Home Affairs Minister Vajira Abeywardena says that the United National Party (UNP) is ready for any election and will announce UNP’s Presidential candidate when the time comes.
Excerpts of the interview:
There is talk about a conspiracy to assassinate President Maithripala Sirisena and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The name of a senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) has also been connected to it. At the same time, there are allegations against the government too.
A: I would first like to say that I don’t like speaking on such things. The second is that, media should not report on such a thing, in a haphazard manner. In an instance such as this the media should conduct themselves carefully. The CID has launched an investigation into this matter. Let us wait and see what will happen. I cannot say anything about it right now.
The story which relates to a conspiracy to assassinate the leader of the country is a very serious matter. Can it be considered trivial?
A: I gave the reply that has to be given to this question. I do not want to speak further about it.
Is there some conflict between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe?
A: No, there is nothing like that. But certain media are trying to create something like that.
Then why did the President summon a special Cabinet Meeting at a time when the Prime Minister was not in the country?
A: When ruling a country, based on certain requirements, such things have to be done. It is nothing surprising. As the media does not have news, they try to make it into the main news item and move forward with it.
A former Minister, S. B. Dissanayake, has said such a Cabinet Meeting took place after many years?
A: I of course cannot answer that question. You have to ask him about it.
However, most of the UNP Ministers attended this meeting with certain apprehensions, did they not?
A: I, of course was not curious, nor apprehensive. At the same time, there was no problem regarding that Cabinet Meeting either.
Did the UNP Ministers try to inform the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was on an official tour of Vietnam, about this Cabinet Meeting and what took place there?
A: I do not think even the Prime Minister was curious about finding out what went on at that particular Cabinet Meeting. When governing a State, such things take place based on certain requirements. It is nothing astonishing. It is because the media does not have any news that they go behind things like this.
But, as a responsible Minister what do you have to say? Can this be considered a minor matter?
A: As responsible Ministers, it is essential to initially learn what the media has to do and what the government has to do. What the media should do is to speak up while being mindful of limits. I do not wish to speak further on this issue.
However, certain decisions made at that special Cabinet Meeting were published in the media. Some Ministers even talked about those?
A: You have to ask the Ministers who spoke about those. I cannot answer that.
Then, why was it that the President summoned a Special Cabinet Meeting at a time when the Prime Minister was not in the country?
A: According to the Constitution, such a Cabinet Meeting is summoned subsequent to finding out whether the Prime Minister is in the country or not and after informing him properly in a formal manner. There is no possibility of summoning such a Cabinet Meeting without informing the Prime Minister. Therefore, this Cabinet Meeting would have been summoned after informing the Prime Minister, therefore it is not astonishing! That is why I said, you don’t have news and that journalists are on the lookout for news. You all are thirsting for news.
Do you not accept that the media has the right to inquire about the main problems in the country, to speak about them and to report on them?
A: Yes, I definitely accept that. Do not get angry when I say this. The media don’t talk about the problems in the country. Within the new freedom, media should change completely. I am not trying to influence the media. With this new freedom, the media should move forward for the betterment of the country.
This country could move forward a lot further if the media could report sans revenge, anger and jealousy and without spreading revenge. I am saying this with the experience of a politician. If Buddhists behave according to Buddhism, and people from other religions act according to their religious beliefs, even journalists who work in that way could do a lot of work for the country. I cannot see it happening, though.
Do you not see anything good at all, about the media in our country?
A: I am not finding fault. What I am saying is that it should change. Journalists should be sent to foreign countries and experience how media reports on issues in those countries. At the same time, newspapers from foreign countries should be brought here for the journalists in our country to study those reporting styles.
Are you saying that, at present, there is unhindered media freedom in the country?
A: Yes, it is clearly apparent. The Law of Criminal Defamation has also been removed. There is no threat to the media at all. Then, unrestricted media freedom is in operation in our country as at now.
At a time when the Law of Criminal Defamation has been removed, if the mass media thinks of behaving in a wrongful manner, it is a serious tragedy.
But the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe mentioned the names of certain journalists in public on several occasions and said various things.
Isn’t this a way of trying to influence the media?
A: Yes, if journalists can mention the names of politicians, politicians can mention the names of journalists and there is no problem regarding that, is there? It cannot be an impossibility, can it?
