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Sunday, 9 August 2015





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Every district is my district

Says former president Mahinda Rajapaksa explaining his reasons for contesting from Kurunegala:

Pix: ANCL Library

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) candidate from the Kurunegala District is pretty much the ‘other’ candidate in the August 17 polls. He secured his candidacy riding on a ‘Bring Back Mahinda’ campaign launched by UPFA politicians and now, as head of the UPFA Election Operations Committee, is effectively steering the party’s propaganda campaign. Here the former President talks about ‘Let’s Power the Nation, Let’s Start Afresh’ the theme of his party’s election campaign, which he claims refers to reversing the damage caused by the past seven months of UNP rule, his decision to contest the election, contest from Kurunegala and answers some tough question about his motives for seeking to return to power.

The interview with the former President, unlike other interviews with prominent candidates conducted by the Sunday Observer, was not a face-to- face question and answer session, but one conducted by email.


Q: Why are you contesting from Kurunegala and not from Hambantota?

A. While I represented the Hambantota District as a Parliamentarian for most of my political life, for the past decade, I was the President of the whole country. So there are people who have voted for me in all districts. Now every district is my district. Apart from that fact, the leaders of the UPFA and seniors of the SLFP also took into consideration the strategic advantage of my contesting from a district other than Hambantota. While Gampaha and Ratnapura were also considered, everybody finally decided on Kurunegala.

Q: Instead of retiring gracefully why did you come forward to contest the election? Critics say that you are hungry for power?

A. My political opponents described me as a dictator. But dictators do not hold elections and leave gracefully when defeated. I was defeated at the last Presidential Election and I left Temple Trees even before the final results were announced and made way for my successor.

I relinquished the chairmanship of the SLFP a week later. But from the day I returned to my home in Tangalle, tens of thousands of people came to see me and all of them wanted me back in politics. In addition to ordinary people, the leaders of the constituent parties of the UPFA and MPs of the SLFP requested that I come back into politics. When the UPFA leaders began having meetings in various parts of the country, to call for my return to politics, the whole country saw the crowds that supported that call. It is not possible for me to turn down a request made in that manner by so many.

Q: Critics say the main aim of your bid to enter Parliament is to stop the ongoing investigations against you and your family members. What are your comments?

A. Anybody can investigate as much as they wish. The present government has been investigating for seven months and what have they discovered? Absolutely nothing.

Because they have nothing to show for their efforts, they have resorted to uttering lies as they did at the last Presidential Elections. Some weeks ago, a UNP Parliamentarian came before the press saying that he has documentary proof that the Rajapaksa family had spent something in excess of Rs. 9.4 million on a single family breakfast. Since this was the first time that any kind of proof was being offered for an allegation made, journalists were interested.

The pro forma invoice from the Hilton that was shown to the media was the invoice for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting inauguration day breakfast, which was attended by 1,400 guests including Prince Charles and the Heads of State or Heads of Government of all Commonwealth nations. This was what was being passed off as a family breakfast of the Rajapaksas! The Prime Minister himself kept referring to this ‘family breakfast of the Rajapaksas’ and about dried karthakolomban dipped in Swiss chocolate sauce for weeks. In the old days, you could not imagine a UNP leader like Dudley Senanayake or J. R. Jayewardene knowingly uttering falsehoods from a public platform.

Q: You have promised to rectify certain mistakes you made during your tenure as president and to minimize corruption. How do you plan to do that?

A: Everybody makes mistakes. I too have made my share of mistakes. I admit that one of my weaknesses was to be too tolerant and too willing to give people second chances. This extended not only to members of my own party but to members of other parties as well. When Sajith Premadasa’s sister was caught red handed with a large number of forged currency notes inside a bank, my government could have remanded her and blown up the issue and put an end to her brother’s political career. Because I did not do that, today Sajith is able to go around the country describing me as a ‘hora’. People have been warning me not to make such mistakes again.

Q: Why didn’t you title the UPFA Manifesto a ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ this time too? Does it mean that this formula no longer works?

A: The ‘Mahinda Chintana’ Manifestoes were for Presidential Elections. The present manifesto is for a Parliamentary Election. That’s the difference.

Q: The theme ‘Ratata Pana Demu Aluthinma Patan Gamu’ (Let’s power the nation, Let’s start afresh) may be aimed at the UNP Government but they have been in power for only seven months. In this light, don’t you think the title is an admission that your 10 years have not been very effective either?

A: This idea of beginning anew and giving the nation a new lease of life refers to reversing the damage done by the past seven months of UNP rule. No previous government has done as much damage to this country in such a short a period of time.

During the ten years I ruled the country, we not only won a war, which was described by both local and foreign experts as “unwinnable”, and we also launched an unprecedented development drive.

Politicians in this country had been talking about expressways for decades but no government had been able to build one.

Previous governments had been paralysed, unable to implement vitally important projects like the Norochcholai coal power plant or the Upper-Kotmale power project. My government achieved many things that other governments had given up on as being impossible.

Q: In case the UPFA wins are you confident of resolving your differences with the President?

A: Both the President and I have been guided in our recent actions by the will of the majority in the UPFA and the SLFP. In any case, the President and I have been members of the same political party for decades.

