‘Janaka Perera should have  contested with us’
: Mahindananda Aluthgamage

Mahindananda Aluthgamage, minister of power and energy, who spearheaded the UPFA campaign in the Mawanella electorate of the Kegalle district, speaks to C.A.Chandraprema about the recently concluded PC elections and the allegations of election malpractices. He admits that the people of Sabaragamuwa were not happy with the chief minister, but that the people had given their votes to the president and not to the chief ministerial candidate. He also speaks of the differences between former president Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapakse, through his personal experience of having worked closely with both leaders.

Q. The results of the Sabaragamuwa and NCP elections came as a shock to the opposition and as a pleasant surprise to the government. How do you feel about what happened?

A. We were expecting a result like this. We knew for certain that the government was going to win. A provincial council election is not a decisive election that leads to a change of governments. But from the time these elections were announced, it assumed the proportions of an election that would decide the fate of the government. The president spoke only at four meetings and what he told the public was that we have already cleared the east and that the forces were closing in on Killinochchi and that the government needed the support of the people to solve this problem once and for all. The people responded to that call. This election was crucial to the UNP. Just before the elections were called, another rebellion against Ranil Wickremesinghe got under way and the pro-Ranil faction did their level best to win, because they knew that if they lose this as well, that would mean that Wickremesinghe was on his way out. These elections were crucial to the JVP as well because with the split in the party and Wimal Weerawansa breaking away to form a new party, the Anura Dissanayake faction in the party wanted to show that the JVP was still strong. So we saw the JVP doing their level best to get the maximum votes. Despite all this, we were very confident that the government would win, because the people want to see and end to the war. I went to all four districts and what the people told us was that the cost of living was high but that that wanted a country to live in, so they will undergo all hardships in order to safeguard the country. Ranil Wickremesinghe alleged during the election campaign that the government was using thuggery on a massive scale. But it was Wickremesinghe who brought this element to this election. In Ratnapura, at the first UNP rally he said "I have put one shot to Sabaragamuwa and gun shot to the NCP" When ‘gun shot’ held his first press conference, what he said was that he has already fought Prabhakaran and that Berty is not a big man for him, and that by hook or by crook, he is going to win this. That was a signal given to UNPers to do anything to win.

Q. Even though the polling was peaceful and no ballot boxes were ‘lifted’ after polling closed, both the UNP and the JVP refuse to accept the final count.

A. If we were in the opposition, we would do the same kind of thing. After losing, they say that the stickers were not pasted in the proper manner and that after bringing in the boxes, they were kept in a separate room in the counting centre and that no one was looking after them. This is nonsense, If we could win elections in this manner, we need not spend a cent on the election campaign or do any development work. My ministry alone spent over 1200 million Ruppees on rural electrification schemes in these four districts within a very short period. In addition, there were maga neguma and gama neguma projects in these areas. If we can fill the boxes the way the UNP alleges, then we need not paste posters, have meetings, and bring the president to these meetings, with all the security risks involved. All we need to do will be to fill the boxes. So what the UNP is saying is all nonsense. This is a genuine result. But I have to admit, that this was a vote given to Mahinda Rajapake and not necessarily to the two chief ministerial candidates. When I went to work in Sabaragamuwa, there were shortcomings in the provincial council administration. The roads were in a state of disrepair, and the people were a bit angry with the provincial ministers. The people gave this mandate to Mahinda Rajapakse.

Q. It is well known that many UNPers have problems with their leadership. But even such people seem to feel that a government that has been in power for fourteen years, can’t be winning like this without something fishy going on.

A. Then how did the UNP win the 2001 parliamentary election? Did the UNP also win that through some underhand means? They won that election because the economy collapsed and there were multiple failures on the war front. The people felt that our government was not in a position to run the country, so they voted against us. That’s how the system works. I must say that fielding Janaka Perera was a good decision that the UNP made. But Janaka Perera made a mistake by contesting with the UNP. He should have contested with us, because it is we who are going to win the war. When Janaka and Ramanayake were made the chief ministerial candidates, some UNPers began questioning "Why did you bring in outsiders? Why didn’t you field candidates from the same districts?" There were campaigns against both Janaka and Ramanayake from within the UNP itself. So the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe intervened personally and requested all UNPers to give one preferential vote to the chief ministerial candidates. So it turns out that Ranjan Ramanayake’s preferential votes number 130,000 and the next on the UNP list after him has got 36,000. Janaka Perera got 116,000 the candidate next on the list has got only 27,000. But on our list, Berty got 106,000 and the candidate next to him got 68,000. The reason why the UNP candidates got so many votes is because of the party leader’s campaign on their behalf. I agree that Janaka might get some votes on his own account, but not Ranjan Ramanayake. Janaka got so many votes because this was his first election. But Berty has been in Anuradhapura for twenty years and has been chief minister for three years. If Janaka Perera contests the next parliamentary elections, he will not poll the same number of preferential votes.

Q. You have served under both president Chandrika Kumaratunga and president Rajapakse. What are the differences that you see in these two leaders?

A. My policy is always to be with the leader and the party. When President Cahndrika Kumaratunga was leading this party, I was with her. When president Rajapakse is leading the party, I am fully with him. My father was an MP and he was with Mr S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike in the 1950s. I have worked with Madame Chandrika Bandaranaike and I have worked with president Mahinda Rajapakse also. President Rajapakse is a very strong leader, endowed with a great deal of patience and courage. To give you one example, I have held the power and energy portfolio under both Madame Chandrika and president Rajapakse. Those days, we made repeated appeals to Madame Chandrika to start the Norochcholai power project. Mrs Kumaratunga prevaricated saying that the Catholic vote might go against us. But when I told the same thing to president Mahinda Rajapakse, what he said was "These are national issues, forget about votes, you go ahead with Norochcholai". So he took the decision, didn’t lose the Catholic vote and the country will benefit enormously. Then we come to the war. He wanted to have discussions with the LTTE and he went for one or two sessions and he realised that they were not genuinely interested in a negotiated settlement, so he started hammering them. President Rajapakse is a first class decision maker. Another thing that I noticed in the president was that if he realises that somebody is doing a good job, he will be supported and promoted to the hilt. That was one characteristic that Madame Chandrika did not have. She got a lot of work from us, but she didn’t look after us. The president now has the idea of promoting some young professionals through the ranks of the party. Even at the last provincial council elections, when the nominations were being finalised, he was always talking about young people. What he said was that he wants to get some educated young people into politics. Under his administration, there have been no privatizations. I have not seen a leader like this. There are several large scale projects, Norochcholai, Kelawarapitiya, the harbours and in addition to all that, there is a lot of work going on at the village level as well under the maga neguma and gama neguma programmes. Madame Kumaratunga was more urban centered, but president Rajapakse is doing everything for the rural people. That is the difference between the two leaders. What we have at present, is a very good leader. Anybody can meet him – he is one of the most accessible leaders that we have ever had. If you want to be a good leader, you have to be a good listener. He’s a good listener.

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