I am confident of winning with a comfortable majority

By Chandani Kirinde

President Mahinda Rajapaska met with several journalists from the English and Tamil Sunday newspapers at the –President’s House in Kandy last Wednesday in one of his last interviews with the media before Tuesday’s presidential election. He answered questions on a range of subjects.

Here are excerpts: -

Journalist: If you are elected for a second term, what will you give priority to? Will it be the national problem or something else?

We have an economic plan. Development is the one thing that is linked to everything else. So if there is any problem at present, those will be discussed and solutions will be found along with development. Our priority is peace. Our programme is not intent on going for any other programmes meant to break up the country and allow terrorism to raise its head again but one in which everyone can live without fear and suspicion.

Journalist: You have said you will use this election to get the people’s mandate for constitutional changes .What are these changes?

Constitutional changes cannot be done haphazardly. The 13th and 17th (Amendments) have become issues because they were done in this manner. Whatever amendments will have to be done after winning the trust of all communities. This cannot be changed in 24 hours. With the victory we will look at this.

Journalist: How positive are you of winning next week’s election?

(Laughing) Can’t you see it in my face. I am very confident. I have already started working after the 27th. Now it’s not an election campaign.

Journalist: What is the margin by which you hope to win?

I will not say that but it will be a comfortable margin not a thin one.

Journalist: There are allegations that many of your family members are holding high government positions?

Tell me one. Tell me one. Other than one. Do you know I have relations in Jaffna? I have relations in Akurana, Hameeds and all, they are my relations. So are Thiru Nadesan’s or Sirimanne’s, first cousins, second cousins, so many.

Journalist: So because you have so many relatives they are holding government jobs?

So, everybody is. If you tell me your name, I will find a relationship to you. Sri Lanka is a small country, inter marriages and marriages.

Journalist: Aren’t you favouring people because they are related to you?

Why should I, why should I. I have many. I didn’t know. When you become president, there will be more relations. So everybody is related to me.

Journalist: She is asking about people like Uva province Chief Minister Shaseendra Rajapaksa?

He is a politician no? He was elected by the people by a thumping majority. People could have just rejected him. It is the mandate of the people. From 1936, from D.M.Rajapaksa, then D.A.Rajapaksa were elected uncontested to the State Council in 1945.Then Lakshman came, George Rajapaksa came into politics, Mahinda Rajapaksa came into politics and ultimately Nirupama also came into politics.

If he wants to be in politics, he can but people can reject. If we have not been able to keep faith, we would have been rejected. Coming from Beliatta, a remote village in Medamulane, people accepted me, no? Why? They trusted me. Otherwise they would have said, “This fellow has come from Medamulane,” and rejected me. How many members of my family were in politics when I became the President? Basil was in politics, Nirupama, Chamal, were in politics. We are a political family .Everybody has been in politics.

Journalist: Are you going to bring a political solution to the ethnic problem?

First we had to defeat terrorism. We have now done that. No separatism will be there in this country hereafter. Now it’s up to the people to get together and find a solution.

Journalist: There was a committee appointed to find a solution. What happened to that?

There were different recommendations coming from time to time. What is needed are recommendations that consist of all the political ideologies existing in the country. Today what do the people in Jaffna want? What do people in camps want? What does the resettled man want? --a political solution or to get a decent house to live in? It is the politicians, NGOs and diaspora who want this. What are their basic needs?

They want to go to a house with a road, water and electricity and do a job and live. All the other things are interconnected with these. The priority is to resettle these people in decent houses, decent environment and give them basic facilities. All other demands are slogans.

These are slogans of politicians or NGOs. There must be democracy first. Without political stability, for 30 years people were unable to vote. What is the political solution? Along with democracy, the representatives of the people will attend to that solution. I went to Menik Farm .One person had come from Colombo and asked me to merge the north and east.

There was a boy there who said, “Don’t divide us at this time. We want to live in one country under one umbrella. Don’t push us again to the gun and take us back many years.” He said that. This is the new hope.

Journalist: You said there are only two races in the country?

I say that even today.

Journalist: People in different areas have their own particular problems. People in the north have different expectations while those living in other areas like the estate sector have different expectations. There are problems getting children into a Sinhala medium school even if they wish to learn the language problem?

These are all administrative problems. None of them are policy problems. A race means they have their separate identities, cultural identities. If you go to a rural village in Monaragala, they are also not taught English. They also don’t have science.

That is not because they are Muslims or Sinhalese or because they are Tamil. I see no difference between people whether they are Muslims, Sinhalese or Tamils if they are people who love this country.

