MR confident of ousting govt next year – Dinesh

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By 2017-04-21

WITH RAVI LADDUWAHETTY

Leader of the Joint Opposition and Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, Dinesh Gunawardena, believes that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was confident of ousting the Unity Government within a year.

He was responding to a question posed to him by Ceylon Today, on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa's statement on ousting this government within the next two Wesak Poya days.

Gunawardena also asserted that this government was "cooking its own goose" with rampant corruption, the unbearable cost of living, and its stance on the co-sponsored Resolution with the United States, which is utterly unfair in the eyes of the members of the Armed Forces, he said.

He also alleged that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and the government were trying to stifle the Joint Opposition's freedom of expression, and said, that this was manifestly clear when the JO were deprived of time in Parliament two Thursdays ago.

"We are the largest Party after the UNP and we have 52 MPs which is more than the JVP and the TNA. But, we were allowed a mere 31 minutes out of a total of 230 minutes which was the cause of the rumpus in the House of Parliament," he told Ceylon Today in an interview.

Excerpts of the interview:

?: What was the commotion in Parliament three Thursdays ago on 6 April, which the JO and you were responsible for, when Parliament had to be adjourned? Your grouse was that the JO was not given enough time for the debate on the Geneva Resolution?

A: Yes. That is right, we are the single largest political party in the Opposition and we have 52 members. We are the second largest party after the UNP. We are the Party which raised the adjournment debate on the Geneva Resolution. We did this on behalf of the Armed Forces and the people of Sri Lanka.

Even the JVP and the TNA, added up, do not measure up to the numbers that we have. We gave notice of the motion a month ago and we told that we were to hold the debate the previous day as well. However, we were allocated a mere 31 minutes for the debate and the TNA and the JVP, which has less than half the number of members than us, got more time than us, where the total allocated time was 230 minutes for the entire Adjournment debate. In Parliamentary tradition and practice the person who moves the debate gets sufficient time and also the person who seconds the motion, gets sufficient time. There were to be four speakers on our side, me to open the debate, and then followed by MPs Namal Rajapaksa, Udaya Gammanpila and Jayantha Jayaweera.

So, if this is what the Speaker and the government are trying to do, to suppress us, this is very wrong. We were going to sacrifice the debate for the gallant soldiers who fought for our country. We asked whether we could be given additional time on this all important debate.

Funnily enough, the Speaker says that he had no authority over the time allocated despite the Standing Orders. So, how can this Parliament represent a functioning democracy when the Speaker cannot allocate sufficient time for the Opposition?

?: Now, there is some ambiguity that is prevailing in the minds of the public. You say that you represent the JO while most of the SLFP members are in the ruling coalition. Then there is also a political party named the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna which is chaired by former Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris. How would you differentiate the two? Are the members of the SLFP and other opposition members, also members of the Podujana Peramuna as well? In short, what are the mechanisms of this system?

A: Yes. If there are SLFP MPs seated in the Opposition, they are members of the JO.

?: The question is whether all the SLFP and the other members of the JO, are all members of the Podujana Peramuna too?

A: That is a question which is best answered by Prof. Peiris. But he attends all the meetings of the party leaders of the JO in his capacity as a leader and chairman of his political Party.

?: Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa says that he will topple this government before the lapse of two Vesak Poya days, that is Vesak Poya 2017 which is a few days from now and Vesak Poya 2018. Do you think that this is a pipedream and will remain so?

A: He has said that as a broad statement and he has said it with utmost confidence. We also think that this government will collapse the way it is bungling on core issues. In any case, the term of this government will come to an end in 2019, despite elections to be held in 2020. But, President Rajapaksa must be confident that he could topple the government, a year ahead of that.

?: Despite former President Rajapaksa's grandiose proclamations, a major part of the SLFP is in truck with the government! They seem to be enjoying their freedom and all the perks of office and they would be quite happy to remain so till the end. They also cannot be sure of a re-election, having swayed their allegiances to the UNP in forming the government. So, former President's dream will end up as a damp squib or puswedilla! How do you see this?

A: What we see is a breakdown of democracy within the country, due to the Central Bank Bond scam which has risen to epic proportions, the economic crisis, the financial crisis faced by the government in not getting the required Foreign Direct Investment, targets not reached in tax collections and a host of others that will arise gradually with the passage of time.

Then, the government is also fighting scared of holding the Local Government polls as it is well aware that it will get routed. The writing is on the wall. So, the conflict has begun from within the camp. There are conflicting signals from within the government itself. Ministers are critical of the government while being in the government. No one knows where the country is going. It is now very apparent that the Unity Government of the UNP and the SLFP is not a happy marriage. It is cracking up.

?: But, being an experienced politician and Party Leader, you cannot be unaware that even if all the SLFP Ministers return, that cannot fill up the 113 MPs to make up even a simple majority to form a government leave alone a two thirds majority. How do you see this?

A: Getting the 113 to make up the simple majority is no issue or problem at all. We have shown even under President Mahinda Rajapaksa. This time no one single handedly got 113 seats. It is true that the SLFP got 95 MPs and that even the UNP got only 106.

