Published in the Nation on October 9, 2016.
Former Minister and Parliamentarian, Basil Rajapaksa has decided to clear the air over the formation of a new political party and claims that it is the people who had called for a new force to combat the government.
In an interview to Weekend Nation, Rajapaksa speaks about the process towards forming a new party and responds to allegations of striking a deal with the United National Party (UNP).
Following are excerpts:
Q. There are confusions over the formation of a new party. There is also speculation that you have already decided on the name and the symbol. What is the exact situation?
Right now we are in the process of obtaining suggestions from the public for a name for the new party. We are yet to decide on the name and symbol.
I’m not authorized to speak on behalf of the Joint Opposition. But I would like to tell you that there is a huge anti government sentiment that has been expressed by the people from all over the country.
This government has forgotten the masses. By masses I mean the people who are the backbone of this country. This government has completely ignored the agricultural sector, including fisheries. The plantation sector is reeling. The agriculture sector has recorded a -5.6% growth.
Look at the estate sector. Their wages are generally increased every year. But under this government, their wages have not been increased for the past two years and their collective agreement has not been renewed. This is the situation that our country is in at the moment.
There is a lot of pressure on the farmers in the North as well. Some politicians have politicized their issues. But, the people are fed up of the policies of the present government.
This kind of a situation is compelling us towards forming a new party and a new force to defeat this government.
Q. There are allegations that you are responsible for dividing the SLFP, since you are spearheading this campaign against the government. What do you have to say about it?
That is a matter of how you interpret it. Whether or not I am dividing the party is not relevant to the people.
The question here is who is going to represent the views of the masses. The UNP and the SLFP are both in the government. You have the official Opposition which is supportive of the government. The JVP too is unofficially working with the government. The JVP leader is heading committees appointed by the Cabinet, which means he is part of the Executive. If you look at it, all the four major parties and others like the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) are with the government.
In this context, who represents the views of the people who are not happy about the country’s or the government’s progress?
If they think that I am leading this and I am responsible for this, then all I can say is they are being fooled. They are badly mistaken.
Q. There are members of the Joint Opposition who are not for a formation of a new party. How are you going to handle such an issue?
As I said before, I cannot speak on behalf of other members of the Joint Opposition. All views have to be given thought. However, if there are such sentiments, then we can always discuss and debate and come to an agreement.
What is important here is that it is the people who need a new leadership and a new force to counter this government.
There are examples of several parties coming together to form a coalition. They do it for many reasons. Then there are occasions when certain disgruntled members move away from the coalition and form separate parties.
In this case, it is the people who need a new leadership.
Q. Wouldn’t this issue within the SLFP be beneficial to the UNP?
Actually the people will not divide based on the party. It will be pro-government and anti-government. You will see the real picture at the next cooperative election.
Q. There are also allegations that you have struck a deal with the UNP. Your response?
I categorically deny this allegation. I am against this government. However, the official deal has already been made between the UNP and the SLFP and it is out in the open.
As far as I am concerned, there is no split within the party.
Q. How do you say that?
The SLFP which is now in the government is just the name. The policies and the membership are with Mahinda Rajapaksa. The SLFP was formed because there was a vacuum for such a party. The people needed a voice. Those days every government employee would get letters and communiqués in English. There was no room for Sinhala and Tamil. People needed a change from that system and the SLFP took up that responsibility.
Q. Can you explain about the rally by the members of the Joint-Opposition in Ratnapura. What is the significance of this rally? And what do you expect to come out of this campaign?
We have been having rallies around the country after the Presidential election on January 8, 2015 and the General election in August last year. However, we have expedited meetings and rallies after the removal of 41 SLFP District and Electoral Organisers.
We had our first meeting in Homagama and the second in Weligama. This time we planned to have the meeting in Eheliyagoda. However, the crowd participating is much larger than we earlier anticipated and therefore has been shifted to the main town in Ratnapura.
What was planned as a rally within the electorate has now evolved into a District level campaign.
Apart from the political parties which are with us, there are numerous organizations and institutions that have pledged their cooperation and have agreed to be part of the whole movement against this government.
(Pix by Chathura S. Kodikara)