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31st December 2000

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Meet the new MPs

Interviewed by Dilrukshi Handunnetti


More ministries make governance easy:
Mahindananda Aluthgamage

Our two new faces this week have not only gained entry to the Legislature, but also have managed to win their respective electorates for their parties after a long lapse.

Meet the new MPsMahindananda Aluthgamage represents the Kandy district and is the Deputy Minister of Highways while Sajith Premadasa represents the Hambantota District.

Mahindananda Aluthgamage's chequered political career is best known for the controversy surrounding it. Each election he contested was blood-stained and an intra- party eruption just prior to the general election made him the victim of a shooting fiasco.

After leaving Royal College, Colombo, he formed his own property selling company and was invited to enter politics by Ms. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. He was the Central Province Health Minister and today functions as the Deputy Minister of Highways.

Excerpts:

Q: Are you also in politics to perpetuate a tradition?

A: My father was a former MP and upon his death, my brother Wijeyananda became the SLFP organiser. In 1988, he fled the country as his life was at stake. In 1993, Ms. Bandaranaike requested a family member to contest the provincial polls. We had no time to promote new persons either, so I came forward. My wife didn't even know I have submitted nominations. Yes, I still consider it is a "family duty" to serve Nawalapitiya.

Q: Your election took place amidst violence. Why are the surge of violence and your campaigns being renowned for violence than anything else?

A: I am willing to hold a public debate on this topic with those who claim that they are the victims and I am the villain. As a family we have suffered much at the hands of UNP goons and their patrons. When my father died, the then UNP local leadership disallowed us to keep his body at the Nawalapitiya UC. But when the same man died and his son made a request for UC premises, I attended to funeral arrangements, while the present UNP local leadership put obstacles.

Way back in 1969 when my mother was expecting a baby, she was regularly transferred from school to school in most difficult areas. At one school, she had to daily manage an arduous climb, and fell off a hillock and miscarried, which also ended her teaching career.

In 1999, a UNP convoy disrupted a meeting causing a murder and injuries to 47 supporters. Nothing happened to them.

Since 1994, five elections have been held but not a single UNPer's house was torched. In 1977, 1,400 houses were burnt in Nawalapitiya including ours. There has been a UNP Cabinet and deputy minister but until we came to power, lands, electricity, health, roads remained unaddressed issues. But it underwent a sea change and its infrastructure is as good as Kandy. All this earns me rivalry, from within and outside. People have endorsed my work and given a massive mandate and I am not affected by flimsy excuses of political refugees.

Q: How can you claim to be the victim of violence when Kandy, once a peaceful district, got consumed by violence only after your entry?

A: In 1994, my stage was burnt and a supporter killed. I was not allowed even to lodge a police entry. At least the UNP can now lodge complaints and hold the OICs by their collar. In 1977, when our house was razed to the ground, my father's complaint was not recorded.

We are a government which gets smashed by the opposition. The police records would prove this.

Q: It is alleged that the government used certain mechanisms to alter the final electoral result at the recent polls, specially in Kandy and Nuwara Eliya where the UNP is strong. Why did the PA need to wrest control that way?

A: It is a culture of violence created by the UNP and fuelled by the JVP. The President sent the STF to control the situation in Kandy, but clashes were largely at top level due to the preference warfare. The UNP candidates also ran amok and I was victimised by a fellow PA candidate.

I don't deny election violence in Kandy. One was within the party itself. And the other, a reaction to the UNP's violence. I am not justifying but there is a sociological reason for this. Violence took place in areas where the SLFPers have been at the receiving end for a long time.

As for the result, how did I get additional 16,000 votes this time? The UNP still hasn't earned public acceptance. The PA performance could have been better. We still haven't compensated those who lost houses in 1977 post-election violence.

Q: As a young legislator, are you satisfied with the role played by the Parliament today?

A: It is not serving its purposes, either in legislative or social functions. It is no longer an exemplary place from which people can learn from. We badly need to overhaul the political system and a pro-active government which truly serves people.

