2nd December 2001

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All MPs as one team: Ranil

One-time Prime Minister and Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is confident that his United National Front will form the next Government of Sri Lanka at Wednesday's parliamentary elections. He says that in 1994 he gave the premiership to Chandrika Kumaratunga, and that this time she should respect the verdict of the people. Denying he has any pact or understanding with the LTTE, Mr.Wickremesinghe told Premakeerthi Ranatunga in an interview on Friday night, that his three main priorities would be to start the peace process with the LTTE, re-establish law and order in the country, and revive the battered economy. Excerpts of the interview;

Q: How crucial is the up-coming election?

A: We will know whether the country is heading towards disaster or not.

Q:Why do you say that ?

A: At the last election I won. They won the election by fraud. That was the last chance to prevent a crisis in the country. There were signs of an economic downturn; the law and order situation worsened; and the war had reached a stalemate. The situation would have been different if action was taken last year. 

Q: What action?

A: Action was not taken to solve problems. The country was heading towards a crisis. We had to borrow more from the IMF. We were forced to depreciate the rupee. Industries were closing down. The government and the LTTE had reached an understanding not to continue with the war. The problem was that we could not go beyond that.

Q:You mean there was an unofficial ceasefire?

A:Yes. I got to know about it from the government itself. But, after the 'Agnikeela' operation, fighting resumed, and we suffered a setback. There has been inteference in the administrative service by MPs, and as a result, administration has collapsed. If these problems are not resolved now, we will not have a future in ten years time. Therefore, this election is important to stabilize the country. This is the last chance.

Q: Do you think you can win this election?

A: Yes. We are confident. We can form a United National Front government. The people want a change. 

Q: In the event of a change of government as the PM what are the main changes you would introduce?

A: I have identified three problems. They are solving the war; improving the law and order situation; and developing the economy. 

Q: How would you ensure there is no post-polls violence?

A: On December 6, I will ensure that all citizens are protected, and that there won't be any difference between the Oposition and Government MPs. All of them will be entrusted with duties. We need the support of all 225 members. I will treat them as one team. We won't treat the opposition as opponents.

Q:You mean as the Head of Parliament, you will entrust all these members with duties?

A: Yes. There will be 225 voices. They will be the centre of rule. I will increase the powers of the Parliamentary committees. I will discuss our basic principles with all party leaders. Most of us are aware that there are problems when duties are not entrusted to the opposition members. If we get their support to develop the coountry, it is an advantage to the Government. Even the people will be happy that their MPs are working.

Q: Do you think they will agree?

A: They may disagree on some point and agree on another. I will get the cooperation of all parties to improve the economy, to improve the law and order situation and to end the war. I will also give priority to establish five independent commissions. (Judiciary, Police, Elections, Public Services and Media)

Q: What plans do you have for development activities?

A: All 225 members will be participants in the development programmes in their respective areas. They will be entrusted to promote projects that will generate jobs. They will work with the economic development commission in the respective areas. The country's stability will imrove thereby. This will also help the opposition MPs. 

Q:If you win you will have the majority of MPs with you. But above you there will be the Executive President. How will you work with the President?

A:This is not a problem. Even in 1994, we got together. At that time the president (D.B.Wijetunga) acted according to the wishes of the cabinet. That has to happen this time also.

Q: What happens if the President does not agree to share power and attempts to run the government ?

A:If the President can run the country without the support of the majority she need not have dissolved Parliament and gone for fresh elections. She could have appointed someone else as the Prime Minister and run the country. Because the government requires the majority support in Parliament she dissolved Parliament and called for elections. So the best procedure for this is laid down in the letter the PA sent to President Wijetunga during the August 94 elections.

Q: Who will run the cabinet?

A:The President is the head of the cabinet. When the President is not there, the PM presides. But, the government's functions are carried out according to the wishes of the cabinet, and not according to the wishes of the President. The cabinet will have our members and therefore there cannot be a conflict. 

Q:Some members in the Government say that whoever wins, the President will retain some of the portfolios. Will you accept this?

A:When subjects are allocated to ministers, the president has to work according to the wishes of the PM, who has the support of the majority. If the President's party has the majority, the president could give instructions. But this time the majority will be with the UNF. That is why it is important that one party should get a stable majority. 

Q:With the President from one party and the PM from another, what type of political system do you think you will have?

A: We will have a new culture, because the President will be working according to the wishes of the party which has the majority. The country will be run by the cabinet. The President and cabinet will have to work cordially.

Q: What happens if the President wants some of the portfolios?

