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Ranil not trustworthy - Rajiv

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
pic by Avinash Bandara

Liberal Party President Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha speaks to Sunday Observer staffer Ranga Jayasuriya on why Liberals disagree with UNP policies on the economic and ethnic fronts.

Question: The Prime Minister is leading a broad electoral alliance which consists of groups and individuals representing different political ideologies. Don't you think that this would one day lead to inner contradictions within his alliance, if he is elected?

Answer: Not at all. The whole point of a coalition government in any country is to work on areas where you can work together and try to compromise on areas where you don't agree and obviously not to take radical measures, where you remain to disagree. And from the way the manifesto is formed, I think it is clear that this can be done.

Another point is the manifesto is drafted by Nivad Cabraal, who we know is quite a liberal on economy.

If you look at the manifesto, where there are certain commitments on non-privatization of public ventures, which we would quite like to be considered, but i think that is an area where compromise is acceptable.

Q: What are Liberals chances of being heard in a future Rajapakse Adminstration, given the fact that Rajapakse got some radical parties like the JVP and the JHU in his electoral alliance?

A: We don't bargain, our principle is that when we support someone, and when there is limited choice, we go for the one who is better.

To bargain we do not have an electorate, and we have always adopted a principle which, I think the JHU did this time as well, that is if there is a choice between two people and one is better than the other you have to support him. And in a globalized world , I think the liberal party could be significant.

Q: Mr Rajapakse has rejected federalism in favour of the Unitary state. Liberal's position?

A: I don't think it is, particularly an important point. The important point here is devolution. Its form is irrelevant.I think we agree on devolution and specially, devolution of power to the most important unit, citizen. I don't know wether this is done partly after discussions with us.

That is basically the principle we have always advocated which is the basis of devolution which is subsidiary.

There can be three forms of devolution.

One is the devolution with regard to the national policy at the Centre. The second is with regard to regulations and decision making on issues at smaller units. We need to have smaller units which are empowered. The third is the day to day administration of routine matters where decisions have to be made and problems have to be solved at a very smaller unit. Our Provincial Council is probably the best for that.

And whatever structure we will have, whether it is federal, unitary, you must have certain powers attached to the central government, for example defence, currency, international agreement. You must make sure that regions are represented in the centre. One of our tragedies is that for many years no representatives from the Northern or Eastern provinces or the Badulla District has occupied a senior decision making position.

What we really need is something akin to be the Upper House system, where there is a greater weightage for more rural areas.

Q: If Rajapakse rejects federalism, doesn't it amount to a future government backtracking its predecessor's commitment to the Oslo and Tokyo declarations?

A: As far as we can see, we had a situation where two people decided on the two ends of the line and the government moved almost to the other end of the line to appease the LTTE. That was clear not only through the SHIRAN structure, and also through the ISGA offered by Ranil, which he claimed to be the starting point, hinting that he is prepared to go further.

Mahinda's point is that he is prepared to discuss anything, but that has to be started at either end and move towards the middle.

We really have to assume not that he is refusing to negotiate, but he is saying we have to start from positions where we negotiate on equal terms.

Q: The UNP is considered as a better representative of liberal ideas in Sri Lanka than the SLFP...?.

A: I think that is a false idea. Liberalism has a basic assumption that the private sector is the engine of growth and freedom and as much as possible has to be allowed for economic activity by citizens. But unlike libertarianism, which says the State should do nothing except providing security, liberals have a very strong role for the State, even in the economy, but a small one, for instance the vital factors where the state involvement is essential, things like ensuring a level playing field, ensuring competition ensuring that all citizens can participate in the freedom that government gives you.

Unfortunately Ranil's own philosophy, I think has been libertarian rather than liberal. Ranil says "I am concentrating on economy, if economy grows everything will be taken care of itself". That is not always true.

Liberals' point of view is that you follow the idea of economic growth, you make sure that true private activities causes it to grow , but you adopt a state policy which ensures that the weakest do not suffer.

The way this is worked out in practice is that state intervention is designed to facilitate not to subsidise, because by facilitating, you strengthen the weakest, you have to target and support the worst off and you have to empower them. Amongst the most important aspects in a liberal philosophy are things like education and infrastructure development in the areas which don't have it.

It is useless to say let the investor decide where he invests, because then all will invest in the western province.

Another thing which convinced us that the man (Ranil) could not be trusted was that the very clear declaration that democracy might not be suitable. There he advocated South Korea under a military dictatorship or Vietnam as a communist country as model states. Liberals are not going to do that. I don't know why people assume Ranil as liberal.

I am worried, a libertarian can easily move towards authoritarianism.

Q: You earlier said you were one who voted for Ranil last time in good faith, but now regretted the decision. Don't you think that there are some salient achievements of the Wickremesinghe administration at least on the peace front?

A: No. At that stage anyone would have got it (ceasefire). It was absolutely clear at the end of 2001, the LTTE was in a very vulnerable position due to global feeling against any kind of terrorism in the back drop of the 9/11 attack .

The LTTE also had lost a lot of cadres and needed time for training and the third is the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol unit, which inflicted heavy damage on the Tigers.

So the LTTE ceasefire was forced. And peace dividends should have been invested in the North- East, and the private sector should have been used to invest in the North-East. Instead of that, Ranil entrusted all the authority in the hands of Bradman Weerakon who proved totally incompetent. Anton Balasingham's letter was a stunning indictment of total lack of humanitarian work, which is true.

Ranil effectively destroyed what I would call the effects of ceasefire in terms of winning hearts and minds.

The second point is under the guise of the Ceasefire, he allowed the Tigers to strengthen immeasurably. It was a boost to the LTTE.

Q: Liberal Party is more a think tank than a political party. So what kind of proposals do you have for Rajapakse.

A: I think we need to have strong constitutional reforms. we already have given proposals on two major areas: one is electoral reforms and the other on some of the principles involving devolution. If you are to have devolution, you should maximise the part of people. If there is democracy, one would be happier to give powers to the smaller unit. No one wants to give power to an authoritarian unselected regime.

We are also working on some proposals on education reforms and some aspects of regional development and issues dealing with minorities.

Q: How do you feel now, having interacted with the Prime Minister and put your party's strength behind him?

A: I am happier with our choice now than when I first proposed to support him at our Executive Committee.

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