25th November 2001

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'I don't say there is a UNP - LTTE pact'

Only a 'connection' says Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake is uncertain whether he will have his job come December 6, not only because of a possible victory for the opposition UNP, but because the President has said that those over 65 should quit politics. 'It is up to the party' he said, during an interview at 'Temple Trees' with Anthony David of The Sunday Times. The Prime Minister ought to be spearheading the ruling People's Alliance campaign because this is an election for the head of Parliament, but the task has been taken over by President Chandrika Kumaratunga herself. Mr. Wickremanayake said the Alliance will make no promises this time, but will campaign for a stable government. Distancing himself from the PA's claim that the UNP has a secret pact with the LTTE, he said he never spoke of an agreement between the UNP and LTTE, but only showed a connection between the two. The Prime Minister defended his President's recent command to partymen to 'Minimeruwata Kamak Ne' by saying she said it in the heat of the moment. The Premier said 'even my heart was beating with a tempo' at the beginning when the cross overs took place, but now he believed the situation was changing and expressed confidence in returning victorious. Excerpts from the interview:

ST : The PA has been claiming that there is a "Ali-Koti' givisuma (agreement) between the UNP & LTTE. What evidence do you have ?

PM : Who said so?

ST : Your party members have been saying so on platforms.

PM : I didn't say so. What I said was that there is a connection between the two.

ST : What type of connection?

PM : The TULF, the ACTC, and the TELO, were with the UNP in parliament working together for the no confidence motion. They are with the United National Front. They established a broad consensus. After the dissolution these three parties with a section of the EPRLF established the Tamil National Alliance. One of their objectives is to remove the ban on the LTTE;allow all goods to go freely to the Wanni; our armed forces to be called back from that area and a deal on the Nijabima (homeland) concept - a separate area to be given to the LTTE. 

Having said that they also say all their MPs would support the UNP to form a government. They have given it in writing. Someone has made a statement to this effect and it is there in black and white. The EPRLF's Suresh Premachandra said that the government, to be formed on December 5 had promised them that the ban on the LTTE would be removed.

ST :Did he say it is the UNP?

PM : He said the government, and I told you the connection earlier. 

Now I am telling you again that the government of December 5 has assured them that the ban on the LTTE would be removed. He says he has also been assured they would lobby for the ban on the LTTE in other countries also to be removed.

Is there no connection between that?

ST : So this is the connection.

PM : I am not speaking of an agreement, but of a connection. Any blind man will say there is an understanding.

ST : But on PA platforms they have been speaking of an agreement.

PM : I can only answer for myself and I have asked Ranil Wickremesinghe in parliament, are you for the removal of the LTTE ban. He has not replied. I have asked are you in favour of the army being withdrawn, are you in favour of giving a separate area? Now he (Mr. Wickremesinghe) has agreed to that in his Manifesto. He has offered an Interim Administration for the North and East.

ST : But didn't the President make a similar offer a few years ago?

PM : That was a long time ago. The situation has now changed. We have stated our position clearly. We have gone further and said there will be no negotiations with the terrorists. Just see in the UNP manifesto in Sinhala, it is said, "sulu kalekata" (for a short time). What does the English one say? The 'sulu kale' is not there. Not only that, they say that recruitment to the Armed Forces, after the election, will be on an ethnic ratio. The UNP says "we will have modern and professional Armed forces representing the ethnic mixture of this country".

ST : What about the TULF. They are a main party of this alliance. And a few months back, you were talking to TULF to get their support. Why was that?

PM : Yes, that is true. They were working with us, and were supporting our draft amendment. But that situation also has changed.

ST : During the 1999 presidential election, and last year's general election you threw similar allegations against the UNP. Do you bring up these allegations only during elections? 

PM : Whenever this link is established, or this connection is made, we have to bring it up.

ST : There has been an incident in Batticaloa, where a UNPer has been shot dead by the LTTE according to the police. So how do you say there is a link between the UNP and LTTE, when the police say the LTTE killed this candidate?

PM : I don't know who shot whom.

ST : But the police say it is the LTTE.

PM : I am not aware of that.

ST : About this so called agreement, with the UNP, one of your former ministers claimed that the agreement, was prepared by the Information Department.

PM : Why don't you ask him?

ST : But you presided over at a news conference, where that minister read out this so called agreement between the UNP and LTTE last year.

PM : It was brought by him. It was he who spoke.

ST : But, still you presided over it representing the Government?

PM : I presided over, but he brought the paper and I told him to come out with it. He came out with it, I don't know who made it. I was only asked to chair the meeting. 

ST : But wasn't the government behind it?

PM : No. No. As the Minister he said he had it. I told him to do it and take the responsibility.

ST : What are your main promises during this election ?

PM : We will not be making any promises.

ST : What is the theme of the PA campaign?

PM : We are asking for a strong government with at least 120 MPs. Only such a government can take strong decisions and implement them. We are also seeking the mandate to go back to the old electoral system with some provision to safeguard the position of minorities.We have also outlined policy for self sufficiency in Agriculture and industrial development.

