Sajith is playing to the gallery – Prasanna Ranatunga
Posted on November 2nd, 2019

By Aruni Mallawarachchi Courtesy Ceylon Today

UPFA Member of Parliament Prasanna Ranatunga says those accused of involvement in the Easter Sunday attacks and bank thieves are all on Sajith Premadasa’s stage.

Excerpts:

How is the election campaign of your faction coming along?Are you satisfied with the progress?

A: We see that the people are working towards the victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa with huge expectations and massive commitment. We have held a series of meetings at village and divisional level and have successfully declared open several campaign offices in these areas. We were able do all this ahead of time because Gotabaya Rajapaksa was named as the SLPP candidate for the Presidential Election early. As a result we were able to prepare for it in time. But we are still having a problem with fulfilling all our tasks as time is limited.

Although you named your candidate ahead of time, it is not easy to maintain the heat of the election, isn’t it?

A: Actually when we consider the situation that prevails now, we are running out of time. I am of the opinion that the time period given to carry out an election campaign is not adequate. The reason is there are so many rallies that must be organised. We do not have enough time to hold all of them. There are only about twenty days left. For someone like me, the time given to work within my district is inadequate. It would have been better if there was more time given to us to campaign at electorate level. 

What is your opinion regarding the President being ‘neutral’?

A: I think that his stance is good. When you consider how he acted in conjunction with the UNP after winning the election as the common candidate and how the people reacted to his move, I think he made the correct decision. He said so himself.

We saw certain sections of the crowd hooting at SLFP members at meetings held by your coalition. Why can’t you put a stop to things like that?

A: This was something that had been planned and carried out by a certain group. I am saying this for a reason. There was no room left for such a thing to happen at the meeting we held in Kadawatha. We strengthened our security to face such a situation. At the Party Leaders’ meeting Mahinda Rajapaksa said something like this could take place in Kadawatha during the rally. But we did not allow such an incident to take place in Kadawatha. That is why I said that this was being carried out by an organised group. I do not think it will happen in the future. 

It seems as if the people do appreciate certain politicians from the SLFP joining hands with the SLPP?

A: Now, see who is on our opponent’s stage. There are people like Rauff Hakeem and Rishad Bathiudeen. They are people who have connections with those who carried out the Easter Sunday attacks. They worked for the past four and a half years as extremists. The entire country is aware of that. These are the type of people who are on Sajith Premadasa’s stage. The other groups are those who robbed the Central Bank. Sujeewa Senasinghe, who wrote a book trying to justify the incident, Ajith Perera and others who put footnotes, Ravi Karunanayake and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are all on his stage. The TNA, which is trying to create disunity and divide this country, is also going to support NDF Candidate Sajith Premadasa.

When the people see the kind of people supporting Sajith Premadasa they want to join us and ensure victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. His brother Mahinda was defeated in 2015 because of wrongs committed by certain politicians of the type you mentioned who were in our government. If the Local Government election had been held first then, the people would have sent these persons packing. But since the Presidential Election was expedited, they thought that victory was assured and they would also escape punishment, but they were wrong. 

What was the delay in introducing your Election Manifesto?

A: When the SLFP joined us we had to consider their proposals as well when preparing the Election Manifesto. What they had proposed were mostly things that benefitted the country. We gave room for those too. 

Although Sajith was named the Candidate of the UNP he still has no viable plan for the country. Not only is he deceiving the people when he speaks at election rallies, but the promises he is making can never be achieved and are fairytales or as we say in Sinhala Chun Katha. He is playing to the gallery. It shows he does not have a proper programme of work planned out. 

After this Government came into power, the President, Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have brought in 16 financial statements within three and a half years. The economy has collapsed as a result. But if we take over the Government even tomorrow, we have a programme in mind. It is this programme our Candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa speaks about on stages across the country. 

Gotabaya Rajapaksa said fertiliser will be given free of charge. If the fertiliser is to be given free of charge, a sum of between 35-40 billion rupees will have to be spent. When such promises are given, critics would argue you have no knowledge either about the Gross National Income or the budget deficit. 

A: The fertiliser subsidy was provided by our Government. When Mahinda Rajapaksa was President the cost of a bag of fertiliser was Rs. 350. What Gotabaya Rajapaksa said was that we can provide the fertiliser subsidy and increase agri-products in the country which will enable us to export our products to a large number of countries including the Middle-East and earn a huge income through that. So, even if the fertiliser is given free  he said it will not be a loss. 

Persons such as S. B. Dissanayake who is now in your camp have mentioned that people like Hizbullah are with you?

A: S. B. Dissanayake represented the SLFP before joining us. Subsequent to that statement we issued a very clear statement that Hizbullah was not connected to us. Certain things utterred on political stages are their own views. The SLPP cannot take the responsibility for it. If the leader of our Party or the Media Spokesman of the Party had made such a statement we could have been held responsible for it. S.B. Dissanayake represented a separate group, Hizbullah was with the SLFP in the past. It must have been about that that S. B. was mentioning. 

Do you not think that the press briefing held recently at the Shangri-La Hotel was disadvantageous to you?

A: I think the event went off very well. We set a precedent through that. The message that given was that when Gotabaya becomes President, he will not embrace power himself but decentralise powers. Is it the same with Sajith Premadasa? He always speaks about what he hopes to achieve and his goals and dreams. Therefore, I think that that media briefing was very successful. Rather than a single individual rising to the top, the support of the entire group was highlighted there. 

How is the work on the Alliance with several other smaller parties that have gathered around the SLPP going?

