In an interview with the Weekend Nation, Minister of Higher Education and Highways Lakshman Kiriella opened out on the proposed new constitution, current political developments as well as future political changes.
Following are the excerpts:
Q: The present fortunes of the Yahapalana government are not favourable. Is it?
Not at all! Our fortunes are very favourable. This opinion is held by those who miserably failed going behind bogus astrologers.
Q: But some say the government is very unstable.
We won two elections – Presidential as well as General elections. It is the proof of our stability and popularity. On the eve of every budget the Joint Opposition always claims our government would collapse. Such predictions are only a pipe dream.
Q: Though you claim that there are no conflicts within the coalition, in fact there are many issues. Do you deny it?
Ours is a national government consisting of a coalition of many parties. So it is natural to have such disagreements within. But finally we come to a consensus. That’s how it should happen.
Q: Is it true that there will be a cabinet reshuffle soon?
To my knowledge there is no such plan.
Q: Do you agree that there are conflicts of opinion between the President and the Prime Minister on certain decisions?
There may be such minor differences. The President has powers to overrule any decision and take his own decision. That is the reason why we want to abolish the executive presidency.
Q: Can the UNP abolish the executive presidency as the SLFP does not subscribe to that opinion?
You have to realize that the SLFP does not have a people’s mandate. It was defeated twice at the elections. We only have the mandate going by the election results. All constituent parties should respect to it. We had a clear mandate to abolish the executive presidency, restore the parliamentary system of governance and to offer a reasonable solution to the North and East.
We had overwhelming support from the North and East for the changes we expressed in our manifesto. Though we are thankful to the SLFP for being a part of our coalition, they have to comply with the mandate the UNP received as the people overwhelmingly voted for our proposals.
Q: Your party couldn’t receive a clear majority in Parliament through that mandate but you could form the Yahapalana Government with the support of the SLFP Parliamentarians.
The leaders of both parties clearly stated on election platforms to give them a mandate to form a unity government. The Prime Minister promised the voters at election rallies he would form a national government even if he received a two-thirds majority in Parliament. So our party is committed to such a coalition and requests other partners of the coalition to cooperate.
Q: You have promised that this government would offer a solution beyond the 13th Amendment.
No. That is not the truth. What I said was that it was Mahinda Rajapaksa who first promised a solution that went beyond 13. Even now the parties in the Parliamentary Select committee question it. We discussed his proposal at the Select Committee. Mr. R.Sambanthan often reminds it at the committee.
Q: Some say certain clauses in the proposed constitution are not suitable.
There are different misconceptions about it. So far we have not discussed a single clause of the new constitution at the committee. During the past few months the steering committee made seven reports.
Q: What are the contents of those reports?
Those reports contain the proposals forwarded to us. They are not final reports. They will be forwarded to Parliament and discussed openly. We will reveal them to the public. Two Constitutions were promulgated in the country. But we are going to form the new constitution more openly than the previous occasions. Parliament takes the final decision after sufficient discussions. This exercise is done very openly and this is unprecedented.
Q: Ven. Rathana says the new constitution is harmful to the unitary status of the country.
How can he give his views on such a viewpoint to a Constitution which is only at the proposal stage? As a member of the steering committee I affirm that not a single clause has been formulated. Ven Rathna should not entertain any fear because we don’t hide anything.
Q: Is it true that to get GSP+ concession you had to agree to 57 conditions?
No. the government has not agreed to any condition. This is the view of ignorant people. We have received only some proposals. Our country has signed all UN conventions on human rights. They have only referred to those conditions. They have no right to influence us. We have not implemented some of them. But no time frame has been set to implement them.
Q: The Joint Opposition has planned to hold a rally on the 27th.
Being a political party rallies are part and parcel of it. They can’t rest at home. Let them have that freedom.
Q: Doesn’t it bring any pressure on the government?
What nonsense. How many rallies did the Joint Opposition hold? How many foot parades did they hold sweating in the sun? Did it have any effect on the government? Let them keep busy with that nonsense. We only work for the country and its welfare.
(Translated by Ananda Elkaduwa)