All should unite to rebuild country in next five years – Prasanna Ranatunga | Sunday Observer

All should unite to rebuild country in next five years – Prasanna Ranatunga

3 September, 2023

In a wide-ranging interview with the Sunday Observer, Urban Development and Housing Minister and Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga explains why President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s leadership is pivotal to the country at this juncture and why all parties must get together now to resolve the crises facing the country. He also answers various allegations made against him by Opposition politicians and other figures.

Excerpts from the interview

Q: The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) holds a majority in Parliament. However, there appear to be clashes within the Government. Is there any truth to this?

A: In the most recent Parliamentary Election, the citizens of the country gave a significant mandate to the SLPP granting them 5/6 of the power. This translated into the election of 154 Members of Parliament. While a minority among them currently operates independently, the overwhelming majority align themselves with the Government.

It is possible that ideological differences may arise among these Members, but their collective commitment remains steadfast in propelling the Government forward.

Q: If in fact, such unity exists within Parliament, then why does it not appear so outside Parliament where MPs are seen criticising the President elected by your party?

A: No matter what is said we all came together to appoint him when it mattered the most. We must not forget that it was former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who placed his trust in Ranil Wickremesinghe first and appointed him as the Prime Minister after Mahinda Rajapaksa stepped down as Premier on May 9, 2022. It was a decision everyone agreed to at the Cabinet. Has that decision ever been proven as incorrect?

Q: But many allege he is a President with no mandate. Your comment?

A: The law clearly states the manner in which a President must be replaced if one steps down or dies before the end of his or her tenure. We have therefore appointed a President according to the Constitution. This is not even the first time that this happened in Parliament. Though he may not have the people’s mandate per se, he was voted in by MPs who were voted into Parliament by the people. We represent the majority mandate of the people.

Q: But certain members of your own party claim that as a President without a direct mandate the functions of the current President are limited. Your comment?

A: The law has not imposed any limitations on a succeeding President. He must merely continue the duties of the President or the Executive. The law grants extensive authority to the incoming President to ensure the country’s stability and continuity until the next Presidential Election, preventing any destabilisation.

Q: But does the President have any right to initiate programs that were not part of the SLPP policy brief?

A: He is being accused of this due to the discussion relating to 13the Amendment (13A). A manifesto is merely a roadmap and not every program or plan is set out in it. The SLPP manifesto does not have anything that contradicts the initiative by the President on the 13A. We have expressed our commitment to introducing a new Constitution aimed at addressing the ethnic and other issues at hand. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has shared his perspectives on the 13A. We, too, will present our proposals. By carefully examining these ideas, we can work towards finding a more suitable and effective solution for our country’s problems.

Q: Your statements suggest a strong sense of loyalty to the President. Your comment?

A: Yes I am loyal. Prasanna Ranatunga always speaks directly and according to his conscience. I am grateful to him as a citizen and politician of this country. The country was in upheaval after the sinister events of May 9, 2022. The country’s administration and security collapsed. He changed the country completely after July 9. He stopped the violence and safeguarded peace.

Q: Do you mean to say that former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa failed in this task?

A: Yes. That is why the houses of many including mine were set on fire by unruly mobs. An MP was brutally killed on the road. Public property was destroyed. He was appointed following the Easter Sunday attack to create the same atmosphere created by Ranil Wickremesinghe after July 9.

We supported him as a party and personally to achieve that end but he was not able to do it. But I will not criticise him for it as he is a respected figure in the country. He toiled hard as Defence Secretary to end the long-drawn out war. He developed and beautified Colombo as the Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Development. His efforts were internationally recognised.

He is not personally responsible for the situation that arose following the Covid-19 pandemic leading to the economic crisis. But he was not a politically mature leader and made misguided decisions such as the chemical fertiliser ban and the overnight switch to organic fertiliser.

It was one of the most harmful decisions made in recent times by any Government or leader. He was a talented administrative officer but failed in politics.

Q: In other words, do you mean President Ranil Wickremesinghe possessed a special talent to revive the economy?

A: Of course. His political expertise and recognition played a big part in it.

Q: You were highly criticised by former Ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga recently. Your comment?

A: I do not know if it was his personal view or if he was merely speaking for an agenda or another reason. I deny all allegations levelled by him. They are completely false.

Q: Are you claiming that you had no dreams of becoming PM or President as alleged?

A: We cannot predict where fate will take us. I will continue on my journey. It is up to the people to decide what my fate is and what my position should be. I have never pursued status or posts. They came in search of me at the right time. My political journey will continue in the same manner.

Q: He has even criticised your family. Your comment?

A: The Ranatunga family always worked for the country. My father Reggie Ranatunga served the people of Gampaha and the whole country. Had he not done so, Arjuna nor I would have been able to enter politics. The Ranatunga family will always put the country first and will never represent a camp that seeks to destroy Sri Lanka.

Q: But aren’t Udayanga’s comments a representation of the “cold war” between you and the Rajapaksa family?

A: There is no cause for that. I am still the SLPP Gampaha District leader. I am the Minuwangoda electorate organiser, the Chief Government Whip and also a Minister. The SLPP has granted me all these honours. So what clash would the Rajapaksas have with me?

Q: But Weeratunga is accusing you of being loyal to President Wickremesinghe in return for various benefits?

A: I have worked with many Presidents including Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Everyone knows that. They all treated me well as I was always loyal. If I do not remain close to the leader of the Cabinet and protect his trust how can I protect our collective responsibility in the Cabinet? Our party had decided to support the President. As the Chief Government Whip it is my responsibility to garner that support when necessary.

We appointed him as President to correct the path the country is on, so why should we obstruct his work? He brought new hope to the country. We should be grateful to him and not hesitate to admit it.

Q: Will you be in the Rajapaksa or the Wickremesinghe camp at the next Presidential Election?

A: Let us not be in a hurry. Our direction will be made evident soon. My hope is for all political parties, not just ours, to unite and work collaboratively to rebuild our nation in the next five years. As a progressive politician, this is my personal viewpoint.

It would be advantageous for our country if other parties emulate the SLPP’s decision to appoint a President from a different party. Our collective responsibility now is to diligently restore and develop this nation, which President Wickremesinghe played a pivotal role in saving.