Will Not Leave Room for Those Who Sell the Country – Basil Rajapaksa
By Anuradha Herath
Are you still the National Organiser of the SLPP?
A: I have never held the position of National Organiser.
But, you are referred to as such?
A: No, I have only conducted the creative work of the party. Mahinda Rajapaksa has functioned as the leader of our party.
Haven’t issues pertaining to election laws and regulations come to the fore?
A: I am not the main representative. In the past, I was entrusted with the job of looking into the needs of the public.
But, didn’t any issue emerge in this connection at that time?
A: There was no necessity for the emergence of such issues. If we could have formed a Government, taking a post was not a problem. We care not afraid of those internal issues among some.
The Chairman of the Election Commission said at the time that you, after resigning from your post as the party National Organiser, had proceeded to perform your duty in the COVID-19 Committee?
A: Yes, I left that post. But, I did not do any political work at the time. From the moment nominations for the August Poll had been submitted I had left that post and did my work. As a person who upholds the respectful style of work I resigned from my post and did my duty devoid of party politics.
What is your current role?
A: Now my main task is to work towards the victory of the SLPP-led alliance at the coming Polls. Now while being engaged in party politics I have taken a break from State duties. That is not because of the law but due to my personal policies.
The SLPP is demanding a two-thirds majority at the August Poll, to introduce new amendments to the Constitution. What are these new amendments that you propose to introduce?
A: The Constitution that was formed in 1972 did not last that long. The 1976 Constitution that was changed by JR also became a radical one. That Constitution was created based on the Executive Presidency. That constantly underwent changes during various Governments. The biggest such change was the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. That was not established by even the politicians. That was given to us by a foreign power by force. Then, till up to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution several plasters had been pasted on this Constitution. Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who was in that Committee which proposed that Amendment, is now claiming at public rallies, that the 19th Amendment that had been finally adopted is not what they had formulated initially. We are of the concerted view that the entire Constitution has to be overhauled.
Isn’t it your task to enlighten the masses before the Poll on what these new Amendments, that you intend to introduce to the Constitution, are?
A: We have already alluded to it, but we cannot explain everything at public rallies. Especially a new Constitution that guarantees a unitary State has to be enacted with the necessary changes to the current electioneering system. And this has to incorporate all ethnicities living here. First and foremost the franchise of the people has to be guaranteed through the formulation of a new Constitution.
The Opposition has alleged that the Government is demanding a two-thirds majority at the coming Poll to sign controversial Pacts such as MCC. Actually, what is the stance of the Government regarding the controversial Pact?
A: To sign the MCC Pact there is no need for a two-thirds majority. They had signed the MCC Pact. Our national resources have also been sold. To do those things under the then UNF-led regime they never sought a two-thirds majority.
We will never sell our national assets. And, we will never allow those who sell national assets any room. It has always been a UNP Government that sold national assets. It is recorded in history that the Rajapaksa Government always safeguarded the country’s sovereignty, independence and national security.
At the previous Presidential Poll you promised that totally new representatives will be fielded at the General Election. But, majority of the contestants are those who have been implicated in criminal, corruption, fraud, wastage and similar cases like illegal sand mining, those importing ethanol etc. How can the public anticipate a radical change from the SLPP?
A: If not for sand mining how can houses be built in the country? If not for soil how can the roads be constructed. The people still consume ethanol. The majority of ethanol in this country is produced at the Pelawatta and Sevanagala factories and sugarcane farmers are noted for earning high revenues through it.
I am going to ask again, should those against whom the aforesaid charges are levelled be sent to the Parliament?
A: It is up to the people to select the most suitable out of the lot at the end of the day. There is some form of opposition to get rid of the preference vote system introduced by J.R. Jayewardene. If any political party has fielded unsuitable politicians at an election then it is up to the voters to reject such people.
Then what is your view regarding charges directed at some over misusing public property?
A: Most such allegations are only canards spread by their rivals. Even I had been charged with distribution of GI pipes and I have never even seen those pipes. I was charged with misappropriation of State property. I am still going to the Court and I also go to the Police Station to sign documents. The charges directed at me have not even been levelled against a criminal. These charges are wholly unjust and I know for a fact that I have been politically victimised. However, I have the implicit trust in the Judiciary.
One of the contestants from your party recently claimed that the SLPP has fielded even horses and donkeys at the Poll. What is your comment regarding that statement?
A: I do not know whether we have given nominations to any horses or donkeys. But, some in the nomination board may have been. I request not to use the names of animals to describe such persons as it would be highly disrespectful for the animals concerned.
Several members from the Rajapaksa family are contesting the election this time. What is your comment on that?
A: It is that same franchise exercised by the voters that catapulted another Rajapaksa to the Presidency last year, and another one to the Premiership. I also do not think that there is any new Rajapaksa in this election. Nobody is saying that he withdrew. It was only Gotabaya Rajapaksa who came to the post of Defence Secretary. But, now he happens to be the President with the majority consent of the people of this land.
There was renewed hope that once Gotabaya became the President that he will create a country where all will be treated equally before the law. But, some claim that this has not happened?
A: Tell me where the law has treated citizens here differently. I am yet to come across such incidents. It may be the case for those who look at everything from an racist point of view. But, today the law is treating all equally in this country. The President has shown this through his exemplary conduct. He has taken off his security. If he had not taken it then it is wrong. He does not travel abroad willy-nilly and his office has not been overstaffed. As he said there is no poster campaign in his electioneering work. Therefore, show me examples of where the law has treated people differently under the President’s watch.
