By Gagani Weerakoon
President Maithirpala Sirisena in an interview with Ceylon Today admitted that an immediate General Election is the only way out to settle the prevailing political crises if things are not resolved by 31 December 2018.
The developments that took place in the past few weeks have instilled a sense of uncertainty in the minds of the public. Many point a finger at you for causing this unstable anarchic situation in the country. As the President of the country, do you also feel this instability?
A: Who says so? The country is not in anarchy. There is no instability. The day-to-day lives of the people have not been affected. They engage in their jobs and businesses like any other day. There are no conflicts or disputes taking place in the country and day-to- day services are continuing as usual. All I have to say is that these allegations are mere political verbose and jabbering.
Though you say so, what people see is that the country has come to a standstill. The majority believe you should be responsible for whatever the situation that prevails in the country ever since 26 October. What made you take this arbitrary decision to sack your Prime Minister at the time?
A: Are they telling me that I should have let Ranil Wickremesinghe destroy this country, and been ignorant and non-committal to what he was doing?
Are you telling me that I should turn a blind eye to all the corrupt and deceitful acts and take no notice of the betrayals? All I did was put an end to all of that.How can anyone term it as pushing the country to anarchy?
I don’t think it was a secret to the Media or to the majority of the public that there were clashes in the Cabinet of Ministers and also between myself and Wickremesinghe. There were so many irregularities that took place in the past three years. This crisis did not erupt in just two or three days. All this corruption and conspiracies kept building up. It was not me. Ranil Wickremesinghe created this political mess. All I did was save the country and economy from plunging further into chaos.
If his conduct was questionable from the beginning, why didn’t you, as the Executive President of this country, take stern action earlier without waiting for three and a half years?
A: I did so because I have this immense level of patience and also, as a way of gratitude to him and the UNF. I even delegated some of my powers and was patient when he exercised executive powers even against my will.
Do you regret shedding your executive powers?
A: No, not at all! The only thing is that one must be more careful as to whom the powers are delegated to. It depends on each individual.
You have cited so many reasons that tainted your relationship with the then Prime Minister Wicremesinghe. But, what was the final straw?
A: It was the assassination plot.
Now that we have arrived at the topic of the assassination plot, President, Namal Kumara the person who revealed there was a plot to kill you also said that this plot was hatched because you were having discussions with former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa to form a political alliance? Were there such discussions to form an alliance?
A: You will have to ask that from Namal Kumara.
But this is what people say. If there was any truth or legitimacy to the assassination plot, the other part of the story also must have some truth to it.
A: I really don’t know about it. Namal Kumara is the one who said it, so one has to get the clarification also from him.
If that is the case, what led you to act so hastily? Was it purely because you were unhappy about the way investigations were handled by the authorities?
A: Yes, I was completely disappointed by the way things were moving. They displayed utter lethargy.
You said there were obstructions to the investigations. Who was obstructing the investigations?
A: The relevant parties, that is why I had to sack them. These obstructions and meddling with investigations finally pushed me to take new decisions by removing them.
Are you directly accusing the Inspector General of Police?
A: Yes, even the evidence shows that he too is connected. Now statements have been recorded from him as to why he released weapons and on what basis he concluded that the voice clip of Namal Kumara was not authentic or suspicious even prior to holding an initial inquiry.
That is absolutely not how his conduct should be. How can an IGP jump to the conclusion before any investigation when a plot to kill the country’s President was revealed?
I understand that the government or rather, you, are concerned about two letters with regard to the controversial transfer of CIDs IP Nishantha de Silva leaking to public domain. Are you going to take any action about this?
A: Yes, there will be an investigation against the IGP. A complaint will be lodged against him at the National Police Commission.
Coming back to the current political crises, after sacking PM Wickremesinghe and appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa you claim that the latter has the majority.
A few days later, you prorogued Parliament, after which, you issued a Gazette suddenly dissolving Parliament. Can you clarify this course of action?
A: Parliament was prorogued to present a Budget, as the new government needs time to present a Budget. But then again, during that period, the other party started moving and passing Motions in Parliament sans the Government. Parliament cannot continue to function without the Government side as its composition consists of the Government ranks and the Opposition ranks. All these things led to those decisions.
But the accusation is that all this chaos in Parliament happened because your government can’t prove the majority?
A: Now, I have asked them to prove the majority by moving for a proper No-Confidence Motion and taking an electronic vote on it. The previous No-Confidence Motion also had some reference to me saying that I have violated the Constitution. I do not accept that allegation and I asked them to remove it. Now they have removed that part.
Government MPs have accused the Speaker of improper conduct and do you share the same sentiments?
A: No, I have not criticized him. I don’t see why the Speaker should be criticized. That is the opinion of those individual Parliamentarians.
So, you have no complaints about the Speaker?
A: Well, in my opinion, if the Speaker followed the Standing Orders that should be followed when a No-Confidence Motion was moved on the very first day (14 November), none of these problems would have occurred.
Members of the Government accuse the Speaker of violating Standing Orders. If that is the case, why doesn’t your government move a No-Faith Motion against him?
