Unconditional SLPP support for President Ranil Wickremesinghe- Prasanna Ranatunga | Sunday Observer

Unconditional SLPP support for President Ranil Wickremesinghe- Prasanna Ranatunga

21 August, 2022

Chief Government Whip, Minister of Urban Development and Housing Prasanna Ranatunga said that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has decided to unconditionally support incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe to get the country out of the economic crisis.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said: “As a party, the SLPP has made the biggest sacrifice on behalf of the people. All parties should think as to how they should contribute and become stakeholders of an All Party Government (APG) or an Interim Government. In order to deliberately avoid this process, some political parties attempt to put forward various conditions. If we all are united sincerely and act on behalf of the country, we should not impose conditions.”

Excerpts of the interview

Q: President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his recent speech to Parliament made the case for an All Party Government (APG). In your opinion, what form should this take and for how long should it function?

A: Actually, that was the most difficult decision to be taken by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). After former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stepped down, we have now lost the mandate of the 6.9 million votes. However, at the last Parliamentary election, the SLPP got a mandate of 6.7 million votes and 145 MPs were elected to Parliament from the SLPP. In order to maintain the majority in Parliament, we should have 113 MPs but we have 145 MPs in Parliament. Having secured the majority in Parliament, we invited a non-SLPP Parliamentarian to come forward and take over the country’s leadership. Then the President and Prime Minister whom we proposed and the Government elected by an overwhelming majority had to quit as a result of pressure exerted by the ‘Aragalaya’ which dragged towards a political agenda.

Therefore, as a party we decided to respect the public will. However, personally I don’t accept that as the public will. Following a request made by a certain group, the people rallied round due to the economic hardships faced and it eventually paved the way to effect those political changes. Therefore, the SLPP is making the biggest sacrifice. The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has been invited by the President who was their former leader to join hands to form an Interim Government.

The JVP cannot reject this opportunity because they have also closely worked with President Wickremesinghe during the tenure of the former Yahapalana Government. The TNA also extended its support to the Yahapalana Government.

Therefore, it would be very easy for them to join hands to form an Interim Government. A section of our SLPP MPs who have joined hands with the SLFP can also extend their support. However, the biggest sacrifice has been made by the group of SLPP MPs who were under the leadership of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

We can’t go for an election until the current crisis is resolved out to some extent. At present, the people are not asking for an election. Now some solutions have been given to fuel, gas, electricity and fertiliser issues. We should go for a mechanism to reduce the expenses of the people and provide them some relief. That is what we are going to introduce in the forthcoming Interim Budget. Still the SLPP commands the majority in Parliament. Therefore, we are ready to unconditionally support the President.

However, we can’t say one thing outside Parliament and something else inside. When Sajith Premadasa acts as the Opposition Leader, a group of his MPs should not come and accept portfolios. They all should become stakeholders of an All-Party Government or Interim Government to be formed.

The JVP should also become its stakeholders. The sole purpose of forming an Interim Government is that it should be represented by all political parties. Anybody who wishes can obtain ministerial portfolios. If the portfolios are not sufficient enough, we are even ready to quit and offer our portfolios. What we continuously request is to accept portfolios and assist the President to sort out the current burning issues. The Ministers will have to make some sacrifices.

I personally believe the Ministers should not draw their salaries and reduce their perks and privileges at least by 50 percent. However, we urge all parties to accept portfolios so that we can make sacrifices at least for one or one and half years.

Q: Do you think that an election should be held to get a fresh mandate from the people as soon as possible?

A: This is a Government which has a clear mandate along with 145 MPs in Parliament. I am not talking about peaceful protesters at the ‘Aragalaya’. They themselves now raise concerns about who was behind the ‘Aragalaya’? At the end of the ‘Aragalaya’ drug addicts, underworld characters and wrong-doers were there. Under the pretext of ‘Aragalaya’, they looted public properties and even broke the fence of the Presidential Secretariat. Actually, that was not what the majority of the country’s people expected. Actually, peaceful protesters demanded a system change.