Q: As a government legislator with considerable clout, how do you propose to address the priority concerns in your electorate?

A: Unemployment is the biggest problem. The tea rates are good, but the minor crops like cardamom fetches low prices. We are drafting a scheme to ensure stability of the rural economy.

Q: How do you view the plethora of Cabinet and deputy ministers of the PA, which is a stark violation of its pledge to restrict office holders to 20 only, thereby placing inordinate burdens on the public? Why has the PA departed from its original promises and ideals?

A: The unfortunate truth is that the PA is top heavy. We made those promises in good faith. But now we know the reality to be different. More ministries make governance easy. Each sector receives adequate attention.

But the system is so corrupt. To secure power, we had to bargain with the SLMC. We have inherited so many problems from the UNP rule, and one is this corrupt political system.

A new electoral system should be evolved through a new constitution. The old system minimised warfare. But the district system is costly and entails grave risks.

Q: What do you feel about the new blood in the House? Is the electorate experimenting?

A: No. But they appreciate what we represent- education and a desire to serve better. Our biggest crime is in forgetting roots and alienating people. Hence the rejection of the old guard. But the system must not fail us now. We are here to work and need a conducive political climate. We wish to evolve a new political culture, create a level playing field and eschew out violence. Most of us will leave the arena otherwise. I want to retire to my backseat after this term, if vital changes don't come.


My ambition is to lead the country some day:
Sajith Premadasa

As the 'political child' of former President R. Premadasa, Sajith Premadasa attributes his success to a combination of his father's vision and his own commitment to serving people long before he held political office.

In a candid interview in which he critiqued some of his father's "political decisions", the enterprising legislator armed with a British degree in Economics and Political Science admits his desire to lead his country someday.

Excerpts:

Q: Why did you wish to follow in your father's footsteps and enter politics?

A: I am inclined to decide my own future, the way I deem fit. I have been politically inclined always and the activities at home provided an impetus.

A deep-rooted desire to bridge the economic disparities and put my education into practice culminated in this political journey. My father sought to address the issue of social and economic divisions in society, which is why he came up with an ambitious poverty alleviation programme. Similarly, my aim is to achieve economic prosperity for the entire country.

Q: Do you agree that you simply made use of your father's political base to build it up, in a sense by marketing the family name?

A: It is true that he enjoyed a massive block vote everywhere. But that alone cannot win elections. I proved my mettle by working at electoral level for six years. Being R. Premadasa's son must have had its fringe benefits as well, specially at village level where his work helped improve the quality of life. But I offered my own programme which has gained acceptance.

Q: What made you select Hambantota instead of Colombo Central which was your father's pocket borough?

A: I wished to break the tradition of these political sons and daughters "inheriting their parents" bastions' as a launch pad.

I wished to create my own.

I had a vision and a programme to offer and the ability to pursue and succeed the virtues of such a vision. It is a poor district with the majority living below the poverty line. My programme is more useful in such places. As children, when we had our rare family holidays, Yala National Park was our natural choice. So there is that familiar feeling about Hambantota as well.

Q: What was your formula in obtaining such a massive mandate?

A: Sheer hard work which addressed the needs of my electorate. For starters, I was "ill-received" by the Hambantota politicians. I was the usurper trading on their territory.

There are 577 villages in this district and many legislators have not even stepped into them. By politically mobilising people and that by target programmes and not by empty rhetoric, I have created a social and political revolution.

Anyone else could have done the same without bad-mouthing me. In a sense, my activities reminded those in political power of their duty. The same took place in Polonnaruwa.

Q: Is it difficult to live in the shadow of your father?

A: It is a two-sided coin. On the plus side, my understanding of politics and this base he created give me strength. He built it up from scratch with nothing to fall back on. It was an educative experience to watch this unique man who was streets ahead of others.

But being Premadasa's son has taught me that I must endure suspicion, speculation, unfair criticism, insult and be a sort of a punch bag. So I stand before a focused mirror and continue a self-correcting mechanism.

