Two sides of the coin: Hambantota District | Daily News


 

Two sides of the coin: Hambantota District

Daily News journalist Dinuli Francisco interviewed Hambantota District General Election candidates Minister Mahinda Amaraweera (SLPP) and Dilip Wedaarachchi (SJB) to listen to their views on current issues.

‘Strengthening local economy the best solution’

Q. What will happen to the SLFP after August 5? Some say it will become a three-wheeler party after August 5.

A. The SLFP will remain intact even after August 5. The SLFP will be secured by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and we have his blessings. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not a member of any party and he does not hold any post in any political party. Therefore, he will not let the SLFP fade away. The alliance we formed is also functioning efficiently. The SLPP and the SLFP are working together to secure a major victory and take the country to greater heights. They are equal partners in the drive towards prosperity.

Q. Who is your main challenger? UNP or SJB?

A. Both of the parties pose a certain challenge to us. Not only these two parties, but we also have challenges within our party. However, we do not consider these as challenges. Everything is running smoothly. People have faith in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the people of the Hambantota District are aware of the service I have rendered over the years. Therefore, nothing could go wrong and we are confident about our victory. The SLPP will sweep the board countrywide.

Q. In case the SLPP fails to gain a two-thirds majority, will you be open to defections from those two parties?

A. We are in a position to obtain a two-thirds majority. The people have been very impressed with what President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has accomplished in the last eight months or so, without really having Parliamentary support. So chances are that we might get more votes than we did in November 2019. If we move forward without internal conflicts, we can definitely secure a two-thirds victory. Although it is hard with the prevailing proportional representation system, looking at this General Election we are confident about a major victory.

Q. What are the main challenges ahead for an SLPP government?

A. The main challenge ahead of us is the debt crisis. Our country is squeezed to the neck with debt, but it would not be hard to overcome the issue with a visionary leader like President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. First and foremost, priority must be given to local products and a higher price should be given to them. Strengthening the local economy will be the best solution to address all issues.

It is time we moved away from the import-driven economy we followed for seven decades to an indigenous economy where local agriculture and industries are given pride of place. Fraud and corruption are not a part of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s journey. If we eliminate corruption, such funds can be channelled towards development. Thus developing the nation is not impossible.

Q. Why do you say the 19th Amendment needs to be repealed?

A. By now we see the flaws of the 19th Amendment. We should go for a new Constitution altogether rather than amending this. There are major issues regarding the commissions. The National Election Commission and the National Police Commission have experienced serious complications. As an example, if one member of the Election Commission falls ill, the Election Commission cannot function. Moreover, some members of commissions have made statements that are inimical to the country’s interests.

A new Constitution is the need of the hour. We are also looking forward to a state service sans political interference, because politicization of the state service has become a big problem.

Q. Fears have been expressed about the appointment of many serving and retired military personnel to various posts. Is this a threat to civilian administration?

A. We went wrong in the past 72 years as we followed the wrong methods. The country which could not be developed for 72 years will need novel approaches. Serving or retired military personnel are well-experienced, disciplined individuals who know the pressing priorities of the people. They were capable of ending the war that prevailed for three decades. As far as I know, the appointed military personnel are experts in their relevant fields. They also have a reputation for not being corrupt. When compared to the appointments in the administrations in the past, appointments made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa are highly commendable.

Q. Despite appeals for educated professionals in Parliament, 198 MPs of the previous Parliament have obtained nominations again, and based on their popularity they might be elected again. Does this not negate the President’s drive to have more professionals in politics?

A. Even though the nominations board had to accept the nominees, people can take the right decision just as they elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The people elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with great hope. Therefore, they will act wisely in voting at the General Elections too.

I accept the fact that there were corrupt politicians in the previous Parliament, but the voters have the right to reject them although they are contesting this time too. However, one cannot also dismiss the collective political sagacity of many MPs who have remained with the people for decades.

Q. There are accusations that the government is protecting the perpetrators of the Central Bank Bond Scam as well as other such corrupt elements of the last government in some sort of ‘deal’. What is your comment?

A. I am the person who took the Bond Scam issue to the Bribery Commission. I will not let the culprits slide away easily. I will continuously interfere in the matter until we see concrete results and justice. If the government is seen to be protecting the Bond Scam perpetrators, that would be to its disadvantage. But we are very much sure that any such ‘deals’ will have no room under the leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Q. Why should voters have faith in the SLPP?

A. People should have faith in the President. He needs a team that can work in parallel with his vision for Sri Lanka. That is why we request the public to ensure the victory of the SLPP.

Right now, that is the only single, unified political entity that can deliver the goods. The UNP and SJB are in disarray and the JVP is nowhere. None of them has a proper vision for the country. The SLPP is the only logical choice for the voter.