Q: You are focusing again on national security. Isn’t this like flogging a dead horse?

A: The mistake of the UNP was to denigrate the concept of national security. They never took it seriously. Even our war effort was a joke to them. Today, there is a serious threat to our national security as well our territorial integrity.

If you look at the TNA manifesto, they are in fact demanding the right to secede. The pro-LTTE Diaspora is engaged in an attempt to carve out a separate state through a UN supervised referendum. These are the dangers confronting the nation today.

Q: You charged that the UNP Government stopped all development projects you initiated yet they are saying that the projects had to be probed for corruption and they have now resumed them. What do you have to say about that?

A: Yes, I can see that they have recommenced some projects with the same contractors and the same banks but they are not saying anything about the evidence of corruption they found. All they seem to be interested in doing is renaming the projects and installing plaques with their names on them instead of ours.

Q: There is an argument that you will lose all privileges accorded to a former President if you become an ordinary MP. Have you given any thought to this?

A: A former president is a former president. You don’t cease to be a former president if you become an MP.

Q: Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has called upon the nation to defeat the elements trying to reverse the ‘January 08’ mandate. She has also strongly criticized you for misusing State power and State resources when you were in power. What is your response to this allegation?

A: Former President Kumaratunga took the same position in 2005, 2010 and January 2015. So she has been consistent.

Q: Do you think that you could fulfil the pledges given to the people during your ten years tenure in office?

A: Under my leadership, we could put an end to the war within four and half years, which no government could accomplish over the past 30 years. Some economic indicators are a clear testimony on the economic revolution that took place in the country over the past ten years.

When I assumed office in 2005, the country’s GDP was US$ 25 billion. After the end of the war in 2009, the GDP was increased by three-fold to US$ 75 billion.

During my tenure in office, US$ 1240 Per Capita income was increased up to US$ 3625, while unemployment declined from 7 percent to 4.3 percent. In addition, inflation was brought down from 7 percent to 2.1 percent. We could also increase the foreign reserves from US$ 2.3 billion to US$ 8.3 billion.

During the seven-month tenure of the incumbent government, foreign reserves have gone down below US$ 6 billion. Poverty which was at 15 percent in 2005 was reduced to 6 percent when I handed over the country.

Increase of the debt burden during my tenure in office was the biggest allegation levelled against us by the UNP. Can a country be developed without obtaining loans? Even developed countries like US, China and Russia obtain loans to expedite their development.

The most important aspect is our capacity for repayment of loans. When I took over the country in 2005, the State debt as a percentage of the GDP was 96 percent, but when I handed over the country in 2015, it had been reduced to 75 percent.

How many times have those who criticised governed the country? What have they done to develop the country’s economy? Other than levelling baseless allegations against us, the UNP has no systematic program to develop the country.

The UNP’s election manifesto looks like an essay written by a small child. It has no vision for the future. They have failed even to properly explain their economic policy to the country. The UPFA election manifesto is a guarantee given for the future, which has clearly set out all the targets to be achieved by 2020.

Q: An allegation is levelled that you pardoned wrongdoers and kept them safe in your government. Under these circumstances, how do you go for an election with such elements and seek a fresh mandate from the people?

A: The entire country is aware that the UPFA acted very cautiously when the nominations were given to candidates. Some of those would have been hurt due to firm decisions taken by the UPFA on selecting candidates.

Those were not popular decisions; we had to resort to such stern action when the candidates were selected. Today the only remaining slogan of the UNP is to brand UPFA politicians as crooks.

After suspending the entire development process, can the UNP claim they have developed the country? After withdrawing the High Security Zones in the North and allowing to commemorate the LTTE, can the UNP led government say they have ensured the country’s national security? Even though the UNP made a big hue and cry over the past seven months attempting to brand opposition members as “crooks”, they could not find any such crook.

But the people are well aware where the genuine crooks are. The UPFA nomination lists does not consist like persons who have committed the biggest ever Treasury Bond scam that took place in the country. I categorically state that our nomination lists are very clear.

Q: You were also accused of attempting to promote family politics by forming a ‘family company’ during your tenure in office. Can you give a guarantee to the people that you would not make the same mistake again?

A: Two of my brothers Chamal Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa were engaged in politics. Both of them were elected to the last Parliament from the people’s vote. My brother Chamal Rajapaksa was the former Speaker and he was elected to that position by the Parliamentarians.

Both the government and the opposition members appreciated the impartial role played by him as the Speaker.

My brother Basil Rajapaksa was elected to Parliament obtaining the highest number of votes from the Gampaha District at the last General Election. As a Minister, he could also render a lot of service to the country.

Even though the government arrested Basil Rajapaksa and commenced a big media show to tarnish the image of our family, they failed to point out even a trivial mistake committed by him.

The entire country is also aware of the service rendered by my brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as the Defence Secretary to eradicate the three decades old terrorism and introduce a novel city development concept after the end of the war.

Those who created the name of ‘family company’ should honestly tell whether my brothers have done a service or damage to the country. It is entirely up to my brothers to decide whether they should further continue in politics or not and I have not made any interference whatsoever about that.


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