Q: Your father while earning appreciation for his many beneficial programmes, also generated public hatred? How uncomfortable was it to be his son and seek a mandate?

A: It is true that he drew a mixed response. I am not his carbon copy and have no desire to make my career a dedication to erecting his statues or white-washing his image. He has made his share of political vindictive decisions and negative contributions, but that doesn't negate the good work. I want to continue only the good work.

He is also the most insulted person in recent history, mostly for not being manor born than for his failings.

Q: Isn't it also the farmers' crisis which made you politically lucky?

A: No. The UNP has not had electoral gains in Hambantota for a long time. What about the farmers in other parts of the country? Did we win those areas? These are malicious attempts to undermine Sajith Premadasa's achievements.

Q: How difficult was it to make inroads into a JVP bastion?

A: It is unfair to segregate people. We label under-developed, poverty-stricken areas with high levels of unemployment as JVP hubs. What happened elsewhere has touched this area as well, that's all.

It is to reduce social disparities that my father launched the 1.5 million housing programme, Janasaviya, free school uniforms and mid-day meals, presidential mobile secretariat etc.;

I don't believe in "low" and "high" politics and don't indulge in cocktail politics. When you have an open mind and work hard, there will be public acceptance and the question of breaking bastions to create your own doesn't arise.

Q: Fresh charges are being levelled against your family regarding the alleged disappearance of the invaluable Mulkirigala paintings. Why this penchant for getting embroiled in controversies, if Premadasas have so faithfully served the land?

A: We have been accused of everything under the sun-from ivory poaching to stealing paintings. The charges are old but are being dredged anew. These are attempts to defame an exceptional man and his family. His concepts are evergreen or else why did Janasaviya become Samurdhi and Gam Udawa become Jana Udawa? Unhappy with this some people try to destroy even his memory and this includes some UNPers as well.

Q: But thrust in the opposition as you are, isn't a legislator restricted in his functions, unless he has substantial wealth to keep it going?

A: Yes. But if you are innovative, you can develop the area through a social mobilisation programme which is low-cost.

The UNP lost its touch, hence the defeat. While rigging added its own dimension to it, the UNP moguls failed to deliver. They have done the paper work but were removed from the people. There was a lot of humbug and self-deception. It is unfair to criticise the UNP leader who as a true General, mapped out strategies and issued commands when his soldiers couldn't win the war.

What I did, anyone else also could have done. I learned by not being in representative bodies by working alongside the people- and that requires no wealth.

Q: It is alleged that yours was more a personal campaign than of the party. It is further alleged that you have issued letters claiming to be the UNP district leader?

A: I am willing to immediately tender my resignation if this could be proved. While others believe in undermining my achievements, I believe that the smarter thing is to win them all.

Q: Do you also aspire for the same political heights attained by your father?

A: Yes. My most cherished ambition is to lead this country someday. I have big plans and the courage to see them through.


FLASHBACK

World Scene 2000

Stock-taking

Unpresidented

When the United States chief Justice William Ranquest swears in George W. Bush as the 43rd President on January 20, there probably still will be questions as to whether Mr. Bush was just being formally sworn in or virtually appointed by the highest court of the world's most powerful nation.

Not only that, there may also be a time bomb ticking under the desk of the chief at the White House Oval Office. When the festive season and the court vacation end, many groups, including the New York Times and the Miami Herald, are planning to reopen the historical bomb shell over who won the US presidential election 2000.

Though the US Supreme Court ideologically weighted in favour of the Republicans disallowed the manual recount and dismissed the appeal of Vice President Al Gore, the battle for the White House is to be resumed under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Incidentally, media groups in Sri Lanka also have been pressing for the introduction of such an act here. In terms of this law which has been hailed as the most enlightened process to uphold the principles of transparency and good governance, any citizen could demand the right to see unclassified documents. In this case, it will involve tens of thousands of Florida votes which were discarded because they had not been properly punched for various reasons.

Democratic candidate Gore won the poplar vote at a national level by more than 500,000. In the controversial and what turned out to be the crucial vote in Florida, Republican candidate Bush won officially by about 500 votes and unofficially by as miniscular margin as 150 votes.

