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Pathirana confident twenty PA MPs will support amendment
Former Leader of the House and ex-minister Richard Pathirana has expressed confidence that at least 20 PA MPs will join him in voting for the 19th Constitutional Amendment to clip the powers of the President. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr. Pathirana said he was not afraid and was ready to face or challenge any disciplinary action by his party.

Interviewed by Harinda Vidanage
Q: What are your views on the proposed 19th Amendment?
A: I think it is a very good amendment since the President has to dissolve Parliament on a request made by Parliament. There is no problem with this amendment, I will support it.

Q: Why do you state that it is a good amendment?
Parliament makes the decision and that means it is more democratic. Therefore, I think it is a good amendment.

Q: This amendment includes the curtailment of the President's powers. Is this a positive sign?
Yes, that is the will of the people which is identified as the people's sovereignty.

Q: The PA proposes a total abolition of the executive presidential system. What is your view on this?
I don't know. That question has to be answered by the PA, but I am a democratic person and I will support the 19th Amendment.

Q: You are saying that 20 or more from the PA will support this amendment. How confident are you?
I am very confident.

Q: Recently you have been distancing yourself from the party and party meetings. Why was this?
I was not informed of any meeting. The party secretary informed me only of the Central Committee meeting.

Q: Being a senior vice president of the party wouldn't your actions have a damaging effect on the SLFP?
No, but we have to work according to party policies such as supporting the abolition of the presidential system.

Q: But still you are not attending party meetings regularly.
They can take any action against me for it.

Q: Are you concerned action will be taken against you?
I'm not afraid.

Q: There is speculation that PA members may vote for the 19th Amendment to get positions from the government.
No, that is not true.

Q: Have you been approached by the UNF?
No, but the Prime Minister invited me to come over to that side and take up a portfolio, but that is still not decided.

Q: Have any other portfolios been offered to other people who might vote for the amendment?
: I think so, but I am not sure.

Q: How is your relationship with the President?
The President asked me at the Central Committee meeting whether I would support the amendment. I said 'yes' and she replied by saying she will take disciplinary action against me.

Q: What was your reply
I said 'do whatever you can. If you want I will resign from the party since I'm not greedy to be in Parliament.'

Q: What made you say that?
I have no problem because I can win the next election not only from Galle but even from Colombo. I hold the record of winning two by-elections for the seat of Akmeemana when a UNP regime was in power in 1983 and 1986. Thus I'm not afraid of elections.

Q: What makes you defy even the President?
My view is that today we need a stable government. If that is not achieved people like Prabhakaran will grow much stronger. Secondly, if we want to resurrect our economy we need to get more foreign investors, but if they see that we have an unstable government they will not come.

Q: That means you are going to support the UNF government?
Look at Singapore. It is developed without possessing any natural resources but we are still in the 1947 era. The people have given a strong mandate to the Prime Minister to undertake the task of development. It is our duty to support him to achieve this. Also we should respect the will of the people.

Q: Why can't your party gain the support of the people?
At the last general election we lost some SLFP strongholds which had been ours since 1947. This shows that the people have no faith in us at all.

Q: Why have the people lost faith in the PA?
The PA was unable to fulfill any of its pledges given to the people at the general election of 1994. Now no Indian or Sri Lanka Tamils are voting for the party, neither are Muslims or even Catholics.

Q: Didn't you try to point out the weaknesses of your party and try to rebuild it?
I held a two-hour discussion with the President regarding this a year ago and I suggested the necessity to restructure the party immediately. Remember that in 1994 I was the chief government whip and we managed to stay in power for six years with a majority of one seat. However, in 2000 we had an 18 seat majority and survived only for eleven months.

Q: Why didn't this restructuring materialize?
Some leaders of democratic parties should be reminded that by chasing out senior members of their parties and going after junior members will not result in developing the party. I mentioned this at the Central Committee meeting. Also I want to point out some leaders protect their favourites and gather more of them around themselves.

Q: Has the party chased out many senior members?
Yes, I am really sad that since the demise of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike many members have been chased out of the party. Both Messrs. S.B. Dissanayake and Prof. G.L. Peiris spoke to me before they left the party and said they no longer could tolerate verbal victimization.

Q: Are you hinting that the party is trying to expel you?
No, I will resign before that. Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe said that we can do something for the country together. This statement made me-a vehement critic of the Prime Minister-have great confidence in and respect for him. Even the President knows about this and in fact she has inquired about it.

Q: Are you saying that you have no respect for the President?
No I'm not saying that but if one is comparing the two leaders Mr. Wickreme-singhe is a great leader.

Q: Why do you say that?
Because he is not proud of his post nor is he an arrogant leader. He talks with any one in Parliament, even with JVP members who are very critical of him and he can be easily approached. He has developed his personality by leaps and bounds after becoming the Prime Minister. I don't see anything wrong in President Kumaratunga but she must be able to protect the dignity of her position and work accordingly.

Q: What would you do if you are expelled from the party. Will you and the others form an independent group?
No, but if we are expelled from the party we have to continue our political activities and thus we have to seek alternatives to do so.

Q: Didn't you try to convince the President to support the government.
I sincerely requested her some time back to support it and she replied that the UNF is trying to form a one-party government.

Q: What is the main problem in the SLFP now?
The SLFP is facing a crisis of leadership after the demise of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. She made me the chief opposition whip during the regime of President Premadasa and I was the one who verbally thrashed him on the day the impeachment motion was brought against him.
He was a feared leader but he never replied such verbal abuse anyway. I am afraid of no one. If I can challenge President Premadasa challenging the current President is nothing.

Q: Finally, what are your views on the peace process.?
I totally support the peace process of the government but we should remain a unitary state and never be divided.

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