UPFA General Secretary and Education Minister Susil Premajayantha says most issues mentioned in Mahinda Chinthana have been fulfilled during the past four years. Therefore, the President is fully confident of winning the Presidential Election with an overwhelming majority and getting a massive mandate from the people for his second term. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer expressed his views on the forthcoming elections and recent political developments.
Q: We are living in a country free of terrorism and the forthcoming elections will be the first to be held in a terror-free country. In this background, what do you think propelled the President to call a Presidential Election two years ahead of schedule?
A: We presented our election manifesto Mahinda Chinthana at the last Presidential Election. Actually it was a vision. Most issues mentioned in Mahinda Chinthana have been fulfilled during the past four years. After 30 years, this is the first time we are going to hold a major election in the whole country in a democratic manner. The President is fully confident that he can win this Presidential Election with an overwhelming majority and get a massive mandate from the people for his second term. It is up to the voters to give the mandate to the President to develop the country.
Q: The Presidential Election is a little more than a month away. Is the UPFA confident of a massive victory for the President?
A: Of course. Compared to the last Presidential Election, our organisational power has strengthened. We had only 88 members in Parliament at the last Presidential Election.
At present this number has been increased by a large number. We have resource persons at national, provincial and grass roots levels to give leadership to our election campaign. We are getting the support of 33 political parties. Last time we didn t get the support from the plantation sector and Northern and Eastern Provinces. This time we are getting their support. We are very confident of getting a comfortable majority at the Presidential Election.
Q: How has the UPFA planned to conduct its election campaign countrywide?
A: There are 22 electoral districts and 160 electoral divisions. Arrangements have been made to conduct rallies at district and divisional levels. We will also bring our campaign to the grass roots level. We have to go ahead with our campaign and conduct our house to house canvassing by distributing leaflets to educate the voters.
Q: The General Election too has to be held after April 2010. Will the UPFA be able to get a two thirds majority?
A: Of course, if we consider the last eight Provincial Council elections covering almost 20 electoral districts, we have a 5.1 million voter base. After the victory at the Presidential Election, we can easily get more then 65 percent. That is two thirds.
Q: Why do you think the UNP and the JVP were unable to field their own leaders at the Presidential Election?
A: It shows their capability at an election. If they can t field their own candidates at a Presidential Election, how can they say that they are going to win the election by supporting a neutral candidate?
Q: Can the New Democratic Front candidate pose a challenge to President Rajapaksa at the election?
A: Not at all. According to my knowledge, if the main political party, the UNP fielded its own candidate, they would have obtained more votes than the Fonseka.
Q: According to the Government some of the public statements made by Fonseka has discredited the victories achieved by the Armed Forces. How do you view this situation?
A: It shows his inexperience in the field of politics. It also shows that the Opposition candidate does not have any policy at all. There are many political parties behind him. If he has to address the issue of one particular political party, at the same time he contradicts the policies of other political parties. This is what has happened to him at present. If the Opposition candidate holds more press conferences, he will lose more votes.
Q: The JVP and the UNP have vastly differing opinions on various issues. But why have they joined forces this time?
A: According to my personal point of view, after the results of the eight Provincial Council elections, the JVP very well knew that they have lost many of their Provincial Councillors. They polled a total of only 233,000 votes and 2.8 per cent of the registered voters. If they maintain the same position at the next General Election, they will have a maximum of two Parliamentarians. The JVP under the cover of Fonseka tries to increase their number of seats within the newly formed coalition. On the other hand, the UNP will lose their position within the coalition. The UNP knows they are unable to win the Presidential Election by fielding Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. In addition, Wickremesinghe doesn t want to face his 17 or 18th consecutive defeat. If it happens, he might lose even his party leadership. Therefore, he wanted to avoid this situation.
Q: S.B. Dissanayake and Nandimithra Ekanayake also joined the Government. Are any more high profile UNPers going to join the Government soon? Will there be any defections from the Government to the UNP-JVP camp?
A: There are many Parliamentarians waiting to join the UPFA. In addition, many provincial and local level people s representatives are also willing to join the Government. I don t think there will be any defections from the Government to the Opposition. It is very clear that the Government can win this election comfortably. I don t think none of the ruling party members will join the Opposition.
Q: The abolition of the Executive Presidency is the main election plank of the UNP-JVP combine. What is the Government s stand on this issue?
A: That is a totally wrong slogan. The Executive President cannot abolish the Executive Presidency. He is there to exercise executive powers. The abolition of the Executive Presidency is not a function of the Executive President. It is entirely in the hands of the legislature. If they raise this slogan at a Parliamentary election in their manifesto, it is a different story. But the average person will question how the Executive President while exercising himself His executive powers could abolish the Executive Presidency ? The abolition of Executive Presidency is up to Parliament. The President cannot do that.
Q: The President himself has said that nobody is keener than himself to abolish the Executive Presidency. Does this mean the Government will work on it after winning both elections?
A: Yes, of course. Because there is a strong possibility that we are going to get a two thirds majority at the next General Election. Even some of the opposition political parties want to avoid this situation. After winning the Presidential Election and the General Election, we can get a two thirds majority to change the Constitution by addressing key issues.
Q: The President has stated that with a bigger mandate from the people including those in the North and East, he will find a solution to the grievances of all ethnic communities. Will the Government present these proposals soon after the elections?
A: We are going to introduce new legislation to solve the problems faced by all communities in different stages. At this Presidential Election, we need not go into all details. No Executive President can take his own decision regarding such an issue. We are going to put forward all our proposals at the General Election.
Q: After the Presidential, General and Local Government elections next year, the country will not have elections for the next four years at least. What are the Government s plans for development and social welfare during the next four years?
A: The Government has already started several mega projects such as harbours, irrigation, highways and power sector. We have to expedite our plans on economic development as well. The Government is also going to set up more mega projects within the next two or three years in relation to highways, electricity, ports and aviation sectors. There will be many new job opportunities while investors will also come in.
Now we need to expedite development. That is why we are asking a mandate from the people. We are also fulfilling the basic needs in the education sector like the recruitment of teachers. During the past four years, the Government has recruited 33,000 teachers.
Q: The Opposition is alleging that various acts of corruption have taken place during the UPFA regime. If presented with evidence, will the Government investigate these allegations after the elections?
A: Definitely. But according the last COPE report, 90 per cent of the audit queries are related to the incidents taken place during the UNP regime.
Q: There is a massive Cabinet. This is another allegation of the Opposition. Will it be possible to reduce it drastically if the UPFA gains a two thirds or a massive majority?
A: We have an Executive Presidency at the moment. Otherwise, anybody can destabilise Parliament and have it dissolved. Then we can t win the war or develop the country.
Fortunately the Executive Presidency was there and this facilitated certain Opposition members to join the Government. So we had to entertain them! After the next General Election, the President will definitely reduce the number of Ministers and allow all Members of Parliament to join the development plan.
Q: What is your message to voters at these two elections?
A: At the end of the humanitarian operation, certain local forces in association with some foreign forces wanted to prevent of defeating terrorism.
What happened? If we couldn t defeat terrorism, there will be a divided country. Those forces who couldn t divide the county are now attempting divide the people at this Presidential Election. But people will definitely give them a clear message on January 26 that they are not for a divided Sri Lanka.