Constitution should meet nation’s aspirations, asserts Gammanpila
Thursday, 9 October 2014 00:03
Explains Harin Fernando poster fiasco, dissects Uva election outcomes
Shares views on third presidential term and BBS policy framework
The Constitution should meet the aspirations of the nation, not those of an individual or a political party, stressed Udaya Gammanpila. Gammanpila, who is in political limelight once again following his challenge to United National Party’s Harin Fernando, pointed out: “In our Constitution, whatever features that had been tailor-made to meet personal needs of any president, politician or political party are bad features and should be amended at the earliest.”A Minister of the Western Provincial Council and a leader of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, Gammanpila asserted: “Uva election results clearly say that the Government’s popularity generated by the military victory is over, but it has perished after five years. Due to this reason itself the Government leaders should look at why they lost the immense popularity generated by the military victory so fast.”Following are excerpts from the interview:Q: Why did you challenge Harin Fernando? A: I did not challenge Harin Fernando. In fact I responded to a comment made by him. We were at a live television debate on a private channel. I was explaining how the Uva Province became the poorest; economic and historic factors contributed to that. Harin Fernando did not have any answer to my explanation; he accused me saying that although I have been in politics for a long period, I became second in Colombo. Then I told him the reason I became second was due to my policies of not pasting posters and not putting up illegal cut-outs.
I then challenged him to obtain 100,000 preferential votes without posting posters and illegal cut-outs. In response he said it was impossible to get 100,000 preferential votes in outstation areas such as Badulla. Then I gave him a 50,000 discount and said to obtain 50,000 votes without posters. He vowed not to paste posters and said if he obtained 50,000, I have to resign from my post. I am a politician who has kept my word. I have never lied to people or made false promises as a politician.
Harin Fernando got far more than 50,000 votes, but he pasted posters and had illegal cut-outs. Not only that, he also used almost every single road and rocks in the area to paint his number and name. When I was in New York attending the Earth Summit, there were lot of news on websites saying ‘Gammanpila has resigned,’ ‘Will Gammanpila resign?’ and ‘Why isn’t Gammanpila resigning?’ After I returned to Sri Lanka, although he promised not to paste posters, I personally witnessed his posters posted everywhere.
Secondly, on 3 September, Police officers attached to Uva Paranagama Police Station arrested a person named Thushan Anton who was pasting posters of Harin Fernando. He was produced before the Magistrate of Welimada and the case is to be heard again on 21 October. There is a lot of evidence that he pasted posters. Although I possess this information, I did not bother to remind him of the challenge; I felt it was unethical because as the chief ministerial candidate Harin Fernando was under lot of pressure. Though I was fully aware of Harin’s broken promise I did not want to proceed with the challenge. Unfortunately, that decision that decision back fired. Then I was forced to collect all this information and place it before the general public to clear my name.
Q: You may not have pasted posters but you spent 9.8 million on your election campaign. How ethical it is to make such challenge?A: I am reiterating, Harin Fernando is the one who initiated this. The video is available on my website and my Facebook account as well as the Hiru TV website. Harin Fernando was the one who sarcastically mentioned that I became second in Colombo. I was forced to explain the circumstances under which I became number two. As I explained, it is very difficult to get 100,000 votes without posters; this was admitted by the action by Harin Fernando, because he broke his promise and pasted posters. He knows how vital posters are to obtain a higher number of preferential votes. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, without probing into an incident, people jump to conclusions.
Q: Is the Government using this incident to divert the attention of the public and cover up the UPFA’s drop of votes? A: If that is the case, I am not the one who is responsible. This was fully-initiated by Harin Fernando. If that is the case, Harin Fernando is supporting the Government indirectly. He is the one who made a promise he would not paste posters thereafter. He is the one who broke that promise and pasted posters. His side later reminded me of the debate and demanded my resignation. If this incident has diverted the people’s attention to something without focusing attention on the things to be focused on, it is not me but Harin who is responsible for that.
Q: What do you think about the Uva election and its outcome? A: Let’s take it party by party. I have always been mentioning that the Democratic Party was attracting the disgusted UNPers because they were frustrated with the repeated defeats of the UNP. To pass that message to their leadership, they decided to vote for the Democratic Party. That is why when the UNP returned to the winning track, they deserted the Democratic Party. More than stealing votes of the DP as alleged by its leaders, frustrated UNPers have regained the confidence that their party could win.
But the JVP’s story is different. Frankly I expected that the JVP would perform better than the results it got. I thought that unlike the DP, the JVP was attracting the votes who not were frustrated about the UNP’s conduct or the leadership but of the policies. But it seems that the JVP also has attracted the UNPers who were frustrated with the UNP’s repeated defeats. The UNP has performed well in Badulla thanks to Harin Fernando. Based on their performance in Badulla, the UNP is now of the view that it can repeat the same at the next presidential election. It is very confident of its victory as reflected in its recent statements.