The boy in Menik Farm said the same thing in his own way. Whatever else is there are shortcomings but it is wrong to take those and say some one did not get something because he is a Muslim or Tamil. If there is gold for the south, there should be gold for the north as well, not tin.

Journalist: We all know the TNA has been a Tiger proxy organisation for the LTTE throughout the humanitarian operation. Don’t you think you could have secured their support for half of those promises or even less?

I don’t need to tell lies because of an election. What I can give I will say yes to, what I cannot give, I will say no. I have been always like that. I don’t fool the people. Merging the north and east, removal of High Security Zones, self rule, they are not things that can be done.

Journalist: Are these conditions in their agenda?

This is what Sampanthan told me, what everyone else told. Later they went and told Sampanthan not to say that he did. Sarath Silva is saying that such a letter was signed and he drafted it.

Journalist: You have said you will remove the HSZ?

The HSZs will be removed according to the necessary requirements but it is a process. Even Katunayaka is an HSZ.

Journalist: The question is after Sarath Fonseka said he would remove the HSZ, you also said you would remove them?

No, no. I am not a man who will do things as Sarath Fonseka says. I went according to a plan. I have not said anywhere I will remove the HSZs. I have a plan and will go according to it. Where HSZs are needed, they will be kept and where unnecessary people will be resettled. How many have been resettled already.

Journalist: But The Sunday Times headlines said it?

The Sunday Times has different, different headlines. The next headline maybe a worse obscenity (kunuharapa headlines). I will clearly say they are political headlines. Like you sometimes put, they are political headlines. There are political headlines that mislead the people but they are not what I say. If we have some plan, we go according to it. When we said we will resettle people, we resettled. It was not for political reasons. We said they will go by January 31. For political reasons I will not remove them from here or there. I have never said I will remove the HSZ What the Sunday Times said is not that I have said it but that I am going to Jaffna and will say it at a meeting there. I did not say it there. These are predictions of soothsayers. Some people in Jaffna asked me if I am going to say such a thing and I said I didn’t know anything about it. You have to ask the Sunday Times.

Journalist: There is an impression that some countries are trying to interfere with Sri Lankan politics? What about issues like GSP?

We will tackle it, don’t worry. I will not talk of GSP because it is not a problem. We have a process to get the GSP. There is no problem even if we lose it. On the issue of interference, one Ambassador has made a public comment about the election and it has created an impression, not in me but among the people, of interference.

Journalist: Isn’t a political solution necessary for the country?

It is necessary. For everything there is a political solution.

Journalist: For the Tamil problem. Is there a timeframe?

How can I give a timeframe and say I will give it by today. But it will be resolved in my time. It will not go forward.

Journalist: Politically?

Yes politically. What could be resolved militarily has been ended. Terrorism has been finished.
Terrorism will not be allowed to raise its head again so we can go ahead with the political solution. We have brought different solutions to this problem like the 13th Amendment but they did not work. So because they could not be solved through talks, the military was used. Now we have to see how all the communities can get together but there is no solution that will break up the country.

Journalist: Don’t you feel the Tamil people would expect to know what kind of solution you will offer them in this election?

It will come with the new political leadership. It’s not the old ideology. There has been no new political thinking coming out for 30 years. For 30 years the ideas of the Tamil people were suppressed by terrorism. There will be a new young political leadership that will emerge once elections are held to elect representatives to Provincial Councils, Parliament. Instead of the old, there will be new people who also think new. Before the end of the war under Prabhakaran, people thought differently from the way people think today. I think the diaspora will also change.

Journalist: When you were elected President you took an oath to uphold the Constitution but you have violated it by not implementing the 17th Amndmenent. It is an impeachable offence?

Is it my fault the 17th Amendment was not implemented? They never sent the names (for the Constitutional Council).

Journalist: The names were sent?

No, no. even when they were sent, there was another petition stating that one man was working in Parliament and was getting a salary from there. They cannot send even a name properly. When he (Ranil Wickremesinghe) was Opposition Leader he did not send the names because he thought he was going to be the President and he can do everything.

In my term after how long did they send the name? Then I said this was wrong and asked Parliament to come up with a system and send it to me. I said that one of the names was of a person who was working in Parliament and paid for by parliament. You can’t be getting a salary from parliament and be independent at the same time. These were done due to the political needs of different people. They were not studied. That is why I say a Constitution is not drawn up only for today. There is a flaw in the constitution itself.

