Govt cannot be changed through LG polls - Minister Gayantha Karunatilleka | Sunday Observer

Govt cannot be changed through LG polls - Minister Gayantha Karunatilleka

Minister of Lands and Parliamentary Reforms, Gayantha Karunatilleka says, it is no secret the people are well aware that neither the President, Prime Minister nor the Government can be changed through an LG election. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said, at present, the SLFP has been split into various factions and some are going after the betel leaf while others are supporting the Pohottuwa. The UNP is the only party which has not been divided, and functions under one leader, one symbol and one colour. The National Unity Government was formed through a consensus reached between the two main political parties, which has no legal binding. Both, the President and the Prime Minister have categorically stated that this Government cannot be toppled until 2020.

Q. How is your campaign progressing, for the forthcoming LG polls which is just three weeks away?

A. The UNP has launched its election campaign in a systematic manner. First, we gave priority to select the best and most suitable candidates. The candidates we selected are no offenders, nor are there any charges or allegations against them. We have put forward a large number of educated young male and female candidates. As a result, the people are rallying round the UNP, extending their support. The Prime Minister made it compulsory to have 25 percent women representation at the LG elections, so we can witness its positive results. A large number of women are entering politics with much enthusiasm. This is the first time that such a large number of candidates are contesting the LG elections. As a mainstream political party, we were able to successfully submit our nomination lists to almost all LG bodies without a single list being rejected. We launched our election campaign giving priority to house to house campaigns. During its short tenure in office, this Government has completed over Rs 2.5 to 3 million worth development work in each Grama Niladari division.

The President and Prime Minister have laid key emphasis to give benefits to the people. A Rs.10,000 pay hike was given to public servants while the price of a litre of petrol was reduced by Rs.33, which is being enjoyed by the consumers over the past three years. Also, a nutrition package is given to pregnant mothers and the prices of a large number of drugs drastically reduced. All these have been done without any media shows, banners or cutouts. Our candidates and their supporters through house to house campaigns educate the people on these welfare measures taken by the Government. In addition, we are organizing medium scale political meetings to educate the public. We launched our maiden national level rally at Kandy on January 18 under the patronage of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe which was attended by a mammoth crowd. It is evident that the UNP would achieve a clear victory at the forthcoming LG polls. According to past experience, the prevailing trend in the country is that a majority of LG bodies would be captured by the party which leads the Government. The people are well aware that the President, Prime Minister or the Government cannot be changed through an LG election. Therefore, they always vote for the party in power.

Q. There is a perception that the Bond Commission report had adversely affected the UNP and its chances at the LG polls. Do you agree with this view?

A. I don’t think it would have any impact on the UNP vote base. As the main coalition party of the Government, it would pave the way to increase the UNP’s vote base. This is a Government which took immediate measures to investigate any allegations levelled against fraud. The Prime Minister voluntarily appeared before the Bond Commission to give evidence. This is good governance. When various allegations of fraud and malpractices such as Hedging and MiG deals were levelled during the tenure of the former Government, no action was taken to investigate them. If such frauds were reported those days, we know what would have happened to the journalists. It is our view that anybody held responsible for this Bond scam should be punished, and those who committed wrong in the present or the previous Government should be brought to book.

Q. Although Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has instructed UNP members not to criticize the President and other SLFP leaders, many SLFP Ministers are directing harsh criticism against the UNP leadership, especially, over the bond issue. How will this affect the UNP at the LG elections?

A. This is a National Government formed with the combination of two main political parties, UNP and SLFP. Those in the Government have no right whatsoever to criticize the President or the Prime Minister. Although the President is the SLFP leader, yet, he is our President and so is the Prime Minister.

We have to realize this. I think no UNP MP has a moral right to criticize the President, nor an SLFP MP to criticize the Prime Minister, while holding portfolios in this Government.

Q. Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna is already claiming they will become the second political force in Colombo and other parts of the country. Do you think they would be able to match this rhetoric at the LG polls?

A. If they couldn’t do all this when they had executive power, family rule, and the control of the three armed forces, the economy and Parliament under the Rajapaksa brothers, how can they become the second political force now? With all these powers at their disposal, the previous Government had to pack up and go home two years ago. Now what can they do? Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already quit his post. The former President was in fact ousted by his own party General Secretary.

Q. Both, the Joint Opposition and the JVP have questioned the legality of the Government since the UNP-SLFP MoU has expired on December 31, 2017. Your comments?

A. Actually this Government was formed as a result of the consensus reached between the two main political parties. It was done through an MoU signed between two parties, which carries no legal binding. Therefore, it is valid even today. Both, the President and the Prime Minister have categorically stated,this Government cannot be toppled until 2020.

There is no hindrance to hold ministerial and deputy ministerial portfolios in this Government, it is entirely decided by the President and the Prime Minister. Those who kept mum when all key ministerial portfolios were given to the Rajapaksa family members during the previous regime are surprisingly making a big hue and cry today. We really sympathize with them.

Q. There are two views with regard to the length of the Bond Commission report with the President saying it comprises 6,000 pages, while the version given to Parliament has 1,152 pages. How do you explain this discrepancy, is there any attempt to hide certain parts of the report?

A. There is nothing to hide in this report. As he was informed by the President’s Secretary, the Speaker explained this in Parliament on January 24. In future, all the contents of the Bond Commission report will be released to the MPs and we have nothing to hide. The full report will be tabled in Parliament shortly.

Q. With increasing tensions between the UNP and the SLFP, do you think the National Unity Government can last until 2020?

A. Some UNP MPs may express their personal opinions, some of our supporters said they wanted to see a ‘green government’ formed after the 2015 General Elections. Even before the General Elections, the Prime Minister categorically stated, even if the UNP gets a two thirds majority, it would go for a National Government. We agreed to work together to sort out several key issues of national importance, such as, changing the electoral system and providing a lasting political solution to the Northern problem. We should join hands to accomplish this task.

We would be able to complete the full term of the Government. If somebody attempts to sabotage the forward march of the Government, the UNP would decide what should be done at that juncture.

It is the UNP which has the majority to form a Government. The Prime Minister at the UNP Working Committee instructed UNP MPs not to criticize the President.

I think the SLFP too would follow suit. This is the first time that two major political parties which have completely divergent policies joined hands to form a National Government.

Q. Do you see the LG polls as a sort of referendum on the Government’s performance as described by the JO and the JVP?

A. The opposition political parties see this LG election as a referendum. When the UNP wins the election, they would see which political party has the majority power. The JO and the JVP would also witness their vote base eroded.

Those in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna think all SLFPers are with them. The SLFPers will never forget the colour and the symbol of their party. The UNP also faced a similar situation in the past when a group of UNPers quit and formed a new political party. Finally, they all rejoined the UNP. These new political parties are only a temporary arrangement. All those who left the SLFP also finally came back to the party. The people would be able to see the results of the ‘referendum’ on February 10 midnight. The UNP would gain the majority number of votes throughout the country, as the party with a farsighted vision.

Q. There are reports that male candidates of all political parties are intimidating the female candidates. What are the steps the UNP has taken to avoid this situation?

A. The UNP’s women candidates have not faced any such intimidation. Our women candidates have launched a very effective campaign in their electorates. The UNP has put forward educated and professional women as candidates. There were many requests from women to contest the LG polls. We selected the best, those most suitable to serve the public.