Ranil Wickremesinghe has contested and been defeated at two presidential elections. People have rejected him at two presidential elections. In 1994 he was rejected by the party for the presidential election. In 2010 the party opted for a common candidate, making history because he was the first UNP leader who did not contest a presidential election. All in all, Wickremesinghe has been rejected at four presidential elections. Therefore, his candidature is not equivalent to a candidature of Harin Fernando but of Ravi Samaraweera.
Ravi Samaraweera was chief ministerial candidate at several provincial council elections and got defeated. If he was named as the chief ministerial candidate at the last election, the UNP wouldn’t have performed in this manner. They would have more or less got the same results they received in Monaragala. In this backdrop, we cannot expect Ranil to be another Harin, but him to be another Ravi Samaraweera.
When we look at the provincial council elections held since 2012, we can understand the voting pattern. The UNP has clearly proved that it has championed the minority votes. When we analyse previous provincial council elections, we can fairly say that 80% of minority votes would go to the UNP candidate. There are 25% minorities in the country. In other words, 20% of voters are with the UNP. Ranil Wickremesinghe needs another 30% from the Sinhalese who form 75%; 30% out of 75% means 40%. In other words, 40% of Sinhala votes should be obtained by Ranil Wickremesinghe.
In the Monaragala District, the Sinhala population is the highest in the country, namely 95%. Let’s now look at Monaragala to look at whether UNP was able to obtain 40% of Sinhala votes in that district. Since there are 5% minorities, we have to consider that 80% of that 5%, which is 4%, have already voted for the UNP. Therefore we should reduce 4% from 33% of the voted polled for the UNP, which is 29%. Therefore, what they should obtain is 30% (29% of Sinhala votes out of 95% is 30%). But the UNP had to get 40% of Sinhala votes. What they actually got was 30% and therefore there is a 10% gap.
Therefore, the UNP is far away from victory at the presidential election even in a scenario where all minority parties such as TNA, CWC and SLMC support them. None of these parties have so far pledged their support. Even if they pledge their support, there is a 10% gap in Sinhala votes. Since nobody has done this analysis for the UNP, they enjoy their daydream.
Q: How would you analyse results received by the UPFA?A:At the Uva election the Government won comfortably; 51% is a high percentage under normal circumstances. We got used to high margins in the recent past but they were generated by the military victory by the LTTE. In 1994 the PA recorded victory over the UNP, which was reported by the media as historical. But they gained only 48%. Similarly in 2004 for the first time in its history the JVP formed an alliance with the PA and secured victory at the parliamentary elections. It was again reported by media as historical. But they too gained only 48%. In that context at the Uva election the Government has obtained a higher percentage than those historical victories. But this election results clearly says that the Government popularity generated by the military victory is over. That is something we should pay attention to.
In Japan, the Democratic Liberal Party made Japan the first miracle of Asia. As a result they were able to rule Japan continuously for 46 years from 1955. Lee Kuan Yew’s People’s Action Party came to power in Singapore in 1959 because of the rapid development brought to Singapore by that party; they are still in power with a two-thirds majority after 55 years since their first election. Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s United National Malay Organisation came to power in 1959. Because of their contribution to Malaysia in the development sphere, they are still in power after 55 years. They only recently lost their two-thirds majority. These three examples show that governments can retain their popularity for a long time.
This Government’s popularity generated by the massive military victory cannot be compared with development achievements made by Japan, Malaysia and Singapore because this is huge compared to that. But it has perished after five years. Due to this reason itself the Government leaders should look at why they lost the immense popularity generated by the military victory so fast.
The President was actively involved in the Uva election campaign. Electricity charges were cut by 25% and fuel prices were reduced. Although there was heavy criticism, the Government continued to distribute goods among the people. Don’t you think that in such conditions obtaining 51% cannot be considered as a remarkable achievement?
Good distribution was not only done by the Government; the Opposition members did it too. I have never done it. I have always criticised such acts. I have never seen the JVP doing it and I am glad about that. It is a bad practice by two major political parties. The party which is in power does it more since it has more resources.
This is not something new for the UPFA or something that only happened during the Uva election. This has happened throughout history at elections. But don’t forget the fact that even under such scenarios people have defeated governments. In 1993 didn’t the UNP try all these tricks? But people decided to topple the provincial administration in the Southern, Western and North Western Provinces.
Take the situation in 1997; there were no television channels in this country. There was only one radio station and it was owned by the Government. Print media was monopolised by the Government. There were no text messages. The Government massively used all available media in its favour and State resources were misused for the benefit of the Government campaign. What was the end result? The Opposition was able to get 92% of the seats.