Most analysts believe that the vast majority of uncounted votes were from largely Democratic counties or electorates. If a manual recount is allowed, it is likely that Mr. Gore would get far more than the 500 he needs to bridge the gap and it may even go upto more than 5000. In that case, there will be a situation where Gore won both the popular national vote, the Florida state and thus a majority in the electoral college but legally George Bush will still be the President. As in the 1876 case, it might be more a fraudulency than a presidency and even if Mr. Bush manages to carry on, he is not likely to go beyond the first term.

Waiting in the wings for the Republican nominations is General Collin Powell, now nominated by President-elect Bush as the secretary of state, and not far beyond a heart-beat from the presidency.

He is one of the veteran heavy weights brought in by the inexperienced Mr. Bush to plan out and implement the world policeman role that the US plays in international affairs today. With him will be other veterans Donald Rumsfield as Defence Secretary and Condoleeza Rice as National Security Advisor. Mr. Rumsfield was defence secretary in the Ford Administration of 1975 and he served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior, with his most notable contribution being the promotion of the Star War project. So it is likely the new Bush administration in its plans to boost US military strength will give priority to the new national missile defence system intended to be a hi-tech umbrella against nuclear threats from Iran, North Korea or others that the American establishment sees as rogue states.

So the world's most powerful nation enters the new year, new century and new millennium with a badly tarnished if not illegitimate or immoral presidency and a politically battered Supreme Court with the House of Representatives and the Senate divided as seldom seen before.

Looking at the whole US legal and constitutional crisis in a positive way, we could see the possible setting for a 2004 presidential election contest between the first Afro-American candidate Collin Powell and perhaps the first lady Hillary Clinton.

War and peace in West Asia

After hundreds of deaths in a four-month Palestinian uprising, the new millennium begins with President Bill Clinton going all out for the history books and for a historic final solution in the region which many see as the stage for Armageddon.

Mr. Clinton in the last three weeks of his presidency believes that Israel and the Palestinians are closer than ever before to a settlement based on the latest proposals made by him. a summit scheduled to be held in Egypt on Thursday was cancelled but the besieged Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are likely to go to Washington this week for separate talks with the outgoing US president.

The Clinton proposals include the setting up of a Palestinian state including the old city of Jerusalem. But the problem for Mr. Arafat appears to be in giving up the right for Palestinian refugees to return.

The stakes are personal, regional and global. For Mr. Barak, a peace deal in favour of Israel at this stage could mean re-election in February, for Mr. Arafat also an agreement could help ward off the growing challenge from Islamic hardliners. For Mr. Clinton, it could be a legendary place world history books after the disgrace of his impeachment over the White House sex scenes with Monica Lewinsky.

Serbia's October revolution

What happened in Serbia in September/Octo ber this year was very much on the lines of Mahathma Gandhi did 50 years ago when he toppled the world's most powerful empire by the force of truth and non-violence.

For two months in 1999, the armed might of the United States and NATO tried to smash Slobodan Milosevic into submission. But what the bombs could not do, people power did after the presidential election in September.

As usual and as expected, the ruthless and arrogant dictator Milosevic tried to rig the election as he had done often before. But for the oppressed people of Serbia, enough was enough. Like the Solidarity revolution from the Port of Gdansk, the people's revolution of Serbia also began in a coal mine where some defiant workers put up a stage and spoke out against rigging of the elections. Little by little, this became the stage for a revolution. The hundreds became thousands and the thousands became hundreds of thousands who eventually marched to Belgrade demanding that Vojislav Kostunica be allowed to assume the presidential office to which the people had legitimately elected him. The Milosevic's gestapo and multi-faceted goon squads were forced to bow before the power of the people. Two weeks ago, a parliamentary elections, the Milosevic era was totally wiped out when a democratic alliance backed by President Kostunica swept the boards with a two-thirds majority.

