|Cohabitation on firm footing Mahinda
SI: What do you consider to be the most important challenges you have to face at this point?
MR: The greatest challenge is of course is to bring peace to the North and East. We fully support all efforts to bring about peace. At the same time, it is important that the security of all people is ensured, regardless of whether they are Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim. I consider it my responsibility to draw the attention of the government to this issue.
Then there are the local government elections. It is not a secret that post-election violence has still not been brought to a halt. There are hundreds of PA supporters who are still under arrest. Among them are candidates, provincial councilors, and organizers. The challenge is to create a climate where people can vote against the government without fear of retribution. Relations between the government and the opposition have been generally cordial. The "Cohabitation arrangement" as it is called, between the PA President and the UNF government seems to be on a firm footing. Still it is not enough for the leaders to be nice to each other. The "cohabitation" should take place right down the line to the grassroots level.
I also have before me the task of bringing together all the forces which are opposed to this government. This is of course not an easy task, but again, I believe that open discussion among the opposition will bear fruit. Sometimes the differences between political parties are not serious to the extent that even the idea sounds stupid. However, there are a number of issues about which the positions taken by these parties are more or less the same.
SI: There has been a lot of speculation about who the next leader of the PA was going to be. In addition to yourself, Anura Bandaranaikes and Ratnasiri Wickramanayakes names were mentioned, especially when it came to the opposition leaders post. Last Sunday, Anura Bandaranaike told the Sunday Island that he believes he is the most qualified to be the PAs next presidential candidate. In fact he dismissed you rather bluntly, saying that you would be a "good deputy". What are your views on the matter?
MR: Right now there are more important things to worry about, arent there?
People are free to express their opinion. About the partys next presidential candidate....all I can say is that he will be chosen by the Central Committee, which will be influenced by the rank and file of the party. I know there is talk about factions and dissention etc., but as I said earlier, I believe that difference of opinion is not necessarily bad and that many issues can be resolved through open discussion.
SI: During the last election, the JVP, in spite of its parivasa arrangement with the PA, campaigned to defeat what they described as the "Ali-koti havula" and the "Rata ke putu havula". They have been clear, therefore, about their position vis a vis the PA. What is the PAs position with regard to the JVP now?
MR: As Leader of the Opposition, I consider it my responsibility to maintain a healthy dialogue with all parties. We have all got to understand that we have to work together. If the JVP thinks it can do it alone, that would be nave. Similarly, the PA should not think that it can go alone either. During the election, people were saying all kinds of things about the PAs relationship with the JVP. Some thought it was good, others were more wary. Where the views coincide it is logical to work together. Still, as a party, one should be careful not to allow the partys support base to get eroded.
SI: Would you consider the December 5th result as an indication that the President had lost her mandate?
MR: No, she didnt contest, did she?
SI: She didnt, true. At the same time, wasnt it an indictment of her policy, considering that her party lost?
MR: Actually you cannot blame her alone. We are all responsible. We made mistakes. When we came to power in 1994, we made promises, people placed their faith in us. For a number of reasons, we didnt deliver. You cant trace all that back to just one person.
SI: How do you explain the PA and the UNP bungling with the nominations to such a large number of local government bodies?
MR: Most of the rejections were because of technicalities. The system is a mess. There is an inordinate amount of paper work. Although these parties have a long history, these things are not handled by the same people. Inexperience would have also been a factor.
SI: Would you like to speculate about the outcome?
MR: You are asking me about what will happen? We are contesting this election in a climate where the violence unleashed on our party and its supporters has not stopped. As I said earlier, more than one thousand activists, including key organizers, members elected to local government bodies, provincial councils and the parliament are under arrest. Even our national organizer has been arrested.
SI: You are characterized as the heir to the nationalist thrust of the SLFP. It is argued that the Bandaranaike policies cannot work in todays globalised political and economic climate. How do you see these things?
MR: We have to understand that globalisation is not some kind of magical phenomenon that showers prosperity on all. There are at least a good 60% of the people who do not benefit or worse, suffer from these processes. Sixty percent (or even more, according to some studies) is not a small number that can be dismissed easily. We have to find a way of ensuring that these people are also looked after. As to your characterization of me as a "traditionalist", I would say that I am not tied to tradition, neither am I a slave to all the things that are described under the word "globalisation".
Tradition is important because it is who we are and it is only if we are conscious of who we are that we are able to use globalisation to our benefit. Otherwise we would be blind and would say "yes" to everything, much of which might be harmful.
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