­hi­cles. The cred­i­bil­ity of some MPS has suf­fered. The party lead­ers can­not take a de­ci­sion. The MPS come out with their per­sonal con­cerns such as the loss of their pen­sion rights in the event of dis­so­lu­tion of Par­lia­ment. They are least both­ered about the plight of the coun­try. They must be ready to make a sac­ri­fice for the coun­try.

It was in­ap­pro­pri­ate for any­one to go to court against the dis­so­lu­tion of Par­lia­ment in a cri­sis sit­u­a­tion like this. I will not com­ment on whether the ju­di­ciary can rule out dis­so­lu­tion or not. Be that as it may, the Leg­is­la­ture and the Ex­ec­u­tive should have been able to re­solve this cri­sis with­out go­ing to court. If this case was not taken to court by any­one, the cur­rent cri­sis would have been solved by now.

To­day, if I call for a meet­ing with any leader, he will come. We have po­lit­i­cal is­sues, but not per­sonal an­i­mosi­ties. We dis­cussed the is­sue at length. We must rec­og­nize that demo­cratic am­bi­ence and be happy about it.

As the mat­ter was taken to court, we lost the op­por­tu­nity to re­solve it within the demo­cratic am­bi­ence. If the mat­ter is re­ferred back for us to re­solve, I think it will be bet­ter. These are not crim­i­nal cases. This is a po­lit­i­cal ques­tion. It has to be ad­dressed po­lit­i­cally. The po­lit­i­cal lead­ers should have wis­dom and mag­na­nim­ity for it. Law is above any­one.

The com­pli­ca­tions in the 19th Amend­ment are a hin­drance to re­solve this mat­ter.

We re­mem­ber the day it was en­acted. The vote was taken up at 5.00 pm. It lasted for long hours. The problems that arose dur­ing the process were ad­dressed through hur­riedly con­ducted meet­ings. The par­lia­men­tary ses­sion was con­ducted un­der a tense at­mos­phere. There was no op­por­tu­nity to give care­ful and peace­ful thought on mat­ters at hand. That is how a piece of leg­is­la­tion detri­men­tal to the fu­ture of the coun­try, was en­acted.

Q Was there a need to en­act it hur­riedly?

I do not think there was such a need to rush through. Ac­tu­ally, Mr. Ranil Wick­remesinghe, along with a few oth­ers who as­sisted him, is re­spon­si­ble for the hur­ried en­act­ment of it lead­ing to the present cri­sis.

Q De­spite the Ex­ec­u­tive and the Leg­is­la­ture be­ing in­volved in a cri­sis, nor­malcy pre­vails in the coun­try. Peo­ple get on with their lives with­out any ten­sion among them over the cri­sis. What is your view on it?

It is def­i­nitely cor­rect. I will add some­thing to your ques­tion. There is no Prime Minister. There is no Cab­i­net. How­ever, the Pres­i­dent gov­erns the coun­try to­gether with the Min­istry Sec­re­taries un­der the bless­ings of the Triple Gems. There are no clashes in the coun­try. That is be­cause of the moral dis­ci­pline of our peo­ple. De­spite skull­dug­gery and id­iocy among politi­cians, peo­ple have put the coun­try be­fore self. They carry on their rou­tine ac­tiv­i­ties peace­fully. This is the moral dis­ci­pline of our peo­ple nur­tured by the Bud­dhist cul­ture and val­ues for mil­len­nia.

Also, the spir­i­tu­al­ity of Chris­tian­ity, Hin­duism and Is­lam con­trib­uted to the moral con­duct of their fol­low­ers in our coun­try. Peo­ple of all these re­li­gious groups have re­gards for the coun­try.

I am very happy about it. Peo­ple have co­op­er­ated with me in the con­duct of govern­ing af­fairs with the Min­istry Sec­re­taries. I am grate­ful to peo­ple for it.

Q The UNP calls for an early pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. It is pos­si­ble only if you be­come the can­di­date. Are you ready?

I am not ready to work ac­cord­ing to the po­lit­i­cal agen­das of oth­ers. My of­fi­cial term will end next year. Then, there will be a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion for sure. If there is a snap pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, only I have to de­clare it. I have no in­ten­tion of declar­ing such a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. I am not ready to fall in line with the po­lit­i­cal agen­das of the oth­ers.

Q Are you plan­ning to run for pres­i­dency for the sec­ond term?

There is one more year for it to be de­cided. There is no need to de­cide on it now. If you look at the past one month, pol­i­tics was rid­dled with hap­pen­ings on an hourly ba­sis. As me­dia per­son­nel, you all have so many news sto­ries. That is what hap­pened dur­ing the past five weeks. Who could say what will hap­pen in a pe­riod of one year from now on? We can­not say it now.

Q When you de­fected from the last gov­ern­ment, you were harshly crit­i­cal of for­mer Minister Basil Ra­japaksa. Now, we see re­ports about you hav­ing meet­ings with him. How is chem­istry be­tween you and him now?

The Indo-china border war in the 1960s claimed so many lives in the 1960s. The lead­ers of those two coun­tries were able to sit to­gether. We are fa­mil­iar with de­ci­sions taken by the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to ad­dress dis­putes in­volv­ing Diego Gar­cia is­lands.

As for our Kachchaithivu is­sue, Mrs. Ban­daranaike and Indira Gandhi ad­dressed it af­ter fiveminute talks.

In pol­i­tics, there are no per­ma­nent en­e­mies or friends.

Q How do you see the role of the Speaker dur­ing this crit­i­cal time?

The MPS hold dif­fer­ent views with re­gard to his con­duct. Af­ter this cri­sis erupted, I was able to meet with him and dis­cuss it on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. He came to see me here. Like­wise, I con­tacted him over the phone. We were able to re­solve so many is­sues. We were able to do it us­ing our po­lit­i­cal ma­tu­rity, knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence. If oth­ers, es­pe­cially Mr. Ranil Wick­remesinghe can be­have in the way we did, this prob­lem could have been ad­dressed eas­ily.

It was in­ap­pro­pri­ate to take dis­so­lu­tion of Par­lia­ment to court

19th A has grey ar­eas in ad­di­tion to its pos­i­tive side

RW ar­ro­gated to him­self pres­i­den­tial power

I looked aside as I wanted to be grate­ful to him

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