Journalist: This will be one of your last interviews before the election. What do you wish to tell the electors?

What I have to tell them is to safeguard democracy. I believe people will not be fooled by the Goebbels theories and will take the right decision. What I have to say to the people of all communities, all parties is to get together with me after the 27th and build the country. I will win. After that we can go forward and solve all the country’s problem in a peaceful manner. I invite all the people to join me.

Journalist: No action has been taken to bring to book the perpetrators of attacks against journalists?

All are like that. Some have not been found. The person who killed Lakshman Kadirgarmar has not been found. The Police are investigating.

Journalist: Is the UN pressurising Sri Lanka to hold an independent inquiry into war crimes? Will you do it?

We will decide on those things when it comes to that. Now it is the election.

Journalist: Sarath Fonseka has said this is an extremely corrupt administration acting in a dictatorial frenzy?

He is the one with the dictatorial frenzy. You can see it in the way he talks. If he is saying “kalawedda” on stage, at a news conference calling people “padadaya”, that he will fill up the jails, will get people to lick bones etc… This is what Pol Pot, what Idi Amin, did and what Hitler did. He says he will remove uniforms of the IGP and Army Commander. These are the things he said.

Journalist: He has said there is a failed administration?

I am the one who is governing. After the 27th I will see if it is a failed administration or not.

Journalist: What about abuse of state resources?

Whose property is that man using? Are those not state resources? Whose is that car he goes in? Whose are the security vehicles he uses?

Journalist: What about the large scale abuse of state resources?

What you are trying to get together and do is show the world there is such a thing. They know I am winning and unable to bear the loss, they are speaking like that. They are the ones who are corrupt. The NGO fellows and the other henchmen (pandankarayo) together.

They are trying to come there to prevent me from winning. Corruption, corruption. corruption. Is this the first time? Where is the large scale corruption? Tell me where large scale corruption has taken place. I am confident of winning with a comfortable majority

Journalist: What about the incident at Tangalle?

It was a SLFP er who died there. The bus belonged to an SLFPer. If you don’t know you should see the papers. It was not a rally. They were going to distribute spectacles for Sajith (Premadsa’s) birthday when this happened. My picture is in that woman’s house. It is not a political killing. You are talking of the Tangalle killing. What about my supporters who were on the way to attend my rally and were shot at? The bomb attack on our party offices?

No one is talking of these things. A Provincial Council member’s neck was cut. It was not put in any paper. You are talking of Tangalle. That woman is mine. They tried to give money and buy the body but Mangala Samaraweera was chased away. The dead person is from the SLFP, the witness is SLFP; the bus is an SLFP one. There was a picture of mine on the bus. This is part of Goebbels theory. They put forward their theories and you publish it and this is the first one that goes to the people. It is the government that is getting beaten up. Sometimes even government MPs don’t send the complaints to the Elections Commissioner. Now look at these NGO fellows. They are linked to the UNP. They are one group. They are ones who speak of human rights, independent commissions.

Journalist: What about the meals you give public officials at Temple Trees?

I have not been giving people meals starting today. From the day I was born we have been giving people food in our houses.

Journalist: But it is illegal?

What is illegal? If I can‘t spend my money and feed people then which devil can do it.

Journalist: Government’s servants?

Not government’s servants, anyone who comes to the house. I did not feed any government servants. If you come to my house, I will offer you a meal before you leave. You can be a public sector employee or a journalist. I will not change my customs and practices (charithra warithra) because of politics.

Journalist: But it is in contravention of the laws of the country?

What laws do feeding people in my house contravene? I have not fed public officials; I have fed only people who have come to my house. If anyone comes to my house I will feed. Have you come to my house when I am having lunch? How many people are eating in my house at that time? I am not one who eats alone.

Journalist: The Customs officials?

I did not ask Customs officials to come for a meal. I did not get them down. There was a separate discussion meant to be held with them but they did not come. They were asked to come by the unions. My door is open to anyone to come at any time. It is like that here, it is like that in my village.

There people even go to the kitchen and eat. So am I to stop that? It is like that 365 days a year but it is with my money. I am not like the people in Cinnamon Gardens in Colombo who, when you go to their houses at meal time, eat alone and come out after wiping their mouths asking “Machan, how are you?” I remember it from my school days. We are not that kind of people. We are people from Giruyawe , aisay. Not people from Colombo -07, Kollupitiya,

Journalist: What is the special message to the Tamil people?

Now I also speak Tamil so there is no problem. I will safeguard them well.

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