Decision to abstain was the need for stable Govt - Minister Faiszer Mustapha | Sunday Observer

Decision to abstain was the need for stable Govt - Minister Faiszer Mustapha

Provincial Council and Local Government Minister Faiszer Mustapha, explaining their stance at the crucial vote on the No Confidence Motion against the Prime Minister on April 4 said, they believe a stable government is more important at this point of time, hence their decision to abstain from voting.

Denying accusations that they backtracked from a collective decision to vote for the NCM, he said, the President gave everyone the freedom to vote according to their conscience.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said, he opposed any move to hold the Provincial Council election under the former system.” ..if we go back to the preferential system, we would be breaching the people’s mandate,” he stressed.

Q. A Cabinet reshuffle is imminent within the course of this week, what changes are envisaged at this reshuffle?

A. I didn’t get involved in the reshuffle, therefore it is not proper for me to comment on that. It doesn’t happen like that in the SLFP, we have given the President a free hand to make the changes he pleases. We believe it is the prerogative of the President. I don’t go with a begging bowl pleading for portfolios.

Q. Is there an intention on the part of the SLFP to take over more portfolios, to retain some of the subjects with the President?

A. Nothing to that effect has been discussed so far.

Q. The 16 SLFP Ministers who voted in favour of the NCM against the PM has requested the President to relieve them of the Ministries. What will happen to the government if they decide to leave?

A: The SLFP is a party, portfolios are part of the government. They have the freedom to hand over the portfolios or remain in the government. The President will ensure the party is intact, regardless of whether they voted for, against or abstained from voting on the No Confidence Motion.

Q. Do you think their action might weaken the hold of the President?

A. No, I don’t think so. The entire 41 SLFP members stand by the President irrespective of how they had behaved when the NCM was taken up.

Q. Some of the SLFP Ministers who voted for the NCM claimed that all SLFP MPs were supposed to have taken their stance, yet you back tracked at the last minute. Your comments?

A. No, that is incorrect, we abstained because we thought we needed a stable government at this point of time. I have not violated party discipline by abstaining from voting.

Q. Do you still believe the Prime Minister must step down?

A. We made a request as a party and it was not agreed upon. Anyone can ask me to step down, that is different from an NCM, that is more of a consensus approach. There is a clear distinction between the two. The President’s request was also a consensus approach.

Q. Constitutionally, can there be a General Election this year?

A. No. A general election cannot be held till next year. According to the Constitution, a general election cannot be called before the lapse of four and a half years from the last general election. But, if two thirds of the Parliament agrees that they want a fresh general election, then we can dissolve Parliament.

Q.There are ongoing reforms within the UNP. In line with these reforms a 12 member politburo has been appointed. In a secret vote, the General Secretary Kabir Hashim and the UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrema have resigned. As a member of the consensus government how do you feel about these changes?

A. I don’t wish to comment on the affairs of another party, it is not right for me to comment on those developments.

Q. There is an ongoing discussion among political parties led by the UNP to hold the upcoming Provincial Council election under the old system. Does the SLFP support this move?

A. We can make amendments to the new Act that was passed in Parliament. But if we go back to the preferential system, we would be breaching the people’s mandate.

Q. There had been a meeting in this regard in Parliament chaired by the Prime Minister on Friday?

A. I did not take part in that meeting as I was unwell. I would not know what happened there. Just because the political parties could not get their pound of flesh or the votes in this case, neither the people nor the system should be held responsible. I do not support the idea to revert to the old system to hold PC elections. I would however support amendments to the present system.

Q. How soon will that process begin?

A. The President has already issued a statement on his stance. In terms of what the President has said the number of councillors must be reduced, to do that we need to combine certain Wards.

A broader consensus among the political parties is a must to bring in the necessary amendments to the law. We can look into combining two or three Wards into one, I believe that is the only prudent way to move forward.

Q. Do you think the minority parties will support this proposal?

A. The minority parties always ask for their pound of flesh, except for the JVP and a few others, the majority of the minority parties are based on ethnicity. It is sad that most of the time they look at things from an ethnic perspective. It is time they look at a political system beneficial to the public at large and take a stand. Ethnic representation is important but it is not everything. I have contested twice and won with the help of large numbers of Sinhalese and Tamil votes. I have not been dependent on one particular community to do politics.

The Sri Lankan voter today is much wiser. I am proud to say, among Sri Lankan politicians I have been secular and shown it through action. I always believe in a national identity.

Q. Do you think merging Wards will be a successful solution to get out of the present crisis?

A. That may be one option. Delimitation is another option but definitely we have to reduce the number of members.

Q. Through experience we know a fresh delimitation takes years to complete.

A. We have four years till the next local government election. This particular issue of the number of members is related to local government election.

Q.You were part of the state delegation to Geneva to attend the March regular sessions of the UNHRC. What was your role there?

A. I was specifically sent there to address the President’s concerns and articulate clearly his position on the foreign judges. Resolution 30/1 was misrepresented to say that we allow adjudication by foreign judges. We clearly said the reconciliation process would be done within the parameters of the Constitution, within the four walls of our Constitution. I ensured that in our statement to the UNHRC the message of the President was made clear, that our Constitution does not provide for adjudication by foreign judges. This was the first time his message was put across so clearly.

Collectively, the Sri Lankan team, with the Foreign Minister, had a very good consensus building effort in Geneva.

Q. Is it correct to say your Geneva visit, which fell hot on the heels of the riots in Kandy, was also connected to it?

A. Yes, it was. The international community was disturbed about it. What they said was that the government and the police could have acted more swiftly. I am ashamed that such incidents had occurred under our government. We could have controlled the situation better had we acted more responsibly.

Even though curfew and an Emergency were enforced, you could see mobs walking on the street. In fact the police had been watching when there were attacks. And also, innocent civilians were attacked, I have photographs and footage of those incidents. I asked the Law and Order Minister to take action, and if he fails to take action I would facilitate a fundamental rights application against the police and the government despite being a member of the government.

The Constitution says the minorities in the country have equal rights. I am a member representing the minority community. Muslims are here largely because the Arab traders married Sinhalese women. So I have Sinhalese blood in me as much as the Sinhalese of this country. Moreover, the main mosque in Kandy, Meera Makkam Mosque was a gift by the Maligawa. Kandy has always been an example for communal harmony.

I have travelled all over the world but I have not met a community that practises kindness and compassion the way the Buddhists do. Such violent acts have no place in Buddhism. Buddhism does not belong only to Buddhists, it is a way of life. I have learnt from Buddhist teachings.

We gave a pledge to the international community that any lapse on the part of the state apparatus will be looked into. And now, we know there was a political agenda behind the riots.