President Maithripala in an interview with Nation to mark the completion of his first year in office as President said the present Government of Unity between him and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would continue the full term till 2020, and dismissed speculation that it would end after two years.
The President warned sections which may attempt to disrupt his Government using undemocratic methods and stressed that he and the Prime Minister considered the interests and future of the country over party politics. ‘The people have given us a mandate to rule for five years and we both will not allow anyone to destabilize the country through undemocratic methods’, President Sirisena warned.
Q: Mr. President, you promised to abolish the executive presidency. You made a solemn pledge to the nation at the funeral of Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera. When will you execute that promise?
A:I have during my first year got the 19th amendment in place amidst difficulties in the previous parliament. Most of my powers are now vested in parliament. The ball is now in that court to meet the rest. Let’s wait and see how Parliament executes its obligations and duties.
Q: There is speculation that the unity government between the SLFP and the UNP would end in two years as you said the experimental period was two years when you formed the government. How do you view the progress after one year?
A:We had a-100 Day Programme together. Thereafter, we went before the people and they gave us a mandate for five years. We have an obligation to work together to honour that mandate. The Prime Minister and I are committed to building the nation. That’s our priority and not politics.
Q: Well, when you complete your first term in office and if the executive presidency is abolished by then, you have said you will continue in politics. In such an event would you contest for the premiership with Ranil Wickremesinghe?
A:We must first complete the first terms of office as President and that of the Government to look to the future. Our target is to first build the country and the economy. When budgets are presented, people anxiously await to see what they are going to get. The people must also contribute towards building the nation and economy to expect dividends.
Q: Are you happy with the foreign policy followed by your Government?
A:Why not? We are moving in a steady manner, and the international community is happy with the progress. We cannot make enemies with the world as done before. The Prime Minister and I are much concerned about improving Sri Lanka’s relations with the international community.
Q: When will a solution to the ethnic problem be found? It has been dragging over years and one year under your presidency. The Tamil people are yearning for a durable solution…
A:First, we must build up trust between the North and South. That is now being done through the National Integration Ministry and the Presidential Special Task Force. The needs of the Tamil people are being addressed. The remaining lands of those people will be returned at the earliest.
The investigations on the disappeared persons will also be expedited early to take remedial measures. While strengthening the trust between the North and South, we will go for a political solution acceptable to all people in this country to live with equal status.
Q: Will you release the remaining Tamil political prisoners offering a presidential amnesty to mark the completion of first year in office as President?
A:There are no political prisoners in this country. There are LTTE suspects and convicts in the prisons. Mahinda Rajapaksa released 12,000 such LTTE cadres. No one criticized him. When I released over 50 suspects against whom no evidence was available, the Opposition made a big hue and cry. We must not play politics with the future of those prisoners. I will follow the procedures in granting presidential amnesty. I will seek the advice of the Attorney-General. I don’t want to keep innocent people in prison.
Q: The people who elected you to office say that you are slow in acting against corrupt persons of the previous regime. So why don’t you speed up the process?
A:I was not elected to take revenge on people. The Prime Minister and I do not interfere with the law enforcement authorities. A government must be disciplined and the respective law enforcement authorities and the judiciary must be free to exercise their powers. We have appointed a Presidential Commission to try those corrupt persons. The Police and the CID too are probing such charges.
I cannot ask them to speed up the process. They will probe and act accordingly. I was not elected to act with vengeance and imprison people in an arbitrary manner. The Prime Minister and I practice disciplined policies in governance. That is why my government is titled Yahapalanaya (Good Governance).