Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an interview with The Nation said that he would work aggressively to restore faith in institutions related to law and order if his party is voted to power. He spoke confidently of his chances and said he relishes the prospect of going head to head with Ranil Wickremesinghe, who he claims had been using proxies for many years instead of facing him directly. The following are excerpts of the interview held in his home in Medamulana.
Q: Let us start with January 8, 2015. What do you recall of that moment?
I knew what the outcome would be when the Jaffna results came in. Of course it is not what I expected and even today it is hard to believe that there was such a high voter turnout in those parts of the country. As the President I had to respect the decision of the electorate. I decided that I would leave immediately. I spoke to the Commissioner of Elections and then I called the then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and asked him to meet me.
So the people decided and I respect the decision. Why such a decision was taken is another matter. All I can say is that several countries have openly accepted responsibility for defeating me. I went peacefully after bidding farewell to my staff and returned to my hometown.
Q:Would you say that the law and order situation of the country had deteriorated and that this was one of the reasons why you lost?
When I became President there was a war to be fought. There was no development and the law and order situation was bad. I focused on the war and then on development. If I tried to take on all these things together I would have achieved nothing. Maybe that’s what happened to my predecessors. Maybe people didn’t understand that it is impossible to do everything at once. Anyway, in the last six months we learnt that the UNP cannot deliver on law and order. What we need now is a strong leader with a clear vision. I will put all efforts to ensure that the law is upheld. I will not allow anyone to play with the law, whether it is a minister, an MP, a friend, a relative or anyone else. Even if one of my brothers or any of my sons violates the law they will punished according to the law.
Q You didn’t go into some kind of quiet retirement. In fact you continued to be politically active. Why?
The entire country knows how it happened. From the next day onwards, people from all over the country began to arrive here. I became the busiest person again even after giving up everything. The general public wanted me back in politics. They believed that the country needs a strong leader who does not tremble before international pressure or any force. Long queues of people were seen here daily. Some were crying, some lamented and some urged me to return to active politics for their sake. I was humbled, but at the time I declined politely.
At the same time MPs Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa, Dinesh Gunawardana, Gamini Lokuge and some others also tried to persuade me to return to active politics. One month after the election was over, they launched a public campaign. This made me reconsider my decision.
Q:You were the Leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party but you stepped down within a week of the election result. What made you do that?
They asked for the leadership of the party. The party constitution says is someone from the party contests and becomes the president of the country he or she should be the leader of the party. I did think about it. Some of my close associates wanted me to create a separate party, but I was not interested in doing anything to harm the party in which I had grown up and later nourished for a long time.
Q: Are you satisfied with the way the party is being run at present?
I don’t like that restraining order against having a Central Committee meeting. A party should not have such internal issues. It affects the party’s ability to move towards common objectives.
Q:You spent a lot of time during the last six months in temples, which were essentially political meetings…
People from all over flocking to Medamulana had become an issue. I knew it was not easy for them. So I thought it would be easier if I went to them instead. I visited villages and temples. When the Maha Sangha invites I go. That’s not politics. People wanted to meet the leader who united the country after defeating a terror group which had destroyed their lifestyle for full three decades. When I accepted the defeat and came back to Hambantota, I thought to myself, ‘no more politics’. But, after I handed over the party leadership, my mind was changed.
Q:Were you not given an official residence in Colombo or were you not ready to accept one?
No. I was not given an official residence. So I rented a house at Mirihana. Otherwise how could I meet people who wanted to see me? Then, the Nayaka Thera of the Abhayarama Vihara in Narahenpita assisted me, making arrangements so that I could meet people there.
Q:What is your general assessment about last presidential election?
It was not an election between the SLFP or the UNP or the Freedom Alliance and the United National Front. People never vote for Ranil Wickremesinghe. As he can’t win the election, an SLFPer was brought in for the fight. He doesn’t have the right to be Prime Minister. The final result was that SLFP members and supporters had to undergo numerous suffering. Most of them did not even go to a police station to lodge a complaint.
Q: What do you make of the administration of the country during the last six months?
I have to ask you what they have done apart from being vindictive. They even came here looking for a sea plane! I am a law-abiding person and allowed them to check my house. What I saw was an unacceptable push back in all the sectors. Not a single sector was functioning. Almost all the projects have been stalled for no reason. I think the whole country noted it and that is what the people who met me told. Most of the officers who held high ranking posts left their jobs unable to function in this kind of political environment. The Secretary of the Highways Ministry appointed by this new regime left within a very short period. That is why I am telling you that the state sector suffered unexpected setback during the last six months and it affected the country’s development activities.