As an example, after the 13th century historic building in the Kurunegala District was bulldozed, where the Buwaneka Hotel was situated, a Minister claimed that he would never allow anyone to lay a finger on the Kurunegala Mayor. Isn’t this clearly an instance of politicians taking the law into their hands?
A: differently If I were to express my views on it then I cannot be biased or I cannot even be unbiased. Just like the earlier issue regarding horses and donkeys I intend not to take sides on this incident. Let the people decided on it at the election. The President, PM, the party and I myself, have taken a firm decision not to air any comments that could be either advantageous or disadvantageous to our contestants. But, my belief is that it would be better if we could eschew such statements. It is more than sufficient for the people to think in which direction this Government is heading looking at the work performed by the caretaker regime in the past eight months. Some of the pressing issues tackled effectively by this Government have been the curbing the COVID-19 pandemic spread which has been exemplary in the world, and the operations to bust illegal drugs and acts of crimes along with the silencing of the underworld. Also the measures that have been taken on behalf of the farming community have to be highlighted. The best yardstick of this Government’s efficiency is how we sent essential services to people’s doorstep during the lockdown period. The Government for the first time intervened to purchase harvests. The difference between this regime and the previous UNF-led regime is there to be seen for all. The previous Government struggled to look into the plight of people affected by the Salawa ammunitions blast, Mawanella earth slips, the collapse of the Meethotamulla garbage mound etc. A sum of Rs. 5000 was given to over 7 million families affected by the crisis situation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Try to see the difference.
What was the delay in the issuance of the Gazette Notification containing the health guidelines to be adopted at the 5 August General Election? Was it finally issued for the sake doing so?
A: Usually the Gazette was not delayed and it was issued at the right time.
Though a Gazette Notification was issued there is no official to implement its recommendations. Hence is there any use in its publication. Why are the PHIs, not granted the necessary powers to carry out the recommendations?
A: No, it should not been granted to the PHIs. The PHIs have been clearly informed to carry out the duties mentioned in their appointment letters. If they do that then it would suffice. They do not need to venture beyond that.
How do you respond to the Opposition’s allegation that a second wave of COVID-19 emerged due to the negligence and over dependence on the Poll by the Government?
A: Is there any so-called second wave of the pandemic. I am not aware of it.
The head of the Election Commission had previously issued independent statements. But, he recently said that the conduct of the next month’s Poll will only be halted if the world were to come to a standstill in its rotation. Some are charging that the Government has begun to intimidate the EC?
A: We have various views and criticisms regarding the head of the EC and its members. But, those criticisms we have not made public at anytime. We have always made them at the right time. We believe that the EC is an independent body. But, there is an issue here on the interpretation of the word independent. We have to sort out whether this word means the independence of the members of the EC or whether it entails the work performed by the EC. The Election Commission is sizeable machinery. In the history of elections here the voters had braved many instances of violence to cast their votes. On all such instances the EC had stood like a beacon to conduct polls in the past. Hence we have the utmost confidence in the EC. The decision taken by them to postpone the GE on 24 April was the right decision in my book. The decision taken to stage the Poll next month, come what may, is also the correct one. We have our criticism. But, when those who know that they cannot win an election they tend to take the EC to task.
Though some say there is no tussle for preference votes there are more than enough examples for it. To some of those in the SLFP, those in the SLPP are casting serious aspersions. In Moneragala Jagath Pushpakumara was jeered publicly. On the other hand Minister Prasanna Ranatunga is continuing to virulently attack former President Maithripala Sirisena. What are your views?
A: How can we overcome the fight for preference votes? At the time of the handover of nominations two to three got ignored. Tell me whether anyone likes to lose. This should be further clarified as not being a tussle for preference votes but only as a contest.
You mentioned that a majority of MPs should be elected on the SLPP ticket. At the Presidential Poll several parties linked up with your alliance. Do you have any intention of discarding them at the GE?
A: I told you that three will definitely lose.
What do you mean by it?
A: Our party leader is Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is only to him, that in the contest for preference votes, voters will cast their official votes as a party. To all others it will only be one. Then if taken as an alliance all are in it together. All are contesting under the SLPP ticket. In that, various parties and organizations had submitted their nominations. These various parties and organizations are conducting their campaigns towards the victory of their candidates. Some might say the horse should be supported. There are still some who contest under the symbol of the horse as well.
There are also those who had ridden the horse and carried out propaganda work?
A: The symbol of those who had ridden it is the horse.
Is that right?
A: What is wrong in it?
In this situation would the propaganda work be impeded?
A: Without carrying out publicity work how are you going to display your symbol?
Then what would become of the election laws and regulations? Are you of the view that those regulations should be ignored?
A: Then tell me whether those contesting under the hand symbol cannot they take it. Do you mean their hands should be chopped off?
Do you reckon that the flower bud too should be carried out?
A: Yes. For a considerable period of time we contested under the hand symbol. It was displayed by us without any hitch. What I am saying here is not that we are going to ignore the instructions of the EC. What we are raising here is whether the stance of the EC is justified or fair. I am not criticizing the EC. The shortcomings prevalent in the provisions contained in Sections of the Parliamentary Election Act No. 1 of 1981 has to be addressed urgently and not just those in the Constitution.
Lastly, we would like to seek your views regarding what you would want to appeal to the people as the person in charge of the management of the SLPP?
A: The only appeal that I would like to make to the people is to allow the SLPP to form a strong Government in Parliament in order to carry out the proposals stipulated in the manifesto of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the last Presidential Poll. I can vouch for the fact that the President, during his term, will wipe out the underworld and illegal drugs from this country. He will also usher in a revitalised economy to this nation and to accomplish these aims we seek a two-thirds majority.