Set aside political agendas and join hands to rebuild country - Prasanna Ranatunga | Sunday Observer

Set aside political agendas and join hands to rebuild country - Prasanna Ranatunga

6 November, 2022

Chief Government Whip Minister of Urban Development and Housing Prasanna Ranatunga said that at this critical juncture all the political parties such as SLFP, SJB, UNP and JVP should set aside their political agendas and join hands to rebuild the country by accepting portfolios and added that they are ready to quit and even offer their ministerial portfolios.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said if we want to get the country out of the present crisis we should extend our support to President Ranil Wickremesinghe at this crucial juncture without concentrating on party politics.

First, we should take steps to overcome the hardships faced by the people and we will have to think of party politics afterwards. President Wickremesinghe unconditionally accepted that challenge when Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake were reluctant to do so.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) commenced its election campaign from Kalutara, Nawalapitiya and Arachchikattuwa. However, in a recent television interview you said that you don’t agree with this kind of election campaign being carried out at this juncture. Could you explain?

A: Following the series of riot incidents that took place on May 9 and afterwards, nearly 10 of our party activists have died including the person who died due to drowning in the Beira Lake, Colombo. Over 680 houses had been set on fire countrywide. Therefore, those who faced those mob attacks and destroyed their properties want to sort out their issues first.

In order to create a situation where the people extend their support to the Government, first we should provide a solution to the economic and political crisis.

Otherwise, if we conduct meetings countrywide, the people won’t join hands with us. At least compensation should be paid to the people who faced those mob attacks and destroyed their properties. Then they will be strengthened once again. If we ask our party activists or supporters to do something on behalf of the party when they have faced severe hardships due to loss of their houses and properties, actually they are not in a position to do so.

That is why the houses of our party activists and politicians were set on fire to distance ourselves from politics. The Police failed to ensure our human rights and maintain law and order. They didn’t even use minimum power to prevent those mob attacks.

Therefore, I request to first provide at least compensation to those affected people and then commence the mechanism introduced by the Pohottuwa at village level to strengthen our organisational capacity until we face the next election.

Q: You have said that even if an election is held tomorrow, the SLPP is in a position to secure victory. Your comments?

A: What I have realised under the prevailing circumstances, no party will be able to secure victory or capture power alone. What I say is if the SLPP contests a future election, we would be able to get at least a few more MPs rather than all other parties. Unlike we secured victory in 2019 and 2020, a single party alone is not in a position to form a Government without going for an alliance. However, the SLPP would definitely be able to get at least one MP more than the other parties.

Q: You have proposed that a leadership board should be appointed to continue the political activities of the SLPP. Would you like to air your views?

A: We call upon SLPP Leader former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to rally around youths and all other experienced politicians and appoint a leadership board to conduct the party activities. SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa is also there and he is abroad these days. We can also get his advice and assistance to form such a leadership board.

Q: How do you view the protest march organised by some political parties, trade unions, civil organisations and a group of activists of the Galle Face ‘Aragalaya’ movement in Colombo on Wednesday?

A: It is very clear certain groups who cannot consolidate power democratically are joining hands and resort to various undemocratic moves to destabilise the country.

At present, the country is returning to normalcy from the crisis which it faced earlier. The prices of certain goods are coming down while petrol, diesel and gas are also available without shortage.

In addition, tourist arrivals have also increased and it would directly help to increase our dollar reserves. When the tourist arrivals have shown a considerable increase from last month, certain sections with ulterior motives have launched their protest campaigns this month to sabotage that.

When public protests and demonstrations are held, no tourist will be interested to visit such a country. Therefore, certain elements deliberately attempt to turn the country into such a level and that is what they are trying to do right now.

Q: After the recent SLFP Central Committee meeting, SLFP National Organiser MP Duminda Dissanayake told the media that a large number of SLPP MPs want to join the SLFP. Would you like to comment?

A: As I am aware, there is no such group of SLPP MPs who want to join the SLFP. A group of SLFP MPs have obtained portfolios of the Government. There may be certain disappointments among some of those who don’t have portfolios. At present, it is difficult to recognise what is the Government and the Opposition. It is obvious some political dialogues are going on and there were crossovers from both sides. As I know, there is no plan for some SLPP MPs to join the SLFP.