A: At this moment attention is mainly focused on the Presidential Election. But after that, based on the agreements we have with the other parties involved, how to proceed will be decided at a Party Leaders’ meeting along with how we will contest the upcoming General Election. I think the Alliance will be formed prior to the General Election. 

You are said to be preparing to obtain more positions for the Pohottuwa within that Alliance? Why are you all trying out for a limited number of positions?

A: Today the main Party in the new alliance is the SLPP. Therefore we need to have more say in what happens within the alliance.We are of the opinion that leadership roles should be granted to both former Presidents as well.

Until Parliament is dissolved in March, Ranil Wickremesinghe will remain the Prime Minister. If Gotabaya Rajapaksa becomes President would he appoint someone else to that position immediately?

A: I will tell you my personal opinion. I objected during the 51-day Government. The reason is because it is not suitable to change heads and take over the political leadership of a Party. When Gotabaya Rajapaksa wins the Presidency the entire Cabinet including the Prime Minister will have to resign. Then the authority to appoint a Prime Minister will revert to the President. If we can obtain a majority at that time, we will do so. The Party will decide whether it will be Mahinda Rajapaksa or someone else. If someone inquires about my personal opinion, I would say that Mahinda Rajapaksa is the ideal candidate for this post. It will be a great source of strength to Gotabaya to have his brother as the Prime Minister. At the same time, I believe that it will be possible to dissolve Parliament by March next year and obtain a majority at a Parliamentary Election and Mahinda Rajapaksa will get the opportunity to become the Prime Minister of this country. That is the expectation of the people of this country. The Party should decide whether a change should be brought about during the period from November to January. Therefore it is necessary for Gotabaya to become President.

As soon as Gotabaya Rajapaksa wins people will line the streets with betel leaves looking for positions and portfolios.

In addition to what you mentioned, a problem could arise if two persons from the SLFP and the SLPP come forward to contest one electorate?

A: We have not made a decision as to whether we will contest together or separately, as yet. We will make a decision at the appropriate time. 

Your candidate said that the Cabinet will be reduced to 30 members when he wins. Even though it is good for the country, is it practical?

A: Problems will arise. That is why I said a large number from the UNPers will contest together with us at the next Parliamentary Election and ask for membership through the National List. My suggestion is that membership through the National List should be given to persons who have a practical knowledge of the problems that exist in the country and those who have an understanding about the subjects coming under them. If not, granting memberships through the National List to useless persons will mean having to face allegations from the people, which happened last time. They should ask themselves what they have actually achieved on behalf of the nation to warrant such a privilege.

There are those who accuse the Rajapaksas of taking control of the Party and keeping hold of power by sharing it amongst themselves. They question whether there is no other alternative for the SLPP?

A: The first thing is that a majority of people in this country voted in favour of Mahinda Rajapaksa. When he was defeated in 2015 the people said they needed him to govern the country again. The Rajapaksas earned that respect mostly because they ended the war. With the passing of the 19th Amendment Mahinda was unable to contest again, so the people asked for Gotabaya. Therefore, the Rajapaksas were requested for by the people.

People who are jealous of family dynasties are those who do not have families. They are the ones who accuse the Rajapaksas of nepotism. Ranil Wickremesinghe who speaks about such things does not even have children. Even though Sajith Premadasa talks about nepotism his father was once the President of this country. Sajith came into politics following in the footsteps of his father. However, after him there is no one to carry on his legacy since he does not have children. Patali Champika’s wife and children do not live together with him anymore as he and his wife have separated. Write all this without fear! Such persons are the ones who are talking about nepotism today. Those who talk most about this are people who do not have families and are jealous of those who do. 

Are minority votes going to be a decisive factor at the upcoming Presidental Poll?

A: Yes.

If that is so, most of the politicians who represent the minorities are gathered around your opponent. As you yourself said Rishad Bathiudeen, Rauff Hakeem and even the TNA have pledged their support to him. Therefore, what strategy do you have to win them over to your side or can you win without the support of the minorities?

A: The people of our country are intelligent. Rishad Bathiudeen and Rauff Hakeem are not leaders who represent the general Muslim people in the country. They are leaders of groups which represent Muslim extremists. With the intention of achieving their political objectives they arouse racism. The Tamil National Alliance only obtained 33% of the votes at the Local Government elections in their electorates. The Tamils in general are not in favour of the TNA. The leaders of political parties who represent conservative Muslims and Tamils are on our side. 

UNP members who did not like Ranil, have reawakened with Sajith Premadasa becoming the Presidential Candidate. Couldn’t that reawakening be a disadvantage to your candidate?

A: The UNP obtained only 3.5 million votes at the Local Government Elections. There is no reason to hope that it will increase this time round as well. People know very well what happened since they came to power. If there was a re-awakening, would there be hooting taking place in Laggala? It was members of the UNP who hooted the leadership. The people of Laggala decided that if Ranil Wickremesinghe contested they would not vote for him.

Although they decided to vote for Sajith, when it was announced that Ranil will be made Prime Minister should Premadasa become President, they objected. Even if he becomes Opposition Leader after defeat or the Party Leader, UNP leaders are against it. That is why people hooted while they were on stage together. Therefore their campaign will soon collapse. The second fact is that Sajith Premadasa does not have a programme of work. When we see what is posted on Facebook, it is apparent that Sajith Premadasa has become a joke. He is not actually suited to be President. He is suitable to be the palace clown and crack jokes when the President is bored.

(Pic by Gemunu Wellage)

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