JO’s rally the biggest, UNP next, SLFP was nowhere
Posted on May 11th, 2016

Lankesh Gooneratne Courtesy Ceylon Today

The Joint Opposition (JO) is a Sri Lankan organization led by Sri Lankans, financed by Sri Lankans and looks after the interest of Sri Lankans, Udaya Gammanpila of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) told Ceylon Today in an interview.
Excerpts:

?How was the response of the people at Kirulapone during the Joint Opposition May Day rally?
A: Our crowd at the meeting was unprecedented. In spite of the government trying their best to sabotage our meeting as they knew in advance that our meeting will be a great success. As you know they banned the use of the term Joint Opposition in the media and a letter was sent by the Media Ministry Secretary Nimal Bopage. Then President Maithripala Sirisena threatened former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s security will be reduced to 30 persons as recommended by the Supreme Court.
The government also banned the use of the Shalika Ground before the May Day rally which was reserved after making the due payment.
Despite all the obstacles thrown against the JO we had an unprecedented crowd at Kirulapone and it was a remarkable success.
Unfortunately, President Sirisena claimed in Galle, where the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) May Day rally was organized that their meeting had the biggest crowd.
But the United National Party (UNP) had the second biggest crowd and the crowd in Galle cannot be compared with the crowd at Campbell Park and it is not even close to the crowd that attended Kirulapone.
This is not my claim it is the reality.

?What is your point of view on banning the use of the name Joint Opposition?
A: Media Ministry Secretary Nimal Bopage showed his lack of understanding. When a question is raised whether the Joint Opposition is not accepted by the people, it’s a lie, they not only recognize us, our leader Dinesh Gunawardena enjoys all the privileges accepted by a party leader in Parliament.
Moreover, not only our Parliament, the International Parliamentary Union has recognized the Joint Opposition because we had a meeting with them and they constantly communicate with us.
Secondly even if it is not recognized it is not illegal, if you can remember there were different groups in Parliament which were not recognized by the Speaker.
From 1989 to 1994 there was a Parliamentary group called the Hela Urumaya then there was another unrecognized group in Parliament from 1994 to 2000.
Such groups can be in Parliament. It is not illegal and by telling the media not to publish the name Joint Opposition it shows a lack of understanding of the Law by the current government.

?The current government will be in power for five consecutive years. Knowing that what are the intentions of the Joint Opposition by speaking against the government?
A: Frankly we do not think that the current government will last long although they are going to be in power for five years it won’t last long.
There will be internal power struggles to topple this government because they have failed to live up to the expectations of their own orders. The present government is dealing with an international financial crisis because there will be a gap of four billion dollars in the balance of payment in 2016.
There are only two nations in the world who can give loans of that magnitude to solve all these issues.
Firstly, it is Germany, although President Sirisena visited Germany last year and they claimed to divide the Sri Lankan economy for a limited grant of 80 million euros which is equivalent to 20 million US dollars.
To be honest, Germany is not in a position to help a remote island like Sri Lanka because they have a direct impact from other countries which are neighbours of Germany.
Therefore, Germany open minded said it would not help Sri Lanka to solve the financial crisis.
Then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe visited China as China was the last hope of the government.
As you know when Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was in the Opposition he insulted China in his political campaigns but after coming to power Wickremesinghe stopped the Port City Project but he should know the foundation stone for the Port City was kept by President of China.
The current government made a huge blunder in halting the Port City Project and was an insult to the President of China. But the Chinese Government gave a grant of 80 million dollars.
If Sri Lanka does not get the support from China or Germany, there is no way Sri Lanka could come out of the financial crisis.
Therefore, this government will have no choice but to go home as they fail to provide essentials to the people.

? Is there an international force funding the Joint Opposition to topple the current government?

A: Well, what is this force? Those days the UNP was brought to power by three forces, mainly India, United States of American (USA) and the Tamil Separatist community. They were openly supporting the UNP and attacking President Rajapaksa’s Government.
If somebody claims that China is behind Rajapaksa’s comeback, actually China is the financial contributor to the government.
Despite this, Government’s leader continuously abusing China for decades.
In Parliament we do not accept the leadership of President Mathripala Sirisena and we do not attend any meetings conducted by President Sirisena, therefore, we do not accept his leadership.
But I was elected as a United People Freedom Alliance (UPFA) member from the people.
?But without the UPFA, individuals in the JO will be nowhere. Is that right?
A: It is not true. Because people are not bothered about the party people are concerned about the policies.
And Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) has not contested under their ‘Hand’ symbol a single election since 1991, but they come in different names, still people embrace them as long as their qualities are favourable to them.
People are worried about the action plan, policies and the leaders more than the symbols, parties and the colours.

