Ven. Sobhitha Thera | (File photo)

“I am appalled by what’s happening in the political arena in the first few days after the General Election,” Leader of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ), Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera told ‘The Nation’.  The Thero, who played a major role in the movement to field a ‘common candidate’ against Mahinda Rajapaksa at the last Presidential Election and is a strong advocate of good governance who openly supported the coalition led by the United National Party (UNP) at the recently concluded General Election, expressed absolute disappointment with the conduct of politicians, especially after the election results were released.

The beginning is certainly distasteful.  Both major parties failed to secure a majority.  Mr Wickremersinghe took oaths as the Prime Minister, but he has failed to appoint a Cabinet. This is unacceptable

The Thero said that there were positives, for example the fact that elections were relatively free and fair compared with previous elections.  He pointed out that the Commissioner of Elections was able to implement the rules and regulations of the Elections Act and was pleased that most candidates conducted clean campaigns without desecrating the environment, which he believed was a victory for the civil organizations and individuals who worked for a change.

Ven. Sobhitha Thera also said that great leaders like Nelson Mandela invited the Opposition to work together in a ‘national government’ when there were burning issues to resolve. for a national government when they had a burning issue to solve, but expressed pessimism about that happening in Sri Lanka.

Excerpts from the interview
Q: – Your organization and several other organizations supported the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at the elections. The party returned the most number of members to Parliament and Wickremesinghe took oaths as the Prime Minister.  Almost two weeks since the election, Parliament has not convened and we don’t have a proper Government.  How do you read this situation?
It is a very pathetic situation. The NMSJ and several other organizations stood for good governance. It was the same policy that directed us to look for a common candidate for the Presidency.  I feel helpless with these politicians.  They betray our trust and confidence.

Q: – What exactly have you gained for the country after laboring so much?
We had big targets. The abolishment of the Executive Presidency, changing the electoral system, removal of this preferential vote system, bringing back the independent commissions which were introduced by the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, among others. I know we were not totally successful. The 19thAmendment met only a part of our objectives. It has taken away the President’s power to dissolve Parliament at will, his ability to contest for the post more than two times and it has re-introduced the independent commissions. We can be happy about these changes for the time being.

Q: – After being very vocal you suddenly went silent and it was reported that you were fed up with politics and had decided to keep away. Is that true?
Yes. I was fed up with politics and politicians. They cannot be trusted. Sometimes politicians are the puppets of illegal businessmen. I decided to keep away and focus on religious activities.  However, some of the people who worked with me pointed out that we had achieved something and prevailed on me to continue the struggle to establish good governance.

Q: – Are you satisfied with the present political climate of the country?
No. I am not. The beginning is certainly distasteful.  Both major parties failed to secure a majority.  Mr Wickremersinghe took oaths as the Prime Minister, but he has failed to appoint a Cabinet. This is unacceptable. I feel that politicians are not interested in serving the country. They don’t have a vision for the nation but are mostly concerned about serving their self interests.  The election is over, but now they fight for ministerial posts.  I met the Prime Minister along with several representatives of civil society organizations and expressed these concerns.  We urged him to complete the tasks that he had promised to do in the 100 Days Program.

Q: – You were one of the strongest supporters of Maithripal Sirisena’s candidacy.  What is your assessment of the President?
Maithripala Sirisena is a good human being and a respectable politician. That’s why we brought him as the common candidate. I think it was wrong for him to return to the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) after the Presidential Election. He is the President of Sri Lanka as well the common leader of citizens. As soon as he began to play the role of the leader of the SLFP, he had to deal with another set of issues which distracted him from the work he was mandated to do for the country.

Q: – You imply then that you are not satisfied with his performance?
He promised to abolish the Executive Presidency. Did he work hard for it?  What’s happening today in the country? Why don’t we have a government and Cabinet of Ministers? Leaders should lead and not be led by others.

Q: – Do you advocate the concept of a National Government?
There is nothing wrong with the concept.  The issue is whether Sri Lanka needs a national government at this juncture. It is the politicians who failed to form a government that speak about a national government.  And it is not a joint effort by the UNFGG (United National Front for Good Governance) and the UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance), the strongest groups in the fray but the SLFP and UNP.  Can an alliance between two parties be called a national government? The SLFP’s effort is to secure Ministerial posts and also keep the Opposition Leader post. Where are the Tamils and Muslims? What about parties like JVP? These politicians are playing the fool with the people.

The national list is meant to bring in the people with skill and intellect to Parliament, but instead is a backdoor for thieves, thugs, drug dealers or ethanol dealers. Lakshman Kadirgamar became a great politician after being appointed to Parliament via the National list. Today we have losing candidates being accommodated.  Isn’t this a joke?  The people are laughing at us.

Q: – What are the options for the voters, though?  Do they have to remain silent?
No. We are trying to get some sense into their heads.  If they are intelligent and humble, they will realize their errors and get back on the right track.  Then everything will be alright. Otherwise we have to take to the streets again with a voice much louder than ever before.  The tragedy is that the people have voted and cannot vote again for another five years.

Q: – How can things be changed?
We have shown these leaders that the country needs a new constitution and not amendments. The conflict between the Executive and Legislature has affected the country very badly. President JR brought this constitution only thinking about the rulers. President Chandrika once said that ours was a ‘bahubhutha’ constitution. I am not sure how long Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickremesinghe can work without conflict.  A new Constitution must be enacted soon, after turning the Parliament into a Constitutional Council.