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Govt vote base still intact - Minister Keheliya Rambukwella

Mass Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that except for a few places in Uva there was no reduction in the Government's vote base in most areas. If there was a downward trend as claimed by the UNP, then the UNP would have captured power in the Uva Provincial Council, he said..

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that victory is not static and there are various reasons adduced when a party becomes victorious.

What is important is that the Government has now set up the Uva Provincial Council but Uva is not Sri Lank, he said. Of the nine Provincial Councils, Uva is just one.

He said it was illogical to compare the recently concluded Uva PC election with the 2009 PC election.

The 2009 PC election was a special case, where we overcame the most ruthless terrorists in recent times.

Nearly 26 countries described the LTTE as the most ruthless and dangerous terrorist outfit which could not be defeated through military means. But our Commander-in-chief and the Security Forces cleared the country of terrorism.

As a result, there was a gratitude vote which also added to the UPFA's vote base.If the 2009 PC election results are taken as a parameter by anybody , I don't think he is politically mature. There are special instances where sympathy or gratitude can be taken into consideration. We have such situations.

Q: Commenting on the Uva PC results, the UNP said that the results was a“red light” or “wake up call” to the Government. Are we to take this on its face value or what does it underline?

A: The UNP has to make that comment.Because it has been a huge political party which has faced failure after failure over 20 years. In fact, they are losing their cadres. When they get little bit of 'fresh air', they need to develop on that and enlarge it.

The position that the UNP is taking is justifiable in terms of a political party. When the people say that Ranil Wickremesinghe faced 29 electoral defeats, that has now been abated.

I think Wickremesinghe wisely boosted the whole issue by making some new appointments within the party. So the people have forgotten that they faced yet another defeat. The fact of the matter is you either win by just one vote or by a 100,000 votes.

But victory is the same. Different explanations can be given and one can come to different conclusions.

That is exactly what has happened.

What is important is that we have set up the Uva Provincial Council. Of course, there are shortcomings here and there. But Uva is not Sri Lanka. Of the nine PCs, Uva is just one.

If one says that this is a red light, I take up the 1993 Southern PC Elections where the famous Francisku case took place and it was a complete whitewash. Finally Amarasiri Dodangoda was elected as the Chief Minister and there was a change.

Then, simultaneously, we had Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, G.M. Premachandra and Samaraweera Weerawanni and that whole lot decamping the UNP and they were the powerful personalities. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga also came from nowhere and contested the election and cut a figure.

That is something that I would put as a red light. In fact, this was a red light and the results were also so. Here it is totally different. If they are in this political scenario, you must also let them enjoy a little bit of what they are doing right now on a grand scale.

Q: How do you explain the downward trend of the Government's vote base in Uva?

A: That's a wrong statement. There was no downward trend in most of the places.

It was only in a few places. If there was a downward trend in most places, the UNP would have captured power in the Provincial Council.

We are not going back on that argument. Victory is not static. There have been reasons for various victories. Your comparison is the recently concluded Uva PC election with the 2009 PC election.

But the 2009 PC election was a special case where we overcame the most difficult task in the recent history of Sri Lanka.

Nearly 26 countries described the LTTE as the most ruthless and dangerous terrorist outfit so that they said it cannot be defeated through military means. But our Commander-in-chief and the Security Forces cleared the country devoid of terrorism. As a result, I would say there was a gratitude vote that also added to the UPFA's vote base.

But if you take that as a parameter, I don't think you are politically focusing yourself.

There are special instances where sometimes sympathy or gratitude can be drawn up. You have such situations.

The comparison of the recently concluded Uva PC election with the 2009 PC election is wrong.

But if you look at the 1993 Provincial Council Election, the UNP scored about 68 percent of the votes and the SLFP got somewhere around 30 or 31percent of votes.

Then you can say that you really don't know which one to take. The X party will take what is advantageous to them. The Y party will take what is advantageous to them. Finally the people will decide who should rule the country.

As far as we are concerned, in one Provincial Council, there is a downward trend in one or two areas. But we have confidence and focus where we have gone wrong to correct ourselves.

Q: Doesn't the Uva PC election results show that the Government must move to the periphery to uplift the living conditions of the people?

A: I don't think in recent history any government has done this much of work in terms of infrastructure development. Of course, we have a serious issue. Because we have now come to the level of middle income group. We are at the bottom of the middle income group.

If the middle income group is from US$ 3000 to 15,000, we are somewhere in US$ 3000 to 3500. That is the bottom line. That is a different phase and we need to move forward.No country has jumped from US$ 3000 to US$ 10,000 or15,000 overnight. It takes some time. During that time, there is political turmoil or political unrest.

Sri Lankans blame the Government at the drop of a pin. If there is a drought or flood, they will blame the Government. Similarly if they go window-shopping and if they can't afford, they will still blame the Government.

This is because we are going through that phase. We need to do something and address the issue.