Q: SLFP Leader former President Maithripala Sirisena has criticised the attempt by SLPP bigwig former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s attempt to revive the party. Would you like to elaborate your views?

A: Actually, former President Sirisena and others were instrumental in destroying the country. Maithripala Sirisena who vehemently criticised family politics is now attempting to strengthen the SLFP by bringing his son into politics. There is an opposition to that within the SLFP as well. However, the country’s people don’t seriously consider what former President Sirisena says.

Q: The SLFP MPs who have quit the Government as well as the JVP say there is a division within the SLPP. Do you think the SLPP is still in a stable position as it was earlier?

A: Actually, SLPP Parliamentarians such as Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and Vasudeva Nanayakkara quit the SLPP as there was a division in the party. A group of SLFP MPs who joined the Government are still with us while a group of SLFP MPs has become independent in Parliament. This is because of the division in the Government and that is true. I am of the view that all of us should get together once again including those who have left the party. Then only we would be able to win future elections.

Q: Former President Maithripala Sirisena and certain sections have said that the ongoing crisis in the country had been aggravated due to the absence of a friendly foreign policy. Do you agree?

A: The true story is when there was a battle against terrorism, the Tamil Diaspora in foreign countries created their own administration in those countries and attempted to control them. In order to secure their vote base, those countries are compelled to do what the Tamil Diaspora ask them to do. As a result, they didn’t have a good bilateral relationship with us. These are the issues that we have to face globally. That is why sometimes resolutions are brought against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC and passed with majority vote. Those kinds of issues are there and we have to address them diplomatically.

Q: The JVP says the Local Government elections must be held before March 20 next year. The Opposition and certain sections allege the Government deliberately attempts to postpone elections. Your views?

A: The Local Government elections should be held. However, there is a public perception that the huge number of local Government members should be reduced. Actually, the total number of these local Government members should be reduced at least by 50 percent.

The huge amount of money spent to maintain them is unbearable to the country. When this legislation was brought during the tenure of the former Yahapalana Government, we said the number of these Local Government members is unaffordable to the country.

Actually, that was an attempt made by the former regime to continue the Government with the support of minority parties. Otherwise, this is not beneficial to the country. Even the President has also stressed the importance of reducing the number of Local Government members at least by 50 percent.

Instead of bringing the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, a new Constitution should be introduced.

All those 22 amendments were brought to cater to the interests of political parties and certain individuals in those parties. There is no constitutional amendment brought for the benefit of the country. What I say is take steps to implement the recommendations of the constitutional draft prepared by a panel of experts.

The Government has no intention whatsoever to postpone the elections. Throughout history, we are a party which has held elections on time.

However, the prevailing situation in the country should be changed to conduct an election.

The people and those who were at ‘Aragalaya’ demanded to change the existing system and reduce the high expenditures of the Government.

Q: Following the passage of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, concerns have been raised on MPs with dual citizenship and speculation is rife there are 10 dual citizens in Parliament. Is there any method to trace them?

A: I am not aware of it. Comments made by various people regarding this issue have appeared in the media. When there is such speculation, it becomes news to the media. Sometimes, they don’t verify the facts and blow it out of proportion.

However, there is also no way to trace who the dual citizens are. Then how can Parliament take action to trace them? Otherwise, those particular countries should tell who the dual citizens in Parliament are.

Q: Constant changing of camps by Parliamentarians has contributed to serious decline of Sri Lankan politics. Don’t you think legislation should be brought to ban MPs crossing over in Parliament?

A: It would be more appropriate if such legislation can be introduced. Some MPs cross over to get money and some follow suit due to various other reasons. I am also of the view that these crossovers should be stopped.

Q: Earlier, you were highly critical of President Ranil Wickremesinghe. However, now you have said that the hands of the President should be strengthened at this juncture. What led you to take such a stance?

A: If we want to get the country out of the present crisis situation, we should extend our support to the President at this juncture without concentrating on party politics.

Q: Will the National Council be able to achieve its set targets when several parties have decided to boycott its deliberations?

A: Those who proposed to set up a National Council are boycotting it now. However, we formed a National Council following their request. The Prime Minister presented its proposal to Parliament and got it approved.