But, when the Prime Minister mentioned the names of some journalists, isn’t there either a direct or indirect impact on the journalist himself as well as his media institution?
A: Just because names are mentioned there will not be an impact. The Prime Minister was hundred per cent correct on that occasion. Journalists mention enough and more names of politicians and they write about them, too. So, then what does it matter if politicians mention the names of journalists? Journalists are not superior citizens of this country, are they? Journalists are simply ordinary citizens of this country. The Prime Minister too is a citizen of this country. There is no impact just because journalists write about us. If there is such an impact, we would not become Parliamentarians.
Are you implying that in comparison to the previous government the present government has granted a superior media freedom?
A: Definitely, yes. Under the present government, media personnel in our country have a superior freedom which does not exist even in countries such as Germany or France.
The simple law here in this country, is that, when even an obituary handbill is printed, it is mentioned at the bottom that it was printed and published by such and such a person, resident at such a place.
But, by now, such a name or place need not be mentioned and any one can print anything and make it public. Anyone can sling any mud. To write anything there is no need for ownership.
Although you say that, a considerable number of persons have been summoned by the CID and questioned, in the past few days, regarding certain Facebook posts. In addition, the Police have obtained statements from several journalists too. Is this a characteristic of this superior media freedom?
A: No one needs to be summoned to the CID. The law should be amended, that if a person makes a statement about another, they should accept the responsibility, for it. If you make some statement about me, you have to accept total responsibility for it. If I make a statement about you, I have to accept responsibility, for it. If not that becomes an act against society. You cannot make a statement about anyone without responsibility. If it happens it is an act against society.
Do you not accept the fact that the wave of social networks including Facebook was in operation to defeat the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa?
A: No. At that time, there was no possibility of using this unrestricted freedom of the wild ass. But today, there is an opportunity to use this unrestricted freedom of the wild ass.
Is the UNP scared of elections?
A: The UNP stood up against the rigorous administration of the previous government. If there was fear, it would not have happened. When the mass media was also scared, only the UNP stood up against the stringent administration of the past. At that time, the mass media behaved as an obedient group. Then, the mass media of this country was far behind the UNP.
If you do not fear elections, why have elections of three Provincial Councils been postponed for three years? The tenures of another three PCs are due to end soon. Is it because of fear of elections that the UNP is not holding elections?
A: One promise we gave, on 8 January 2015 and 17 August 2015, when the two main national elections were held, is that we will put a stop to holding elections in segments. The people have accepted it. We said that steps should be taken to halt the thuggery and corruption that takes place when elections are held in segments.
When elections are held in broken segments State power is misused. We cannot bear this situation as a third world country. Therefore, we have received the approval of the people of this country to hold all Provincial Council elections at the same time. What is extremely important here is the approval of the public. What is most important in the Constitution is the people’s approval.
Then, was it based on that, that it was said in the election campaigns, that when Maithripala Sirisena becomes the President, he would appoint Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister?
A: Yes, the people’s approval was granted for that.
But there were no provisions in the Constitution to do that, were there? At that time the support of 160 Parliamentarians was for the then Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne. Ranil Wickremesinghe had only 46 seats in Parliament?
A: What is right on top in the Constitution is the supremacy of the people. It was Maithri as President and Ranil as Prime Minister that we obtained the approval of the people. That is why Ranil Wickremesinghe became the Prime Minister, even when he had only 46 seats in Parliament.
Is it not illegal, as it is not mentioned in the Constitution?
A: No. On the very top of the Constitution the supremacy of the people is mentioned. In both main national elections, the people’s approval was received to appoint Maithripala Sirisena as the President and Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister. In 1978, by a Referendum it was included in the Constitution by the Late President J. R. Jayewardene. Then, what was most important was what the people approved of.
Then, at the past LG elections, it was the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna who obtained more power. Does that mean that there is no mandate for the present government?
A: National elections, LG elections and PC elections are three types of elections. It is through a national election that the administrative power of the country is granted. When other elections are won, what is granted is power in each institution only, up until the next national election, the power remains with us; the mandate will be subject to review at the next national elections.
What is the preparation of the UNP for the next national election? Who is the Presidential candidate from your Party?
A: The UNP is ready for any election. A majority of the people are with us. We will announce our Presidential candidate when the time comes. In politics 24 hours is an enormous time.