Q: With the changes in the UNP's high command, it appears that the party is set to catch up its losses.What is the UNP's prospects with Sajith Premadasa in ascendency?

A: How many times, you have seen them raising hands together. This is about the sixth time. Do you think that a seventh time will not come?Every time you take the picture of raising hands, somebody is minus and somebody is plus.

This time around too somebody might be minus and somebody might be plus. Therefore, I don't take it seriously right now.Let us see what it is.

Q: The slashing of electricity bills and fuel prices is a big relief to the people. How do you counter the UNP's allegation that it is only an election stunt?

A: What I say is that the people must feel it. Electricity bills were slashed four or five days prior to the elections. Obviously the people have not benefitted as yet.

I don't think it can have any psychological impact. The impact on the reduction of a litre of gasoline by four rupees or five rupees is mid term, not short term.It does not come immediately or overnight. It comes gradually.

Perhaps, the people would expect prices of a few consumer items to come down. Even then the people never enjoy that benefit. I refute this claim and I don't think one who knows human psychology would come out with that argument and it has not made an impact on the Government's victory.

Q: What are your view on the TNA's demand to re-merge the North and the East of Sri Lanka. Is there any justification?

A: That is under legal jurisdiction. I don't want to talk about it. Because it has been decided by the Supreme Court, the supreme judiciary of Sri Lanka. I don't know whether there is provision for them to make an appeal once again.

Because we don't have the Privy Council like earlier. They went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court has made a decision.

There is a time period and within that period, they could have requested a full of bench if they really wanted. I don't think, they did so. I don't know whether there is any provision or possibility of going back to courts even an asking for a full of bench.

Q: The Opposition's political economists have grave comments about “ debt-based growth”. What have you got to say about it?

A: On a broad base, if you look at the US, their loan basis is over a trillion US Dollars. Does anybody say that they are bankrupt? I am not an economist. If you buy a vehicle on lease, somebody can seize it. I don't know whether airports or harbours can be seized after they are put up.

As far as I know, there are certain areas where interest rates are slightly higher than normal. But we are also confident that we would settle them within a certain time frame. For instance,

I can tell you that we have got a US$ 165million loan facility from Japan for digitalisation. Its terms are ten years grace and 30 years repayment with .025 interest.

That is a unique case. I believe after the ten year grace period, they might even write off the loan. So there are certain things, economically where you donate or give a loan to a country. There are concessionary rates and terms.

I think one or two countries like Ireland and Greece have been declared bankrupt. But Greece was pumped with a US$ 5 billion collectively by the European Union.

Basically there are no countries that have gone bankrupt. These are all theoretically and more over platform issues. When you get onto the political platform, you need to say something. But if you really analyse it and take the crux, I don't think there is anything.

Now the JVP says that we have been caught in a loan trap. These are attractive terminologies in terms of political platforms.

But in reality, I don't know whether this has any effect. For instance, the Opposition says 35 percent of the Colombo Port City Development Project is being taken.

Your choice is either you do it and give 35 percent and have the balance 65 percent or you don't develop it. That is a choice of the Government and we have decided to go ahead. I would look at the Eppawala Phosphate deposit issue also in the same way. They say Eppawala has enough phosphate to provide for the rest of the world for the next few decades. It has a high demand. But the initial cost of drilling is enormous and we cannot do it alone.

If somebody comes, fortunately or unfortunately from a Western country or China to do that and if they say that they need 30 percent of the intake and if you want my personal view, I would give it to them.

Because if this can be done rather than having the phosphate lying underground for so many decades, I would negotiate and may not agree to 30 percent. But I may try to get the best deal possible and get the phosphate out.

Otherwise nobody isgoing to benefit while it is underground. It is suprising that the UNP is saying this. Because the UNP is a capitalist party which looks at those kind of things in an aggressive manner.

Now we have been accused of being more liberal. It's all a matter of having Government policy on certain issues

Q:Is Sri Lanka and India's, thawing of Sino-Indian relations changed the political landscape in Asia?

A: The landscape in politics is changing rapidly right across the globe. Entire forces are focussed on development in terms of physical and financial development.Circulation of funding is centering around Asia in that China, Japan and India are giants.

With these three giants, Indonesia and Malaysia are coming to the scene. Singapore maybe geographically small but still they are a trading nation. So many other countries are chipping in. I don't think one can stop that. Because you have a cycle. I think this cycle has taken place and is now tilting towards the Asian region.

Q: The opening of the Northern railway to Jaffna after over two decades is a significant move economically,socially and culturally. How do you explain this landmark event?

A: Development in the North is something one has to appreciative and commend.

The opening of the Northern railway to Jaffna is one such. I think it is a great achievement.

Some Opposition politician has said that this has cost Rs.130 million and somebody has diddled Rs.30 million. Can you beat it they have got the figures as well. I suppose that is a common complaint that the Opposition is havingg.

The fact of the matter is that things are happening. One could accuse and one could suggest a few changes.

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