No decision yet on Joint Opposition Presidential Candidate : We will work to repeal 19A to bring Mahinda back - Welgama | Sunday Observer

No decision yet on Joint Opposition Presidential Candidate : We will work to repeal 19A to bring Mahinda back - Welgama

UPFA Kalutara District MP Kumara Welgama
UPFA Kalutara District MP Kumara Welgama

Sharp divisions were highlighted this week within the Joint Opposition, over the question of who will be its presidential candidate in 2019. JO Kalutara District MP Kumara Welgama was thrust into the spotlight when he took aim against those aiming to bring about “Hitler’s rule” in the island’s south, a thinly veiled reference to former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidential aspirations. In an interview with the Sunday Observer this week, Welgama insisted the attack was not a personal reference but added that he was completely opposed to dictatorial rule. The JO frontliner also admitted that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the faction’s best hope for the presidency, and vowed the JO would do everything possible to remove the term restrictions in the 19th Amendment to bring him back to power

Following are excerpts from the interview:

Q. You made certain remarks indicating that fielding former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Presidential Candidate 2020 was a bad idea – can you explain?

A. I would like to categorically state that though I talked about democracy and dictatorship I didn’t make any reference to a particular individual. Still the Joint Opposition (JO) has not taken any decision on its Presidential Candidate. If anybody is committed to govern the country based on democratic principles, there won’t be any issue. I am also a true democrat. During my longstanding political career, I have seen so many democratic leaders like D.S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, J.R. Jayawardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa.

I have a certain fear that a dictatorial and military rule will be established in the country. At present, a group of retired military personnel have become prominent. If they attempt to go on different journey within the democratic framework, it would lead to anarchy in the country. Everybody should enjoy the freedom of democracy equally. There is no use if the Government cannot be criticised or demonstrations cannot be conducted. Whatever Government is in power, the people should have that freedom. If attempts are made to punish or take revenge from those who criticise the Government, it would become a serious issue. We could witness how similar situations occurred under previous governments.

Q. Some JO frontliners like MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara have proposed the name of MP Chamal Rajapaksa as the ideal candidate for 2020. Is this your view?

A. Chamal Rajapaksa is a true democrat. We could clearly witness it in Parliament when he was the Speaker. Therefore, we have no issue of even fielding him as the Presidential Candidate. But the person elected as the President should love the country and its people. I will fully oppose the election of any undemocratic leader even by sacrificing my life. We should not forget the fact that former Minister Basil Rajapaksa is a very good administrator. It is he who brought Pohottuwa to this position and ensured its victory countrywide at the recent LG polls. During my entire life, I have never seen such a master brain. He has the ability to seek our contribution without hurting our feelings. He has a vast understanding about all grassroots level members of the party. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is also one of the key stakeholders of ending the terrorist war under the leadership given by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He had power and ability to develop the Colombo city with the funds given by former President Rajapaksa.

Q. The name of Hitler has come to the scene based on the assumption that dictatorial candidates could emerge for 2020. Could you explain this?

A. Actually the name of Hitler came to the scene due to a certain remark made by a Buddhist monk at an almsgiving given by Gotabaya Rajapaksa. We are also somewhat frightened as most of those who rally round him are military officials. It is true that Sinhala people like Gotabaya Rajapaksa, but the minorities have certain fears about him. I have not commented on Gotabaya Rajapaksa or any other individual coming forward as the Presidential Candidate. But I will never extend my support to any dictator. I love my motherland. I speak as a matured politician with a lot of experience of what happened in the country over the past few decades. We should not be afraid to speak the truth.

Q. Apart from the Rajapaksa family, do you see any other emerging leaders in your camp?

A. In our camp also, there are more senior politicians than I. If they want, they can also become the Presidential Candidate with the blessings of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Even Mahinda Rajapaksa took over the leadership from former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. There are lots of veteran politicians in our side who can render a yeoman service on behalf of the country. Kumara Welgama is a very outspoken person. Some people may sling mud at me but I will never be shaken by such acts.

Q. Do you accept the SLFP 16 member group joining hands with the JO as some JO frontliners have openly criticised them for joining the JO ?

A. It is wrong to criticise the SLFP 16 member group for joining the JO. Along with these 16 MPs, the JO has 70 MPs in its camp. Otherwise, how can we act in Parliament against the Government? In order to topple the Government, we should have two thirds in Parliament. In a future election, the people would decide whether the decision taken by the SLFP 16 member group is right or wrong. If we have confrontations among us, how can we successfully move forward? Therefore, all 70 MPs in the JO should act in unison.

Q. Is there any truth in the speculation that some MPs like Dayasiri Jayasekara in the SLFP 16 member group are trying to rejoin the Government?

A. Dayasiri Jayasekara may attempt to become the SLFP General Secretary. I hope after he takes over the General Secretary post, he would back a Common Candidate.

Q. The SLFP Ministers in the Government like Duminda Dissanayake say that President Maithripala Sirisena would be the SLFP Presidential Candidate for 2020. Your comments?

A. The country’s people have rejected the President. He is a leader who is not capable enough to fulfill a task and comes to know everything through newspapers. He has failed to govern the country properly. He can never win contesting as the Common Candidate.

Q. Who in your opinion is the ideal person in your camp to come forward as the Presidential Candidate in 2020?

A. Mahinda Rajapaksa is the best candidate in our side. He is a full fledged democrat. However, there is a legal barrier as he cannot contest for the third consecutive time under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

In order to contest for the third time, that particular clause in the 19th Amendment should be removed. We would try our level best to do that because most of the country’s people want to bring back Mahinda Rajapaksa as the leader.