A: She cannot do that. She has to work according to the wishes of the party that has a majority in Parliament. I think for the development of the country, the President or the PM does not need portfolios. Even under the Soulbury Constitution, the Head of the cabinet was the PM. But under the 1978 Constitution, the President was made the head of the cabinet. Therefore for namesake I will have to have some portfolio. But that would not be an actively working ministry but an unimportant ministry. Even in Britain, the PM has a ministry which is only namesake. 

Q : So as a policy, you won't be accepting an important ministry?


Q:How many ministries do you hope to have?

A: We have not yet decided that.

Q: The problem in the north is not solved, neither are the problems in the south. The Government says you have an agreement with the LTTE.

A:I am trying to find a solution that all communities will accept and the LTTE will also accept. We will protect the unitary state of the country. We should work towards reaching a solution. What I would do is, to begin this process. This is a noble effort. It is like saving a ship. We should take it to the location we want. There could be obstacles like iceburgs and the voyage could be rough. But we need to begin this process.

Q What is the UNP's position about the de-proscription of the LTTE?

A - I have answered this question before. Several countries have imposed bans on the LTTE. Those are governed by their laws. There is also appellate procedures set out where you can appeal to the Minister or to the Secretary of State. Those are determined by those countries. It has no bearing on what happens outside that country. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned the present Government made it known that it is willing to lift the proscription on the LTTE once discussions had started. It had fixed it on the basis of a time frame. But what I have said was that we should look at it as a positive response. If the positive response comes early it will be early, if the positive response comes late it will be late. If the positive response doesn't come it doesn't matter. The nature of the positive response has to be determined by discussing with others. That is what I have explained . There has also been a view point which has been expressed that banning the LTTE under the PTA is not effective, because Prevention of Terrorism Act only deals with investigations and detentions of persons. 

Q:What is your solution for that?

A:The PA has been slinging mud at us, by saying that we have an agreement with the LTTE. But still the PA admits it wants a political solution. The PA has spoken to many countries about this. I have informed our stance to the Government. I am sorry that the NE crisis is being made use for political purposes. Even the International community says that we should find a political solution to the North East problem, while protecting the unified state of the country. On the other hand, both major parties have been talking to devolve powers by protecting the integrity of the country. The LTTE has said in public that it is willing to look for an alternative other than Eelam.

Q: What is that alternative?

A: The LTTE has said to vote for the development of social and cultural interests of the North and East. It wants political powers. This is a good start. We need to start from there. We need to discuss about matters where there is no understanding and look for solutions.

Q:If the LTTE disagrees, will you renew the war?

A:The LTTE has already said that it is willing to talk, instead of fighting at the battle front. We should discuss matters at the negotiating table, and work out solutions acceptable to all. 

Q:The Government has been speaking of a UNP-LTTE agreement ?

A:The charge is that we have an agreement with the LTTE. I must say that the Prime Minister has emphasised that he has not seen any agreement. We have no understanding either. For understanding there should be the meeting of minds. I have not met anyone from the LTTE.

Q: Isn't it correct to say that the UNP was responsible for aggravating this insurgency in the north?

A It was the UNP that tried to resolve the problem. In 1972, S.J. V. Chelvanayakam, proposed to the late Dr. Colvin R. de Silva to retain the clauses meant to protect the rights of the minorities which were in the Soulbury Constitution to which D.S. Senanayake had agreed.

It was Dudley Senanayake who introduced the Tamil Language to the administrative system. We appealed to retain these in the 1972 Constitution. But it was not agreed. It was subsequent to that that a campaign for a separate state began. If these provisions were retained, in the 1972 Constitution they would have protected the minorities. Then in 1987, it was the UNP which devolved powers to the North, under the Indo-Lanka accord.

Q: Haven't you met any LTTE leaders?

A: During the Premadasa Government, I met Anton Balasingham of the LTTE during the official talks held at the Hilton Hotel. I have not met any other leader thereafter. Since 1991, I have had no contact with LTTE leaders. When the late Vijaya Kumaratunga wanted to visit Jaffna, I gave my fullest support for his visit. Lalith Athulathmudali and others protested.I spoke to President Jayewardene and requested him to allow Mr. Kumaratunga to go to Jaffna. Mr. Jayewardene agreed. Mr. Kumaratunga and Chandrika extended their fullest support to the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord. We will never forget that. That is the reason that in 1994 when I was in the opposition, I agreed that a political solution had to be found and I supported the parliamentary select committee process.

Q: In that case why did you oppose the draft constitution presented last year?

