- Says happy to go before people for a fresh mandate
- Describes Maithripala as a nonentity
- Claims CBK-Mangala nexus is the angry force behind; recalls she worked against him in 2005 and 2010 and failed miserably
- Identifies Ranil as stronger candidate despite UNP’s 29 electrical losses
- Says Sirisena or defectors didn’t speak against executive presidency at Cabinet
- Dismisses allegations of SLFP seniors sidelined or victimisation of staff hired by CBK
- Says he has no secrets and has nothing to hide
- Assures cutouts will be removed from Monday; peaceful polls
President Mahinda Rajapaksa chats with some of the heads of print and electronic media yesterday at Temple Trees prior to breakfast – Pic by Sudath Silva
Declaring he was happy to go before the people, President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday expressed confidence of winning the office for the third term, dismissing any real threat from his main opponent.
“I like to go before the people as I have always done,” the President told Editors yesterday during his regular breakfast meeting, probably the last for 2014.
This was in response to a question that, given various accusations, whether he regretted the decision to call a snap election. ‘No, not at all, I am very happy to go before the people any time. This is the democratic principle,” the President said.
He disclosed that after winning the 8 January polls he would assume his third term only in November 2015, suggesting he would cut short his second term by a year. “I will lose one year, just as I lost one year in my first term,” he said.
In a jovial mood, Rajapaksa also said that it seemed heads of Japan and Israel Governments were also opting for snap polls, perhaps following Sri Lanka.
The President also opined that Opposition’s common candidate Maithripala Sirisena wasn’t a threat. “He is just a candidate, a nonentity. I wish him well just like I wished Sarath Fonseka [the former Army Commander who unsuccessfully ran at the 2010 presidential poll]. In my opinion, Ranil Wickremesinghe [UNP Leader] is stronger and a competent candidate, irrespective of his disastrous recent electoral record of having led his party to lose 29 polls in the past,” President Rajapaksa said.
Claiming that the real force behind Sirisena’s candidacy was former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and MP Mangala Samaraweera, Rajapaksa said: “The contest is between me and the Chandrika-Mangala alliance. Ranil is on the sidelines.”
“This is not the first time Kumaratunga has worked against me. She did it in 2005 and again in 2010,” Rajapaksa claimed, referring to the previous presidential polls. “Her actions and comments are full of hatred and anger, which could be because my Government has done what she couldn’t,” Rajapaksa opined.
To suggest that Kumaratunga has her own set of failures, President recalled the saying “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.
He cautioned the people about ulterior motives of his opponents. “One leader signed a Norway-backed agreement with the LTTE. Another produced the post-tsunami PTOMS. These were against the country and the people. Those who live in glass houses should remember not to throw stones,” the President emphasised.
Referring to one of the campaign themes of the Opposition’s common candidate, Rajapaksa said Sirisena or defectors never spoke of the need to abolish the executive presidency at Cabinet meetings. Rajapaksa also expressed doubt that Sirisena or the Opposition was capable of abolishing the executive presidency.
When a media person referred to fears of revenge against opponents after the election, the President dismissed the need for such fears.
“I am not revenge taker and I don’t believe in it. I have seen history quite well. I haven’t taken revenge after two successful victories in the past,” he said.
“The employees recruited by President Kumaratunga at the Temple Trees are still continuing. Even the person who served tea to you is one recruited by Chandrika. Some of those recruited during her regime are close aids for me. If they are doing a proper job, I have no issues. I have nothing to hide and I have no secrets,” Rajapaksa said.
He also said two of her secretaries – Balapatabendi and Karunaratne – remained Ambassadors after Rajapaksa assumed office and he did not recall either of them.
The President also dismissed the charge made by the Opposition candidate that senior SLFP members have been sidelined.
“Prime Minister Jayaratne, Senior Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake and I are the most senior. Other seniors are here, such as Nimal Siripala de Silva. We have not sidelined any of them. I was harassed for years, but I did not leave the party. But I have seen many conspiracies and defections. Several general secretaries left the party, one died, one became a monk. Some others came back. Both the son and daughter of the party’s founder left the party and came back later. We have not done and will never do the wrongs done by the son and daughter. I remained with the party despite all harassment.”
“I have the fullest confidence in my Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament,” he said, when asked if he foresaw any more defections. “When I became the leader, there were only 57 SLFP MPs. Now we have 127,” he said.
The President also insisted that the posters and cut-outs of his image appearing along the streets had been erected by his party supporters for his birthday and not the election. He said that soon after nominations day on Monday he would make sure the posters and cut-outs were removed.
Rajapaksa also insisted that he has no intention of violating election laws and that he had even instructed members of his Government to also follow the law.
Several Ministers who were associated with President during the breakfast meeting recalled that in the early 2000s when the UNP won general elections, the SLFPers were killed or harassed in post-election violence and that this wasn’t the case after UPFA victories since 2005.
MR turns flimsy over “files” talk
President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday stunned newspaper and electronic media Editors when he said the reference by him about “files” of defectors from the UPFA Government were “official level or Ministry level files and Cabinet papers” and not a record of their alleged corrupt deals.
During the breakfast meeting yesterday at Temple Trees, when a question was raised about his statement about files, the President said he had been misquoted in the media.
“The files I referred to are not the files you are thinking of,” Rajapaksa said, amidst laughter from Editors.
The apparent clarification or retraction from President comes after the original statement drew flak from several in his Government as well as the Opposition. They maintained that the President’s reference meant that his ex-men were corrupt whilst in office, thereby admitting his regime was corrupt and he turned a blind eye. Several defectors also demanded that the President make public those alleged files, apart from them saying they also have files on President.
During an answer to a separate question regarding allegations of corruption in Government infrastructure projects, the President referred to various abuses under former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
For example, he said a Korean contractor for the original Colombo-Katunayake Expressway had to be paid back. When questioned why action wasn’t taken against those responsible, Rajapaksa responded saying, “I was part of the Cabinet and I believe in collective responsibility of the Cabinet.”