There are a large number of MPs in the UNP who are utterly disgusted with the government and who are willing to join us in the event of the UPFA forming a government.

?: So, former President Rajapaksa is going to repeat his antics, which he engaged in while he was in office. Last time, he baited 18 UNP MPs, Only Karu Jayasuriya and Navin Dissanayake returned. What are the names of the disgruntled UNP MPs who are tipped to crossover?

A: I can't disclose names. They are utterly confidential. But, some ministers who have openly complained to me and others, that they are not allowed to work and that they have no work. They have also said that it would have better if their portfolios were withdrawn by the Prime Minister!

?: Now, on the economics of politics and the politics of economics. Prof. G.L. Peiris has implored President Maithripala Sirisena and the government, not to sell the Hambantota Port which is a prime national asset, or even as the government has euphemistically put, as a debt/ equity swap. What are your sentiments on this?

A: We have been imploring President Maithripala Sirisena to consider the tremendous ramifications and disadvantages of the proposed Agreement that the government is going to sign with China. We have set out in great detail the violations of the law and the dangers and disadvantages in the proposed agreement for the government.

?: To the contrary, two Government Ministers, one from the UNP, Minister of Strategic Development and International Trade, Malik Samarawickreme and the other from the SLFP, Minister of Special Assignments Dr. Sarath Amunugama have both said that the Hambantota Agreement and the Port Projects have to be proceeded with, to save the Rupee, which has been largely due to the previous government which virtually held the national economy hostage?

A: There are no investors who are coming to invest in Sri Lanka. The government's economic and investment policy is so weak.

The government has announced that it could get US $ 1.4 Billion from the Chinese for the Hambantota Port, but the country has lost US $ 2.4 Billion from the Capital Market where investors have pulled out their investments in the last ten months!

?: Why do you think that it has happened that way? It is widely acknowledged that the UNP are the better managers of the economy than the SLFP or for that matter any other political party?

A: Whatever the theories are, investors who invested here during our government are gradually exiting the market with this government as there is no consistent policy, but, surely is the reason for the foreign investments coming in.

?: But there have been some substantial investments in stocks, at the Colombo Stock Exchange. So, how can you say that?

A: In the share market, what we see are only the numbers and we don't see what is coming in and what is going out. What we see is that there are more outflows than inflows in the share market and other capital markets and also in other investments where the outflows are higher than the inflows.

?: All this time, you were all shouting from roof tops that National Freedom Front Leader Wimal Weerawansa was a political prisoner. But, do you think that he should be allowed to get away scot free in the light of his being unable to account for 41 cars owned by the State ?

A: Our stand was on the bail issues for him. Not any other criteria. But, now that he has been released on bail, the question does not arise.

?: But don't you think that he was at the butt end of all the jokes, especially in the social media for having a fast unto death' campaign, which made him a laughing stock locally and internationally ?

A: There have been so many examples of politicians staging fasts unto death campaigns before and there is nothing new or funny in that.

?: It is also alleged that the Opposition is trying to oust the government as so many former ministers in the previous government have large scale corruption allegations against them and they feel that the only way to escape is to form a government which, they believe, will exempt them from all the arrests?

A: We are canvassing and agitating to form a government as we were always against this government. That is the reason and not so much the covering up of the corruption charges.

?: Now all the ambitious projects which were started by your government have turned out to be white elephants such as Hambantota Port, Mattala Airport, the conference hall and the Cricket stadium, which alone cost a whopping Rs 4.4 Billion.Weren't any feasibility studies done on those?

A: Feasibility studies and a project study were done and these were a part of the development process that was mapped out to develop the Hambantota town which was inclusive of the Municipality, the Library, the Port, Airport and the Hotels and so forth.

Shangri la was also a part of that. There is tourism potential due to the short runs to Yala and Kataragama, Ella, Wellawaya, Arugam Bay and it is up to this government to make use of these facilities. If they don't do that due to political vendetta, that is a sad situation. Going by that logic, one can also say that the Presidential Secretariat also can be closed down.

?: How do you see crowds thronging to Galle Face Green on May Day without even the Communist Party participating?

A: There will be a capacity crowd this time. It will be a historic May Day. It will not only be Party cadres and supporters but also disgruntled members of the public. There will also be the private sector employees, government servants and household residents.

?: Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been so generous as to give the Galle Face Green to the JO. But could it be that, it was his political ploy to show the real crowd that will come for your meeting and if there is a small crowd, your JO will be exposed as being unable to gather a big crowd to fill the broad expanse of the Galle Face Green?

A: No. We are very confident that we can fill the Galle Face as people are disgusted with the government. There were only a few places that we could hold the May Day rally all this time. They were Campbell Park and Kirulapone, to which we were pushed.

?: But UNP General Secretary Kabir Hashim, told Ceylon Today, that the Nugegoda meeting at which former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was present, for the first time, had a crowd of less than 10,000. How do you meet that criticism?

A: Either he does not know how to count or he is lying! That was a mammoth crowd where the crowd spread even to Kohuwela.

The entire Nugegoda town was virtually impassable, crowds in their tens of thousands thronged the Nugegoda meeting.

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