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Sunday, 14 June 2015

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Present Parliament is illegitimate

It needs to be dissolved, says Gamini Viyangoda:

Gamini Viyangoda is well-known as a writer in Sinhala, prolific translator into Sinhala of many great western literary works, a political columnist and pro-democracy activist. He is one of the founders and chief organizers of the Puravesi Balaya (Citizens' Power) social movement of artistes, writers, dramatists, filmmakers and other intellectuals who threw their weight behind President Maithripala Sirisena's successful bid for the presidency.

Gamini Viyangoda

The Puravesi Balaya became famous for its tireless campaigning across the country during the presidential election in support of the restoration of democracy and good governance.The veteran media personality in an interview with the Sunday Observer said although the former UPFA Government had a two-thirds majority in Parliament for five years, they never talked about political or electoral reforms.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: As co-convener of the Purawesi Balaya, you played a major role in gathering forces to defeat the Rajapaksa administration. How do you look at it now, especially in the context of the famous parable of the burning house (Bertolt Brecht's poem translated by Prof. Carlo Fonseka) you quoted on a TV show?

Before January 8, the biggest problem that we faced was to change the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. The policies that former President followed were leading towards a dictatorial situation. We had to stop that. We had to remove him from power as the first step. That is why I quoted that Bertolt Brecht's poem.

After the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa, we expected the new government to introduce democratic reforms. It looks as if it will be a difficult task. Various difficulties were encountered when 19th Amendment was enacted in Parliament. In fact this is not what we expected through the 19th Amendment.

We cannot be satisfied with what we have achieved. We have to move forward. In that context, 20th Amendment is now being broached and our politicians are trying to bringing it out.

Q: This Government came with much fanfare and expectations, but do you think it has been able to fulfill them?

No, it has not been able to do so due to various reasons. The Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe coalition promised to achieve certain objectives within 100 days. They thought that it could be achieved but they were wrong. Another two to three years is needed to fulfill all the promises given to the country before January 8 and the way the Opposition is behaving makes matters difficult. We witnessed that when the 19th Amendment was brought in. The present Parliament doesn't have a proper mandate to continue.

The Presidential Election results don't negate the 2010 Parliamentary Election results. Maithripala Sirisena was the General Secretary of the party which was brought into power in 2010 by a certain mandate.

He himself challenged the 2010 mandate and the January 8 results necessarily negates what we got in the people's mandate in 2010. We had to use the former mandate as we had promised a 100-day program.

The present Parliament is illegitimate and it should be dissolved. Mahinda Rajapaksa's camp with the collusion of certain sections in Parliament are trying to regroup. I won't say that the defeated President has no right to contest again.

But once defeated, that person has a moral obligation to rethink about what he has done.

He has to come before the people and confess regarding what he has done. But up to now, the former President has not made any confession. For example, when the FCID questions certain people who are accused of corruption and malpractices, the former President says it is a witch-hunt. He has no courage to look at his own past. Such a leader should not be appointed to this august Parliament anymore.

When the UPFA had a two-thirds majority in parliament for five years, they never talked about political reforms and electoral reforms.

Why are they taking up these issues right now and what is the urgency? I am suspicious about their objectives. Their intention is not to have a progressive piece of reform enacted in Parliament but to have more time to regroup.

Q: Do you see the 19th Amendment as a landmark achievement after years of tyrannical rule?

Of course. It was a landmark achievement. By that, we could reverse what we had to face through the 18th Amendment which was dictatorial piece of legislation. We have come back to where we were before 2010. After winning the war, Mahinda Rajapaksa thought of moving further down the road and get all powers into his hands through the 18th Amendment.

Though the 19th Amendment, we have annulled the 18th Amendment. We will set up the Constitutional Council and some other independent commissions.

The Public Service was heavily politicized during Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. It has to be depoliticized.

Q: How do you analyze the present stalemate over the 20th Amendment? Do you think it should be passed before dissolving Parliament? Will be unfair by the minority parties? And why are some parties attempting to scuttle it?