ST : What about the ethnic issue ?

PM : There are two sides of it. One is terrorism. The entire world, not only Sri Lanka has declared war against terrorism.Therefore there is no negotiation regarding terrorism. But there is also another side. If there are any requests, for some special adjustments regarding minorities, we are prepared to discuss them. But not with the LTTE. The Tamil Alliance has said that the Government that will be established on December 5 has agreed to discuss this issue fully with the LTTE.

ST :But didn't the President in an interview with the BBC, say she was ready to discuss with the LTTE?

PM : We are prepared to discuss with the LTTE, subject to two conditions. We are not prepared to lift the ban on the LTTE, and they must give up the call for a separate state.

ST : Should they make a public statement about it?

PM : Oh yes. Then we are prepared to negotiate. We also don't accept the concept that the LTTE is the sole representative of the Tamil people.

ST : What about the devolution of power? Before dissolution you were working with the JVP which was opposed to any devolution.

PM : That arrangement is no more.

ST : What happens if you have to get the JVP's support again ?

PM : I don't know, I am not an astrologer.

ST : Lots of people are going on astrological predictions these days.

PM : Unfortunately, I am not an astrologer.

ST : But what happens if the PA has to look for support from another party to form the new government ?

PM : We will study the situation at that time. I can't tell in advance.

ST : You are on record saying the President has power to appoint the Prime Minister of her choice after the December 5 elections. But wouldn't it be undemocratic to appoint somebody other than from the winning party?

PM : What has been quoted is in section 43 of the Constitution. Sub section 3 of the constitution says, " the President shall appoint as PM, the Member of Parliament who in his opinion is most likely to command the confidence of Parliament." This is the section we have quoted all over.

ST :But what would public opinion be of appointing somebody from a party which does not have a clear majority?

PM : It is not the public opinion that matters. If a member of parliament can command the confidence of the majority,.then he can be the Prime Minister according to the constitution.

ST : But what about public opinion ?

PM : What is the use of public opinion? Say the UNP has got the majority and the President calls upon someone else, if that particular person can win the vote of confidence, how can the people protest ? That is what the constitution says. That person will have to go to Parliament, and get a vote of confidence. But nothing will be done against the constitution.

ST : Your party is talking a lot about a constitutional crisis if the President and the government represent different parties. But we have the recent precedent where the UNP President D.B. Wijetunga functioned well with a PA government.

PM : I am not saying there will necessarily be a rift.

ST : But some of your ministers including Batty Weerakoon have been saying so. 

PM : People can say what they like but nothing will be done against the constitution.

ST : The President during a recent public meeting, made a public statement that parliamentarians over 65 should retire.

PM : If any decision is taken by the party I would abide by that. Whether it is an age limit or whatever, we should abide by it.

ST : There is speculation about a move to bring Anura Bandaranaike to the top of the PA?

PM : If the party decides on it we will abide by it. We must be disciplined.

ST : The President has reportedly said recently said at Tissamaharama, "minimaruwata kamak ne" (no harm killing). Is it legal to make such a statement?

PM : You must take it in the context it was made. When I saw the Mahanayakes, specially the Asgiriya Prelate, he said there was a lot of tension in Hambantota. I asked him who brought it to his notice. He said, not from "your side", but from the "other side". Now if you go by what happened at Hambantota, we have not done anything. But our "friend" has gone and made entries, one after another. These were all brought to the notice of the President at the stage that day. She was told, " me yaka gahanawa, gahala evarawela paminili danawa." ( This devil hits and then makes complaints) "Me miniha gassanawa, passe gihin paminili danawa" (this man gets others hit and then goes to complain) So, spontaneously she had said "Gahuwoth gahanda venawa" ( you have to hit back if you are hit)

ST : But she said "minimaruwata kamak ne" ( no harm killing) 

PM : Yes, yes, naturally that was spontaneous. She said it in that context.. She has been always for a free and fair election. You must give that credit to her. At that time when this was uttered during these speeches, other people spoke on these lines. 

That was a spontaneous reaction to the speeches which were made. I don't think she ever meant that elections should be unfair. She has always been on that line, that elections should be held clean.

ST: How do you assess the chances of PA returning to office?

PM : I have been saying that when those members crossed over on October 10, even my heart was beating with a tempo. People were disturbed. The people were getting worried, as to what was in store. That situation has now changed. 

The worry that was in the minds of people, as a result of the crossover, is no longer there. That is why on the platform, I thank the people who crossed over, for making us victorious in this election. It is the speeches that have turned tables. 

It is the severe attack on us that has turned tables. Now I feel the trend is in our favour. If we can build up this till December 5, I am confident that I will get the mandate I have asked for, 120.

ST : You also said that if they can't give 120, vote for the UNP.

PM : I said choose the party you want, if you don't want us, give that other party 120, as a stable government is required.

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