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‘Only SJB has clear vision for country’s future’

Q. Why did you decide to leave the UNP and join the SJB?

A. Who says we have left the UNP? We did not leave the UNP at all. We are still UNPers and we are the real UNPers. In fact, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) was formed with the consent of Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP Working Committee. The majority of the UNPers agreed on creating the SJB. We did not leave the party.

We actually contested the Presidential Election through the SJB.

The establishment of the SJB, appointing Sajith Premadasa as its leader, and the appointments of the other officials were done on the approval of the UNP Working Committee. Therefore, no one can say that we left the UNP and created a mess by destroying the Grand Old Party of Sri Lankan politics. It is now that the real policies of the UNP are carried out by the community that had gathered around the SJB, not the UNP.

Q. Do you think that SJB will emerge either as the winner or at least the second biggest party at the election?

A. Undoubtedly yes. We are confident that the SJB can secure a majority in Parliament in this General Election. People are fed up with the eight months rule of the SLPP.

We are the only leading party with a young, dynamic leader who feels the pulse of the common man. The leaders of the other parties are out of touch with the ground realities.

We are confident about our impending victory and creating a government with Sajith Premadasa as the Prime Minister. He will bring winds of change to this post and to the country.

Q. Why do you think SJB leader Sajith Premadasa appeals to the people more than former PM Ranil Wickremesinghe?

Ranil Wickremesinghe safeguards all scammers and corrupt politicians. I think that it is the most plausible reason why Sajith Premadasa is more appealing to voters than Ranil Wickremesinghe. Sajith Premadasa is a corruption-free politician who caters to the needs of the common man.

He feels their pulse and speaks to their hearts unlike Ranil.

Also, Sajith Premadasa is not competent in ‘crafting’ ‘political deals’ like Ranil Wickremesinghe. The SJB does not have any Bond Scam culprits in its fold. We have the crème de la crème of the people who were in the UNP and who are untainted by corruption.

Q. You have talked about capturing Sirikotha. Does it mean that you want to join the UNP again at some point in the future?

A. There is nothing to ‘capture’ as regards Sirikotha for the UNP as we knew it no longer exists. Now Sirikotha only consists of its four walls and the gates. It has no life left.

Once we form a government, we will indeed capture the party as well as Sirikotha. We are not going to join the UNP again in that sense of the word and if anybody is interested, they are free to join the SJB, the only political entity with a clear vision for the country’s future.

Q. Do you think that others have realized that your party is a bigger threat than the UNP?

A. Yes, of course. I think that is why they keep releasing different reports just on the verge of elections. Now the government feels the threat posed by the SJB. They are attacking us, not the UNP, on the political stages and in the pro-government media. The UNP now consists of all the corrupt politicians including the Bond scammers. Therefore, we shunned it and formed the SJB. So we are definitely a major challenge to the government, some elements of which are also protecting the Bond Scam perpetrators. We are not the traditional UNP by any means. We are a dynamic new force that will revolutionize the usually staid politics in Sri Lanka.

Q. A government report has found that Rs. 11 billion has been swindled from the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) while Sajith Premadasa was the Minister in charge. What is your comment?

A. Sajith Premadasa did not take any CCF funds home. Throughout his political career, he renovated places of worship and enriched our culture. Lower-ranking officers of the CCF would have pilfered the funds. Sajith Premadasa is not a money-hungry man. All these allegations are created to cover up the drawbacks of the government. It has been agreed even by his critics and opponents that Sajith is not a corrupt individual.

Q. In case the SLPP wins but still not does get a two-thirds majority, will all or some of you defect to that side like some in the UNP did in 2010?

A. That is a hypothetical scenario that will come into play only if the SLPP wins. With COVID-19, people are experiencing poverty and hardship as never before and have lost their faith in the government. It could not even give the Rs.5,000 allowance for a couple of months. This is perhaps the only government that had such a steep decline in so short a period of time. But if the government was successful, the situation might have been different.

So I do not think that the SLPP will be able to form a new government. We however have faith in the public to make the best decision. But whatever happens, we are not party switching types. We will not betray the trust placed in us by the voting public.

Q. What is your message to the voters in the Hambantota District?

A. What I have to say is that we are forming an SJB government which is looking forward to serving the people and creating an environment for them to live with dignity.

The SLFP-led UPFA was in power for 10 years with a President from the area, but our District remains one of the poorest in the country.

We have to change this situation. The true potential of Hambantota has to be realized in terms of agriculture, industry, SME and tourism. Only the SJB has a proper vision and programme of work lined up not only for Hambantota, but also for the whole country for the next decade. Do not be deceived by the hollow promises of the other political parties – the SJB is the only way to go.


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