That is what former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also attempted to do. However, some of the people were not in favour of that system change. A group such as the JVP which acts on their political agenda wanted to remove the Rajapaksa regime.

After the Rajapaksa regime ended, they attempted to call Ranil Rajapaksa. They created a Rajapaksa phobia. Actually, they campaigned to elect the person whom they want. If we want to solve the problems, an interim Government should be formed at least for one or two years. After that, if the President thinks it is ideal to go for an election, then we should act according to his decision.

Q: The JVP and certain sections say the basis of this crisis is the political culture. If we want to get out of this crisis, we need to change the political culture. Your comments?

A: I do agree. Then we should change the present electoral system and go for an election under a new electoral system. If some say all 225 MPs are the same, then we should not elect yet another 225 MPs after going for an election. Otherwise, we should change the electoral system and introduce new laws. Only after that we should go for an election.

Certain sections attempt to say that some uneducated people are represented in Parliament. However, we should keep in mind that Parliament is represented by different segments of people. Those who are elected to Parliament should maintain close links with intelligent people and professionals and seek their views and act accordingly. That kind of mechanism should be created and at the same time the electoral system should be changed.

Until then, there is no use of going for a snap election. Perhaps, this is the political agenda of some political parties. There were two groups involved in the ‘Aragalaya’. One group attempted to make a system change while the other group wanted to realise their narrow political objectives.

Q: The main Opposition SJB has refused to accept any portfolios of an Interim Government. In such a situation, if several SJB MPs join the Government and accept portfolios, will it pave the way to form an Interim Government with the participation of all political parties?

A: An Interim or All-Party Government should be formed with the participation of all political parties. If a few political parties join and accept portfolios that cannot be called an All-Party Government. Then it should be a National Government. An APG is formed for a different perspective. All the parties should think as to how they should contribute and become stakeholders of an APG. Some parties know they can’t implement their political agenda as they wish. In order to avoid this process, some political parties attempt to put forward various conditions.

Q: Local and foreign human rights organisations have alleged that there is a crackdown on protests in the name of restoring law and order. There is another school of thought that this will affect our chances of getting international aid. What is your comment?

A: It is obvious that the Sinhala Buddhist JVP force and pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora were behind the ‘Aragalaya’. When looking at the lawyers who appeared for the protestors, the majority of them were born-again and linked to the Catholic Church. During the period of ‘Aragalaya’, when the people attended Sunday mass at churches in Wattala, they had been asked to send at least one of their family members to join the ‘Aragalaya’.

The 2019 Easter Sunday attacks took place during the tenure of the former Yahapalana Government. However, the church attempted to create an impression that Gotabaya Rajapaksa is also a conspirator of it. Do the intelligent people think that six or seven extremist Muslim people will commit suicide to bring a Sinhala Buddhist leader to power?

Some say the issue of Easter Sunday attacks dragged on to collect foreign funds. However, intelligent people should find out whether this is true or not. The other issue is the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora. They did similar campaigns against Sinhala Buddhist leaders like Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2014. Similarly, they resorted to the same strategy and backed some NGOs when former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took oaths before Ruwanweliseya in 2021.

They attempt to create a crisis situation in our country. Some powerful countries also want to turn Sri Lanka into a weak country so that they can create a dependent mentality among our people. That is what they are trying to do. Now the people have made sacrifices and given up their protests. They can see solutions are being given to their burning issues.

Q: Concerns have been raised on the rationale behind the decision taken by the Defence Ministry to lift the proscription of six international Tamil organisations and 317 individuals that had been banned in the country. Would you like to comment?

A: We saw during the ‘Aragalaya’, steps were taken to commemorate the LTTE at Galle Face. Nobody criticised that or even the media didn’t talk about it. I don’t know if the security forces may adopt some methodology to lift the ban on those international Tamil organisations. Security forces always seek the information from international intelligence services and act accordingly. Actually, certain sections highlight this issue to sling mud at the Government. However, they didn’t utter even a single word when the LTTE was commemorated at Galle Face. We should find out who is behind these acts.