A: Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has not violated the Standing Orders. All I said is that there are three ways in taking the vote and that he should follow either going by the name or taking the electronic vote. I think now they are doing it.
When you met the members of the Foreign Journalists Association, you said that if the No-Confidence Motion was passed properly and if they proved a majority, you hope PM Rajapaksa would take appropriate action. What exactly did you mean by “appropriate action’’?
A: The government should be given to the party that commands the majority and that is what should be done according to the Constitution as well.
Do you expect him to step down?
A: That is a decision he should take. What he should do first is ensure the majority in Parliament. If he can’t get the majority, then it should be given to the party that commands the majority. That is not only a salient point in democracy but would also be consistent with the Constitution.
In that case, you will be compelled to work again with the United National Front and a UNF Prime Minister. Have you given any thought to how you would proceed with a future UNF government?
A: If such an instance does occur… if such an instance does occur … if such an instance does occur… (with an emphasis on ‘if’) I will call a meeting with them and discuss how to work.
With a new Prime Minister? Since you insist you will not work with Ranil ((Wickremesinghe).
A: I said it earlier, I am saying it now and I will say this in the future… I will not work with Ranil Wickremesinghe.
But what if they show the majority and insist that Wickremesinghe should be the Prime Minister and no one else?
A: There is no such provision that says you can be the Prime Minister by showing you have the majority. The Constitution clearly states that the person should also have the consent of the President.
President, what if someone accused you of taking personal revenge and not acting professionally with regard to UNP Leader Wickremesinghe, since it is clear you have no grudge against others in the UNP. You even offered Premiership to Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa while Wickremesinghe was still in office?
A: Only an idiot would accuse me of acting on a personal grudge. Ranil’s political policy and economic policy are not suitable for this country. He does not care about local industries or the agriculture. His land deals and other deals with foreign investors are full of corruption.
Did they (Karu and Sajith) turn down your offer of Premiership, because they have no faith in you?
A: (Smirks) Not because they don’t trust me, but simply because they are scared of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Do you think now it has changed, that those in the UNP are not scared of him (Wickremesinghe)?
A: That is not my concern…they should think about it and take a decision.
If this continues at this range, you will not be able to appoint a Prime Minister or a Cabinet. What will happen to the country?
A: These issues will be settled soon and no one needs to worry up a storm in a teacup.
After both Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa declined your offer, you turned to Mahinda Rajapaksa? Everyone seems to be startled by your choice. Could you explain as to why he became your third option?
A: Because there is no one else!
You repeatedly said your life was under threat. How did you gather the confidence to trust him to be appointed as the Prime Minister out of the blue?
A: Those are all just political talks blabbered on political stages, whereas the recent one was a clear-cut plot to kill.
But, you clearly said you and your family will be six feet underground had Rajapaksa won.
A: There was no report that the Rajapaksas conspired to assassinate me. Those were just gallery comments when one gets into election campaigning (giggles).
How long did it take you to arrive at this decision to appoint Mahinda Rapajapksa as our Prime Minister?
A: Two weeks. The discussions went on for two weeks.
Are you fully confident that you can work better with a PM Rajapaksa led Government?
A: It is too early to jump to any conclusion. We would know once we really start working together. That is how it is even when it comes to a marriage. You’d know whether the marriage is going to work once you start living together as a couple and start having babies and so on.
You appear to take everything lightly. What if people say President Maithripala seems to take things so lightly at this time of political instability?
A: Of course I am at ease and not tensed. There is no reason to be tensed as there is no anarchy or instability in the country. If cases are being heard in Courts, if children are going to school, if people are going for their jobs and if work is continuing in Ministries and if the people are leading their family lives with no problem, where is this anarchy or instability you or someone else claims?
Even though you say there is nothing to worry, there are concerns that we, as a country, are losing face internationally once again.
None of the foreign governments have issued any congratulatory message and not a single foreign dignitary met with the new Prime Minister and the Cabinet. Don’t you think they have registered their protest indirectly, to what took place?
A: That is absolute rubbish and how many diplomats called on me in the past month. I once met about 65-70 heads of Mission together and there were many others who visited me individually. Even the UN Country representative met me at least twice this month. I don’t think we have been sidelined or that we have tainted our image internationally which we have maintained so far.
I was not referring to you. I am talking about the Prime Minister and the new government that was appointed.
A: Those things will be settled in the times to come. These things, clashes in Parliament, are common to many countries. This is not only happening in Sri Lanka. Look at India, look at Japan, America or Russia. They chase each other in Parliament and sometimes break each other’s limbs.
Speaking about Parliament clashes, what exactly are your thoughts on the recent behaviour of MPs in Parliament?
A: I have already said I do not approve the violent behaviour of those MPs from both sides. The Speaker should look into the matter, hold an investigation by informing Police and they should be dealt with irrespective of which political party they belong to.
Now whether Parliament stands dissolved or not will depend on the decision by the Supreme Court.
If we kept that aside President, don’t you think it will be better for you to go before the people by calling a Presidential Election and get their approval for what you did?