Q:How do you differentiate this regime from yours?
We were following a calendar of development as we have a target for the country. We had development plans for the entire country. The North as well the South. Mega development projects were planned in all areas and the economy of the country was brought to a satisfactory level. We began with a minus economy, but ended at a significant level. My service was for all the communities; Sinhala, Muslim and Tamils.
I am still wondering what this so-called yahapaalana government did with the loans than we took for 12 months in 2014. Show me one development project. They have begun to import old vehicles to the country. I think they don’t know how to manage these development activities. It was not easy. Sometimes, you have to be tactful. How did we develop the Colombo city? Why did they stop the Port City? Have they given a clear reason for it? I think even they don’t know what they are doing; they are clueless. The UNP are experts at selling resources. Development, they don’t know. They see only the easy cash but they don’t to how to make the cash. That is the difference.
How can they claim that the Port in Hambantota is useless? They criticize it as they don’t have plans how to use it. They don’t know how to manage it. It is same story for the Weerawila Airport. Those are assets for a country. Those projects are long term plans. The benefits of those projects may not accrue to you, but your children will benefit. That logic is probably too complex for them to understand.
Q: Despite the spectacular post-conflict development you lost. How do you explain this?
Well, the younger generation hasn’t experienced UNP administrations. Since 1994, the country had SLFP controlled administrations. They have experienced only our system. When they heard the word “Good Governance,” they took it seriously. If they have received a bit of experience of how the UNP have treated the youth, they would never have made that decision. Now they have that experience. They know now. So they will take this into account on August 17.
Q:Why did you decide to contest from Kurunegala?
I received invitations from several districts including Ratnapura, Gampaha, Anuradhapura and Galle. Meanwhile, my ministers TB, Salinda and Johnston announced that I would contest from Kurunegala. So the decision was made for me. Anyway, having served as the President of the country, each and every district is equal same for me.
Q: How do you assess your chances?
Finally, I meet the UNP leader as my opponent. Ranil was sending others to the battlefield for a long. Now it is Mahinda Rajapaksa versus Ranil Wickremesinghe. We will win this election with a majority. I am confident that we will get 117 seats. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna is no more there with the UNF. Neither is Fonseka’s Democratic Party. Some of the MPs who worked hard against me are not contesting with me.
The most important point is that the Muslim and Tamil people know they have no future under the present system and they are also waiting for a real change. The incident at Maligawatte a few days ago was a black mark for the country. It was not something about Muslims or Pakistanis but about the preferential votes between two candidates of the UNF. Who is responsible for these things? People know the reality and they will take the right decision on August 17.
Q:Could you speak about international pressure?
I was not a leader who danced to the tune of the international community. On the other hand, how can the United States of America or the United Kingdom lecture us on democracy? I think I am the most suitable person to teach them how to use democracy in a very practical way. If I was undemocratic, I should not have gone for provincial council elections in the North. It was crystal clear fact that we have no majority when we announced the elections. But, that is a people’s right and we must respect it. That is how I ruled the country. I am more democratic that John Kerry or anyone else, but I knew how to transact with them taking decisions beneficial for the country. We maintained a good foreign policy and China, India, the USA and the UK and many other countries helped us in many ways.
Q:There are many interpretations about President Sirisena’s address to the nation where he spoke about giving you nomination and other issues. Any comments?
That’s a timely speech. It reinvigorated the SLFPers and they began a fresh journey to secure victory for the party. I don’t see any vindictive motive behind it as I don’t have such feelings. I can read his inner mind and what he did was the exposure of the Prime Minister in power. He revealed a daylight theft at the Central Bank. That is a serious allegation. What he said about me was his personal view. That’s not important. We have to focus on the serious issues. What he said about me is not important. Overall, it was a great favor to the SLFP. The decision to dissolve the parliament is another issue we have to speak separately. However, don’t forget that the Present President and I have worked together for a long time for the party.
Q: What happened in Akuressa?
Ah! That must have been an ardent supporter. He tried to grab my hand and caught my finger. It was unbearably painful. I had no other options put to push him back and free my hand. It was unexpected and sudden. Of course my opponents and the media have their own interpretations, but that’s what happened.