Q: The Opposition says the Government is using the emergency regulations to suppress the people while saying that it is ensuring democracy. Your views ?

A: Whether to declare an emergency or not should be decided depending on the situation that prevailed in the country at that time. I believe the law and order situation and discipline should be restored in the country in keeping with the prevailing situation in the country. We can’t allow drug addicts and underworld characters to govern the country. Therefore, emergency regulations were imposed by the President to ensure the country’s national security. Only those who resort to wrongdoings are afraid of the emergency regulations. Otherwise, it won’t have any effect on the ordinary people. Those who worked according to a political agenda such as the JVP and SJB talk about the emergency. They publicly said they would give leadership to ‘Aragalaya’. Now they are afraid of an emergency. If they haven’t done something wrong, they should not be afraid.

Q: SJB lawmaker Dr. Harsha de Silva has said that it is unfortunate that all parties are unable to come to an agreement on a program to resolve Sri Lanka’s crisis. What is your view?

A: The President discussed with all parties last week and asked them to send their proposals this week. We also agreed to give the chairmanship of the Finance Committee to Dr. Harsha de Silva. The President has also laid emphasis on other parliamentary committees and discussions with political parties regarding that.

At present, steps are being taken by the President and the Government to resolve the crisis. On two occasions, SJB Leader and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa turned down the leadership offered to him. He didn’t accept that challenge. An Opposition Leader should accept challenges and according to the tradition they are supposed to form the next Government. The JVP will never accept such challenges because they want to destroy the country.

After engaging in politics for so many years, the JVP is one of the political parties which have contributed to drag the country towards this deplorable level. The JVP through the 1971 insurrection, 1988-89 violence destroyed State properties and killed people so therefore they also should be held responsible for creating this situation. At this juncture, they should also accept challenges on behalf of the country by setting aside their political agendas.

Q: There are those who say that solving the economic problems of the people is more important than forming an All-Party Government or passing the 22nd Amendment at this stage. Do you agree with this sentiment?

A: Actually, I am also of the same view. Attempts were made to bring the 22nd Amendment hoping that all parties will reach a consensus and join hands to form an APG. We should think twice, if they don’t reach such a consensus, is there any necessity of bringing the 22nd Amendment. What the country needs today is not the 21st or 22nd Amendment.

Since the introduction of the 1978 Constitution, it has been amended 20 times. Therefore, a new Constitution which suits present day needs should be introduced.

A committee appointed by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to draft a new Constitution has already handed over its report. I think that report should be immediately forwarded to the Constitutional Council. If all parties agree, we can implement those recommendations. If not, it can be debated in Parliament and later introduce a fresh Constitution to the country. At this juncture, everybody should focus their attention as to how we can get rid of this economic crisis.

Q: The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) during the last Presidential and Parliamentary elections was highly critical of the UNP and the conduct of the former Yahapalana Government. Do you believe the SLPP which still commands the majority in Parliament and leads the Government will be able to move forward under the leadership of the incumbent President?

A: As a party we have made the biggest sacrifice. We made such a sacrifice on behalf of the people. The Government is ready to make that sacrifice to fulfill the aspirations of the people. If there is a necessary contribution on the side of the President, we can unconditionally extend our support to him. The President has already discussed with all political parties separately and obtained their views. It will be discussed in Parliament and a draft will also be prepared and hopefully a decision will be taken next week. The main Opposition SJB has said that they won’t accept any ministerial portfolios.

They want the chairmanship of parliamentary committees. The JVP maintains a different stance while the majority of parties say something else. In future, it will have to be decided whether we are going to form an All-Party Government, National Government or a Government similar to an APG. However, whatever form of Government, it should be set up immediately by creating a necessary environment conducive to get rid of the country from the current economic crisis.