Asia as hub of the world

Asia enters the new millennium with the potential of emerging as the hub of the world's economy and geo-political strategy. With China growing to be the world's economic superpower in the coming decades, American and western strategists are looking to the world's biggest democracy India, hoping it will emerge as the biggest force of democratic stability.

If 1999 drew the sub continent to the brink of a nuclear holocaust, then it is indeed a miracle that 2000 is ending with a ceasefire in Kashmir and hopeful signs for Indo-Pakistan relations.

But much more needs to be done. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, centrestage for the vast region's economic growth, still lies deadlocked with the summit not being held for two years. Sri Lanka, getting a prolonged term of chairperson of SAARC, is playing a dynamic role in trying to revive the grouping in foreign policy moves that are reminiscent of the dynamic neutrality of the Bandaranaike eras.

On the negative side, Indian premier Atal Behari Vajpayee appears to be under increasing pressure from Hindu fundamentalists while Pakistan is being identified by the west as a potential Asian front for Islamic fundamentalism which is now seen by the west as the main threat to global strategies of the western nations and multinational corporations.

With Gnaws Sheriff now exile in Saudi Arabia and Benazir Bhutto also in self exile in Britain, Pakistan would be looking for the emergence of a moderate civilian to guide the country, the sub-continent and the Asian region into the role that destiny is calling it to play in world history.

Perhaps like the ping-pong diplomacy that ended the cold war, some cricket diplomacy could help bring the sub-continent giants together. Unfortunately, cricket in the sub-continent suffered two devastating blows this year the scandallous match-fixing and the cancellation of the Indian tour of Pakistan.

India's once famous captain Mohamed Azharuddin now lies in disgrace as the captain of the match-fixing operations. Several other Indian players have also been suspended in the aftermath of revelations that Indian bookmakers led by the now notorious M. K. Gupta had fixed test matches and one-day internationals all over the world. Indeed much depends on a strong and dynamic India. The West is obviously seeing India as a hugely lucrative market for products ranging from computers and cosmetics. But if India goes beyond the world market place and emerges as world policymaker, then along with China, it could take Asia its rightful place in the world stage.

Better balance

Away from the mainstream political front, the world scene for the new century and millennium was also being shaped in laboratories and in business centres.

The decoding of the human genetic chart this year is widely seen as one of the greatest discoveries of the century. It means that when a child is born, the parents or doctors will know the ailments that the child could suffer from later in life, enabling them to take effective or life-saving preventive measures. This means the normal human life span could be prolonged even beyond a century.

While the scientific discovery in itself is marvellous, commercialization is already creeping into distort or destroy the positives. Already the genetic factor is being privatised and patented by the monstrous multi-national corporations which control the world from behind the scenes.

But these corporations also now realising they cannot have their way and their calculations do not work out in the way they believe. This was seen in the collapse of the American dot com giants with a staggering loss of more than 700 billion dollars. A few years ago, these hassle-dazzle dot com companies were blown up as the biggest money-making ventures. But veteran economist Alan Greenspan warned that it was a glorified gamble. So it turned out to be. The collapse of the American internet companies coinciding strangely with the return to manual recounts in the US election might herald a new millennium where we come to a middle path and a better balance between man and machine.

Compiled by: Louis Benedict and Ameen Izzadeen


Stock-taking

All wars are fought for land or other resources. Thus economic factors lie at the roots of major political decisions or developments.

As we move into a new century and millennium the world faces the grim reality of a situation where basic resources such as water and energy are dwindling on one side while we have an economic system that is creating more wants and desires for more pleasure and profit. Resources are decreasing rapidly while desires are increasing and the economic system is aimed at the highly improbable if not impossible task of balancing the two. It cannot work.

What then is the alternative? The hard-line socialist structure based on bureaucratic centralised state control has collapsed. Crony capitalism with its world showcase of a market economy is also heading for a collapse, as seen in the devastating crash of America's extravagant dot com market.

Somewhere between socialism and capitalism lies a middle path that the world would need to follow in the new century. Essentially it would mean less consumption and less spending, leading to more savings, more sharing and a more caring world.

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