Minority parties are not happy about what is contained in the 20th Amendment. So we have to discuss and negotiate with them. It not be practical to enact the 20th Amendment within a limited time-frame.

If the present Parliament continues up to next April, we would be able to do that.

We can't wait such a long time as it is completely contrary to what we promised the country. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the leader of a party which didn't have the majority in Parliament. But Maithripala Sirisena promised to country that once elected, he will appoint Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister. If other parties genuinely support 'good governance', we can continue with the same Parliament.

But they are not sincere. They are trying their best to scuttle all the progressive work that the new government is trying to do. The best option that we have is to dissolve Parliament and go for a fresh mandate. After that, there would be a strong government with a national outlook which would consist of all parties.

Perhaps, we might be able to address the national question as well. A better political atmosphere can only come in a new Parliament where we would be able to continue the rest of the 'good governance' project.

Q: What do you think of the argument that people will need at least a year to get used to the new mixed electoral system and hence the next election to be held at short notice should be on the existing PR system?

Of course. Even the Election Commissioner has said that any country which adopts a new electoral system will need at least one year to get used to it. Once a new electoral system is adopted, it will take at least a another year to understand its real ramifications. Even if we pass the

20th Amendment in Parliament within a couple of weeks, we will not be able to hold the next election under that system because the delimitation work cannot be done within couple of weeks.

Q: What are the shortcomings in the present government? What do you think of the Bond issue?

This is something that should not never have taken place. If our governing people were somewhat prudent, this could have been avoided. However, it has happened. But I don't agree with certain critics who say that the Central Bank Governor has no right to be appointed to that post.

These are absurd arguments. During Mahinda Rajapaksa's period, there were certain foreign citizens of his own family who held high profile government positions. I don't think there is a barrier to a person such as Arjuna Mahendran being appointed as the Central Bank Governor.

When they called for tenders for Bonds, he knew that his son-in-law was also bidding. Therefore, he should have either stopped his son-in-law from bidding or he should have resigned from this

post. When we talked about 'good governance', what we implied was that we would not do the same things that the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime did.

There is something fishy in the Central Bank Governor's issue. However, the incumbent Government appointed a committee to investigate the matter. Now we have to act based on the committee report.

Q: What is your view on the attempts to make former President Mahinda Rajapaksa the Prime Ministerial candidate of the UPFA?

The Presidency is the highest post that a Sri Lankan citizen can achieve. A person attains that position, should be retire at the expiry of his term of office. That is what many leaders in other countries do. There are certain leaders such as Mahinda Rajapaksa who will never thing of retirement until they breathe their last last breadth.

They are so greedy about power and they cannot stay at home even a single day. It's like after winning a national trophy at a national level contest and later participating at a village level contest.

This is exactly what the former President is trying to do. His ulterior motive is to come to Parliament even as an ordinary member and manipulate the people in the SLFP and other parties.

After some time, he might think of reversing what we have achieved today, as this is not a system that he is comfortable with.

After the enact of the 19th Amendment, we have a different system in the country. This is not a system he likes.

The former President has not made any confession up to now which shows that he has not reformed. His present behaviour is a clear reflection that the same Mahinda Rajapaksa who tried to be a dictator is trying to make a come back. We have to stop that.

Q: Why do many people fear FCID investigations?

Corruption was the major part of Mahinda Rajapaksa's regime. The whole system and the social fabric were corrupt from the lowest government servant up to Ministers and the President.

We need a special unit to investigate such massive corruption and we have to do that within a

short period.

Financial corruption has to be investigated by people who have some expertise on financial matters. That is why the FCID was set up. After the division was set up, many large-scale corrupt activities came to light.

The people who were accused of those activities had to be questioned and taken into custody.

Former President Rajapaksa and others specially those who are trying to bring him back have their own share of misdeeds.

They have to stop investigations as they don't want to be exposed any further. That is why they are so nervous and getting panicky about FCID actions.

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