?Were you also involved in the clash that happened in Parliament when Sarath Fonseka was giving a statement with regard to the removal of former President Rajapaksa’s security?
A: I also got some minor injuries after the clash. We tried to sort the issue out. Actually we enter Parliament to verbally deal with issues and that is what we were doing, but the Speaker going against the order paper, decided to allow Minister Sarath Fonseka to sling mud at former President Rajapaksa.
He can’t do that according to the rules of Parliament but Dinesh Gunawardena raised an issue about slinging mud against former President Rajapaksa and they should have moved to the next step in the Agenda which was oral questions but the Speaker allowed Fonseka to make a statement but we protested and we urged the speaker to stop Fonseka.
Because of the partiality of the Speaker we shouted and protested disturbing Fonseka. Meanwhile, Deputy Minister Palitha Thewarapperuma attacked Prasanna Ranaweera who was shouting as well.
This turned into an ugly clash between the Government and the Joint Opposition.
We have to clearly say that we did not enter Parliament to fight but to argue, therefore, we denounced the action of Deputy Minister Thewarapperuma and are taking legal action against him for assaulting Ranaweera.

?Is the PHU registered as a political party?
A: There is no procedure to register political parties in Sri Lanka. What should apply is, if a party is in existence for more than a year it should be recognized by the Election Commission.
However, there are 63 political parties in Sri Lanka and only 16 are represented in Parliament. Therefore, I am not only an MP, I was also elected to Parliament with a very high number of votes, therefore, we have no difficulty in getting Election Commission’s recognition when the legal barrier is over.

?At the upcoming elections, will the PHU join an alliance or go as an individual party?
A: It will be decided at that time considering the political situation because if there are other political parties who think in the very same manner that we think it is always advisable to form an alliance.
If there is no political party in the same line of thinking, we have no choice but to contest alone.
As I explained before we found the SLFP has not contested alone after 1991 but colleagues of the alliance think alike so why should they contest alone and it is not illegal to contest together to build a bigger force.

One Response to “JO’s rally the biggest, UNP next, SLFP was nowhere”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Why India’s Big Push for Economic Cooperation in Lanka May Backfire

    Wed, May 11, 2016, 09:53 am SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    May 11 (Wire) New Delhi’s policy of hustling its smaller neighbour comes at a time when the Wickremesinghe government’s mismanagement of the economy is apparent and will end up helping the xenophobic political forces in the country.

    New Delhi’s relations with Colombo may appear to be at a high point but ironically, anti-India sentiments are on the rise in Sri Lanka. This divergence in sentiments between the Sri Lankan government and its population is largely a consequence of moves to liberalise trade in services and investment between the two countries.

    It is no secret that there was a major sigh of relief in India and the United States following the regime change in Colombo in January 2015. China’s inroads into the country with the Rajapaksa regime had polarised the region and raised the geopolitical stakes. However, Sri Lanka’s relationship China was built on an economic foundation of large investments in infrastructure. It also has a historical basis from the rubber rice deal during the Korean War to the massive Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo, gifted by the Chinese in the early 1970s. Nevertheless, in India’s efforts to ensure its regional dominance and counter China’s influence, there has been a singular focus on trying to lock Sri Lanka into the Indian economic orbit.

    Expanding trade and financial agreements

    The India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement of 1998 was followed by efforts towards a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) to liberalise trade in services and investment starting in the mid-2000s.

    However, the CEPA negotiations dragged on for nearly a decade in the face of increasing opposition within Sri Lanka, particularly by the business community and certain interest groups such as the medical lobby. With the new momentum in closer bilateral ties last year, India is pushing for a new trade pact called the Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement (ETCA). The pro-liberalisation government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been actively championing the proposed trade pact.

    Meanwhile, the deterioration of the Sri Lankan economy in recent months – including a major balance of payments problem – has forced Colombo to seek support from external actors. India has boosted Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves by US$ 1.1 billion with a Reserve Bank of India credit swap for six months drawn last September, followed by a further emergency credit swap in March to wade over the tough financial tide.

    The credit swap is a temporary measure to increase Sri Lanka’s forex reserves, until the country receives an IMF loan. The IMF’s extended fund facility of US$ 1.5 billion coupled with US$ 650 million in multilateral and bilateral loans are to take effect in June this year. The government believes these loans will create momentum for further global financial flows into the country.