The Government lost four electorates in the Badulla District. Didn’t the Government distribute goods in those four electorates? Reduction of electricity prices and fuel prices has not affected those electorates. When people decide to change a government, whatever is done by the Government, people will do what they want.
Q: How do you see the upcoming presidential election and the ongoing discussions about President Mahinda Rajapaksa contesting for the third term? A: It’s good if we have a fixed term where the title holder has the discretion to decide when to hold the election. When you take a term, there are ups and downs. In the Sri Lankan context, the president can hold an election when he is at a peak. That is not a good feature. Our constitution was amended by President J.R. Jayewardene to meet his personal desires. That is a bad feature in our Constitution, but every single president who was in their second term exercised this option.
People are now fully aware that when a president is not in his or her last term, presidential election will come four years after assuming office. This is not something sudden or surprising. If there is a presidential election within the next three months, that is something expected by the country.
Q: You accuse former President Jayewardene of changing the Constitution to meet his personal desires. Why do you keep mum when President Mahinda Rajapaksa did the same? A: I was explaining the 13th Amendment and how this option came to the Constitution. Those are bad features in our law.
In our Constitution, whatever features that had been tailor-made to meet personal needs of any president, politician or political party are bad features and should be amended at the earliest. We believe the Constitution should meet the aspirations of the nation, not those of an individual or a political party.
Q: Will you support the present President? A: No, we have not decided still. In 2005 we made a declaration at a public rally held in Nugegoda called ‘Raja Bawathu Dhammiko’ (righteous be our king). At that rally we submitted our conditions for supporting a presidential election candidate. When we met Ranil Wickremesinghe, he said he was not in a position to support us. But Mahinda Rajapaksa taking the risk of losing his presidential candidacy and party membership from his federal leader Chandrika Kumaratunga accepted our conditions and signed an agreement; preserving the unitary character of the State, fighting LTTE terrorism, abolition of tsunami joint mechanism and stopping privatisation of profit-making State institutions were among the conditions set by us in 2005. He not only promised but also kept the promise.
When we pressurised him to commence the war by marching from Neelapola to Mavilaru, he responded by commencing operations against the LTTE. To date, despite international pressure, he has not destroyed the unitary character of the State. Because of the remarkable achievements made during the first term, we decided to back him for the second term. Now our contract with him is over. We were able to bring a lot of victories to the nation through our contract at the presidential election. We are duty-bound to set new conditions which can bring such victories for the nation. The JHU is formulating such a set of proposals at the moment.
We are very interested in good governance issues, such as rule of law and minimisation of corruption. Furthermore, we are looking at changing election laws to introduce a new method where a candidate can win without a big budget and support of thugs. I think it is premature to talk about all our proposals but we promise the nation that we will use this presidential election to bring remarkable victories to the nation as we did in 2005.
Q: What are your views on the Bodu Bala Sena’s recently-launched policy framework, which includes changing the name of the country and the National Flag?A: The BBS had their national conference a few days ago. The JHU is yet to make an official statement on the BBS policy document. As you know, the JHU is ideologically quite close to the ideology of the BBS. Our approach and conduct may differ, but ideologically we are very close.
Sri Lanka has been known as ‘Sinhale’ for several millenniums. In all historical documents and archaeological evidence available throughout the world, Sri Lanka is referred to as ‘Sinhale,’ ‘Sinhala Deepa’ or ‘Heladiva’.
According to the Ramayana, it was referred to as Lanka. Since we wanted to establish our history beyond King Wijeya’s arrival, we used Lanka when we wanted to rename it in 1975 from Ceylon, the name given by British. Ceylon means ‘Sinhale’ in English. Seylan means ‘Sinhale’ in Dutch. Ceylan means ‘Sinhale’ in Portuguese. This country was known as Sinhale. Unless we decide to go back to the oldest name, Lanka, this country would have been known as ‘Sinhale’.
What the BBS says is quite logical. Unfortunately, people jump to conclusions without looking into the facts. This is a historical reality about this country. There is no reason for shock or surprise over its policy framework. We have a very close rapport with that organisation. We have worked with them on certain events. We will carefully study the BBS document and announce our stand.
Q: Are you agreeing with their proposals? A: I just took one proposal where we can agree with them. We should study the document and make our stand public.
Q: Don’t you feel there are more important issues in the country than changing the name or the National Flag? A: That is a policy document. We are not in agreement that we should forget everything and do this first. What I am saying is there is nothing to be shocked about what they have said. What they have said is about the historical reality of this country. They have not made up or cooked up a new issue. They have just revealed a historical fact about this country.