A: Why should I do something as stupid as that, when I have another full year to stay in office? (laughs) I have absolutely no intention to go for a snap presidential election.
Do you have any idea, what sort of a government would be in power by next January 1st?
A: A good government… and people will lead a normal life as they do now without any problem.
How can people lead a normal life when there is no Budget presented to allocate funds for a government to function?
A: Don’t worry. What people should do is lead a normal life and let the government, Ministers, Prime Ministers and President of the country to solve the matter. They will sort this out.
But you only have time until 31 December.
A: So, there’s one full month. All these problems, issues and chaos will be resolved and settled during the month of December.
The highest ranking military officer in the country was arrested over serious allegations. What is the future course of action you are planning to take as the Commander-in-Chief or as the Head of the State?
A: This is a matter now before Courts and because of that I will not say anything about it at the moment.
Is he still eligible to hold the office of the Chief of Defence Staff, in your opinion?
A: He has been arrested and yet to be served a charge sheet. My actions will depend on the outcome of the Court case. Until such time, he remains a suspect of the case being heard.
You said you will appoint a Commission to look into corruption during PM Wickremesinghe’s tenure. There are three committees already appointed. Will this Commission suffer the same plight?
A: Work in those three committees didn’t go ahead earlier but now they are also moving fast. The Police Department, Attorney General’s Department, the judiciary and the CID were all under them. Therefore, all kinds of meddling, interruption and influence took place to hinder any investigation. Now it has changed.
Out of 33 reports submitted by PRECIFAC which was appointed to look into serious financial crimes and misuse of power, the majority of those allegations point towards members of the Rajapaksa family and their allies. Almost all of them are around you now. What exactly is happening?
A: What Wickremesinghe and his government did was for more than one year keeping those reports with them? This is what people should understand.
What about now? Will action be taken against those who have been found guilty?
A: Once a Commission releases a report, various institutions and authorities who should take action should start taking action. This involves the Police, the Courts and the Attorney General’s Department and many other institutions. As I said before, all these were under his Ministers.
Wickremesinghe created this mess by not taking proper action against the relevant people on time.
UNP MP Sarath Fonseka was attacking you in Parliament recently with regard to your statement linking him to the assassination plot, said the IGP should be summoned to Parliament over the matter. Will there be any Police action against Fonseka? He has not even been questioned so far?
A: Fonseka and I are poles apart. I don’t work or act like he does. The investigations are going ahead and if there is sufficient evidence and if the need arises the investigators will take action and either record a statement from him or arrest him. It is none of my business and it will happen according to normal procedure.
What will happen to you and your political career after 8 January 2020?
A: Let’s see what will happen when the day comes. There is more time to decide on that. I have one year to think about that.
You earlier said you have more work to do?
A: Yes. There’s so much left to do for the country, irrespective of whether you have positions or not.
How will you contest in future elections now that a large number of your people or SLFP members have joined the Sri Lanka Podujana Party?
A: None of my people have joined it. They were always with the SLPP. It is like that, each political party has their own agenda. We must not worry about that. Why should we worry about garbage, flowers, trees or birds that come to someone else’s garden without taking care of our own garden!
Some of your Ministers said they had urged you to withdraw the Gazette Notification issued to dissolve Parliament. Have you given any thought to doing so or can you do it legally?
A: I have not even checked whether I could do so. If the Courts decide that we should do so, we will have to go for an election.
How will you contest in the event a snap general election is called? Will the SLFP contest alone or form an alliance?
A: We have not thought about it yet…
You mean to say you issued a Gazette Notification to dissolve Parliament without having a backup plan to contest?
A: Well… we had held several discussions, but with the court proceedings the discussions came to an abrupt end.
Let’s assume that you decided to dissolve Parliament or prorogue it, after getting an assurance of having the majority. But what actually happened to that majority?
A: You should ask them…
Who are they? Did anyone assure you that they have the majority?
A: Yes. It was discussed as a group. The Rajapaksa group took the responsibility as a team to ensure the majority.
Will any member of your family contest in a future General Election?
A: I have no idea. We have not discussed it nor has anyone approached me so far about such a matter.
There is a huge demand to grant a presidential pardon to Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera of the Bodu Bala Sena.
When are you going to take a decision on that?
A: I have received those requests and have already forwarded them to the Attorney General for his reference. Other than that, I cannot divulge anything further.
There is speculation that a similar request to grant a Presidential Pardon to former MP Duminda Silva has been made. Have you received such a request?
A: No. Not as yet.
Are you willing to consider it if such a request was made?
A: I have not received a request and without having one I cannot say anything.
What is happening to the Bond Commission report? This has been a major mantra against UNP and you said you were under immense pressure?
A: Yes the UNP put pressure on me to stop the investigations. They are still trying to influence us. But now I have no pressure and the investigations will continue.
Don’t you think the only way out of this crisis is going for a snap General Election?
A: Yes. The proper solution would be going for a general election immediately. When an election is called, the people or the voters have a responsibility to ensure that such precedence will not re-occur. They can ensure by voting that people who are not corrupt get elected, and say no to deceitful rogues.