A: That was a different thing. They (the Government) had proposed Regional Councils. That would not be acceptable to the people of the south. Our position was to devolve powers, but not to divide the country. President Kumaratunga said that Ranil is against the devolution of power. She would have had a solution, if she did not act in that narrow-minded manner.

Q: Since you met Mr. Balasingham in 1991, haven't you met any other LTTE leaders, after 1994 ?

A No. No. I have discussed this north-east problem with President Kumaratunga. I have discussed this with the PM and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. I have also discussed it with the Norwegian, Indian, and British governments and with Eric Solheim. Other than that I have not discussed with anyone else. I don't want to disclose details of discussions that took place with the Government. If I disclose it, it would be an obstacle to finding a solution in the future. I am told the Government is going to show a poster on television carrying my picture alongside Prabhakaran. 

Q: There are allegations by the Government that you made certain demands during the talks with the Government aimed at establishing a National Government and that therefore the talks collapsed.?

A:I didn't do that. As a policy I did not disclose details of these discussions. But in contrast President Kumaratunga made various allegations against me. She had even spoken to the media openly about things I had never spoken.

Q: What are your priorities in the first 100 days, if you win the elections ?

A - We have said three things, we are facing a situation which the country has not faced ever before. We are really facing not one crisis but three. The collapse of the economy, the war and the breakdown of law and order. We have to tackle all these three. While we are doing that we have identified certain areas which should be given priority during the first hundred days. I know how to find the money. Today there is no economic development. Investors are scared to come. 

Q:The UNP has turned into the United National Front. This is the first time this has happened. Why ? Doesn't this party have the strength to go it alone ?

A: That is not the reason. Now the country is being destroyed. It is to rescue the country that we formed this massive democratic front. After we rescue the country from the Peoples Alliance, we can decide whether the parties in our front wish to remain as one or whether we want to make this journey as individual parties. In 1945 the Communist Party proposed to D.S. Senanayake that all patriotic parties and groups unite and form a front called the United National Front. That is what has happened today.

Q:The JVP leader has said in Kalutara that if necessary with the permission of the United Nations they will once again do a revolution. While the rebellion in the North still lasts can a government of yours cope with another rebellion ? 

A: I will by no means allow a rebellion to take place in the south. We were happy that the JVP came into the democratic process. Now Somawansa Amerasinghe their leader has come and is talking about a third rebellion. He says that he will get UN permission for it. The UN has never given permission for any country to rebel or to arm themselves.These are false slogans. I will never allow rebellion and disruption of the law. What is the difference between Prabhakaran who rebels and Somawansa Amerasinghe who prepares to rebel ? While we are trying to get Prabhakaran to disarm and come for talks, the JVP which has come into the democratic stream talks of taking to arms. What is the difference between the two. He is only looking to sacrifice young lives. What kind of leader is this who sits at the state guest house at Visumpaya receiving the security of armed PSD personnel and trying to set the country on fire. 

Q : The people say that after 1977 the Government won every election by thuggery. Some think this Government will do the same.

A: After 1997, no one talks of the 1982 election. The 1988 election took place while the JVP was attacking polling stations, under a campaign of terror. Every other election was held fairly by the UNP. We handed over power to Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1994 at a fair election. During the last election they rigged and won. This time they cannot do that. There is peoples power around us. 

Q :The election will be on December 5. The new Parliament will be summoned on January 1. What do you feel about Parliament not being summoned during these 25 days ?

A: As soon as we form the Government we will tell President Kumaratunga to reconvene Parliament immediately. We have to pass a Vote on Account. The country's financial year ends on December 31. Therefore, money will be required to conduct the country's affairs from January 1. We will convene parliament immediately to pass this Vote on Account to find money for the next year. In 1994 as soon as we lost, I left the Prime Ministership. I told President Wijetunga to allow the People's Alliance to be sworn in.I gave Chandrika Kumaratunga the Prime Ministership and went home. This time she must not violate that tradition. This time it is I who will form the Government. 

Q : What about pre-poll violence ? 

A : There has been enough of killings. Let the Police investigate and punish all those responsible. whatever party they may belong to. If the President is interested in stopping violence and ensuring a free and fair election on December 5, the UNP is certainly prepared to meet and discuss the matter with her. I have also suggested to call two other political parties. Subsequently I got a message that there has been a letter sent to me by the JVP so I asked the Chairman of the party to reply immediately saying that I have already made this appeal and we are awaiting a response from the President.

Q :What is your message to your supporters after elections :

A :I have already sent messages to our supporters that there should be no post election violence.

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