    The ETCA, widely perceived by the Sri Lankan public to be advantageous to India, is likely to become a trade-off for economic and political support from India to the Wickremesinghe government. However, Wickremesinghe’s visit to Beijing last month has strengthened relations with China – a shift from the soured relations which followed the defeat of the Rajapaksa regime last year. The possibility of equity swaps, where Sri Lankan debt to China is traded for financial stakes in Sri Lankan enterprises, is now being considered. Sri Lanka has also initiated negotiations with China and the US on new free trade agreements. Seizing this opportunity, the IMF and the World Bank are also pushing to liberalise trade as part of a larger strategy of liberalising the Sri Lankan economy – from encouraging the privatisation of state owned enterprises to labour reforms.

    Reactions to ETCA

    Many of the Colombo-based neoliberal think tanks see the Wickremesinghe government in power and the crisis facing the economy as an opportunity to accelerate liberalisation, including in trade. However, the ETCA is coming under considerable fire from a range of interest groups and political parties – from the chauvinistic remnants of the Rajapaksa regime to the ‘left’ opposition Janatha Vimukthi Perumana.

    So what fuels this tremendous reaction to the ETCA? After all, the agreement is only one part of this liberalisation push. To start with, the trade picture is not pretty. According to the Central Bank, Indian exports to Sri Lanka were US$ 4,268 million while Lankan exports to India stood at just US$ 643 million in 2015 – reflecting a massive trade deficit between the countries.

    There have been various explanations put forward by Indian officials and pro-liberalisation advocates in Colombo on what has been gained with the previous free trade agreement, including claims that the high Indian exports to Sri Lanka are mostly independent of the free trade agreement. However, India’s eagerness for the trade pact and the stark trade deficit is difficult to miss.

    In this context, the current economic crisis and the neoliberal economic policy trajectory have become the political ground for the mobilisation of forces opposed to the government. And this campaign has zeroes in on the ETCA as the catch-all word to describe any and all impending economic woes. Political forces and middle class interest groups such as doctors and IT professionals are opposing the agreement and mobilising broader sections of society. Furthermore, these forces have assumed a xenophobic character, propagating anti-Indian sentiments.

    Recent economic crisis

    Much of the current economic woes in Sri Lanka have been inherited from the Rajapaksa government’s economic development policies of construction-led growth on high interest debt. In addition, the deterioration in global economic conditions over the past year have created difficult financial conditions for Sri Lanka to roll over such debt. However, the Wickremesinghe government needs to take part of the blame for mismanagement and certainly for its flawed economic vision.

    Having come to power over a year ago, and having crossed the milestone of the parliamentary election in August 2015, it nevertheless chose to continue on the path of further exposing the economy to international debt in its November 2015 budget. It ignored the warning bells about the increasing import bill and falling revenues, which have made the country far more susceptible to the current crisis conditions of capital flight from the emerging markets and increasing cost of capital in the global financial markets.

    At the core of the Wickremesinghe government’s economic programme is the liberalisation of trade and capital flows; the trade agreements and the IMF facility reflect this economic vision. In other words, it is counting on enticing inward capital flows despite the winds of global capital blowing in the opposite direction. Worryingly, even trade agreements in services and investment are known to lead to further speculative investment flows into finance, insurance and real estate, rather than traditional forms of foreign direct investment leading to the building of factories for production and exports. However, the Sri Lankan establishment has been satisfied with such fickle policies that also lead to considerable rent-seeking by the financial elite.

    Opposing xenophobia and liberalisation

    Trade liberalisation is always contentious for its impact on society, but it is all the more so now in the context of the global downturn and a national economic crisis. It is likely to aggravate the rising inequalities and jobless growth in Sri Lanka – by pushing for lower wages to compete in international markets – and the inflow of cheaper commodities, wiping out local production.

    With the ETCA debate polarised between the free trade elite and the anti-Indian forces, there has been little informed debate including critical analysis of trade liberalisation, broader neoliberal reforms and the deteriorating global economic situation. For those bothered by xenophobia and economic marginalisation, the challenge is to oppose both the reflexive anti-Indian campaign of the nationalists and the neoliberal policies of the liberalisers.

    In this context, New Delhi’s policy of hustling its smaller neighbour cannot be more ill-timed and is likely to generate a political backlash. The hubris of the Indian and Sri Lankan establishments in pushing through this trade pact may well result in losing the great opportunity that emerged last year of rebuilding Indo-Lanka relations on a broader footing.

    Ahilan Kadirgamar is a political economist and a member of the Collective for Economic Democratisation in Sri Lanka

    Read More:: Wire (Source)

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