A free and fair election, Govt’s sole aim - Minister S.M. Chandrasena | Sunday Observer

A free and fair election, Govt’s sole aim - Minister S.M. Chandrasena

21 June, 2020

Minister of Environment and Wildlife Resources, Lands and Land Development S.M. Chandrasena said the Government hopes to secure a two-thirds majority at the upcoming General Election to change the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the country’s administration, judiciary and political activities have suffered a setback due to the 19 th Amendment. He said the former Yahapalana Government should be held fully responsible for causing irreparable damage to the country through the 19th Amendment.

Minister Chandrasena said the sole intention of the Government is to conduct a free and fair election. It would be more advantageous for the Government, and we would try our best to conduct a free and fair election. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a disciplined and law-abiding leader. He attempts to conduct the upcoming General Election in a more disciplined and democratic manner.

Q: Even though the SLPP General Secretary, Sagara Kariyawasam, has complained to the Election Commission on the injustice caused to the party due to the controversial remarks by Election Commission member Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole, it has not responded so far. Even SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris has said that the Election Commission has been politicised and its members act like politicians. Would you like to comment on this?

A: The Election Commission (EC) should be more independent. Hoole’s statement raised serious concern on the impartiality of the Commission. A professor such as Hoole doesn’t make such a statement haphazardly. I think he deliberately made that controversial statement to mislead the voters. We are happy that the three members of the EC have finally fixed a date for the election. However, an Election Commission member in making that statement has committed a grave mistake. Whoever made the mistake, action should be taken against him.

Q: A series of legal and other issues have come up due to the introduction of the 19th Amendment by the former Yahapalana Government. Some have raised serious concern on whether a dual citizen such as Hoole should act as a member of the EC. Do you think amendments should be introduced to the 19 th Amendment?

A: Definitely. At the upcoming General Election, we hope to secure a two-thirds majority to change the 19th Amendment. The country’s administration, judiciary and political activities have suffered a setback due to the 19 th Amendment. The former Yahapalana Government should be held fully responsible for causing irreparable damage to the country through the 19 th Amendment.

Q: Government lawmakers are of the view that after the General Election, the SLPP led Government to be formed will be vested with the responsibility to rebuild the country which faced a severe setback during the tenure of the Yahapalana Government. What are your comments on this issue?

A: That is very true. The country has rapidly collapsed politically, economically and socially during the past five years. We have to amend the Constitution to rectify the adverse effects caused due to the introduction of the 19th Amendment. In addition, the economic policy of the former Government was not favourable to the country. As a result, the agriculture sector also faced a severe setback. Our focus is to build an agriculture based indigenous economy which would pave the way to increase local production and foreign exchange earnings.

Q: How do you view the public perception that educated and reputed people should be elected to the next Parliament?

A: Both, those who are educated as well as having practical experience should be represented in Parliament. When looking at our political history, competent people have represented Parliament irrespective of their educational qualifications. Sometimes, educated people have become unsuccessful in politics when one looks at the number of doctors and professors elected to Parliament. It is not a big issue whether somebody is educated or not to engage in politics. However, he should be clean, people-friendly and have practical experience. Looking at history, it is obvious that most of those who committed wrong in politics were educated people.

Q: Similar to the previous Yahapalana Government, this Government also came to power with the slogan of bringing the culprits to book. Some say, so far, it is just confined to mere words. Would you elaborate on this?

A: When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed office, if we had been able to dissolve Parliament and form a stable Government, we would have dealt with the wrongdoers in a more appropriate manner. The delay in bringing the culprits to book is mainly due to the postponement of the elections and the coronavirus pandemic faced by the country over the past three months. However, the people anxiously await to bring the culprits to book, especially, those who ruined the economy over the past five years.

The people have vested this responsibility in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Once the new Government comes to power, I believe action will be taken against wrongdoers without further delay. However, we regret that when steps are taken against the culprits, the Opposition attempts to portray it as a political revenge.

Q: What do you think of former UNP parliamentarian Mangala Samaraweera and another two Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) candidates’ decision to withdraw from contesting the upcoming General Election?

A: Most of those who are now in the SJB held portfolios in the former Yahapalana Government. The people are well aware of the destruction caused to the country by those who are in the UNP and the SJB. The people have rejected them at all recently concluded elections. Therefore, SJB candidates are withdrawing one by one to prevent the humiliating defeat they would face at the upcoming election. Whatever party he contested from, Mangala Samaraweera has continuously represented Parliament since 1989. He knows very well, if he contests this time, he will definitely lose the election. Therefore, he decided not to contest the election to protect his past record. The others who withdrew don’t have any voter base or a public reputation.

Q: Do you think the Government would be able to secure a two-thirds majority at the upcoming General Election?

A: We are confident of securing a two-thirds majority. The people irrespective of caste, religious or political differences have commended the moves taken by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to contain the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. Even if there is no stable Government, the President has already implemented a series of progressive measures on behalf of the country.

At present, the Opposition is in a helpless situation. We have never seen the Opposition turning into such a weak and disorganised position before. Under these circumstances, it won’t be difficult for the Government to secure more than 150 seats in Parliament at the upcoming election.

Q: Nearly seven months have lapsed since the President assumed office. How do you view the President’s leadership and the exemplary manner in which he continues in office?

A: The President has given a significant leadership setting an example to the whole country. When the President took over this Government, he had to face many challenges. The country had faced a severe economic crisis due to the Central Bank Bond scam while the tourism industry and other economic indicators suffered owing to the Easter Sunday attacks. In addition, the President had to face the global challenge of the Covid-19 outbreak. The President is successfully moving forward, facing all these challenges and there is no doubt that he would become the most successful Executive President in the country.

Q: The SLPP and SLFP have decided to contest together at the upcoming General Election under one banner. Will this lead to any confrontation between the SLPP and SLFP candidates regarding their preferential votes?

A: Whatever confrontations are created among candidates, finally it would be the people who will vote for suitable candidates. Under this preferential voting system, the people are compelled to vote for popular and reputed candidates who have served them. Actually, the people mainly focus on the candidates rather than the party. The candidates can get elected to Parliament based on the trust placed on them by the people. Therefore, I don’t think there would be a big issue regarding the preferential votes.

Q: Although dates have been fixed for the election, it would be difficult to engage in the same old election campaign due to the Covid-19 pandemic. How do you plan to conduct your election campaign?

A: We have already launched our election campaign in keeping with the guidelines issued by the health authorities. If public gatherings are prohibited, we have planned to conduct our campaign by maintaining social distance. The people are also aware as to how they should behave under the prevailing situation. If we are not in a position to conduct large scale election rallies, it won’t be a big issue for us. The people, on the whole, have realised the current situation and have already decided to vote for the Government and the SLPP led alliance at the upcoming General Election.

Q: If you think as a candidate irrespective of party differences, do you think a free and fair election can be conducted under the prevailing environment?

A: The sole intention of the Government is also to conduct a free and fair election. If a free and fair election is held, it would be more advantageous for the Government. Therefore, we would try our level best to conduct a free and fair election. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a disciplined and law-abiding leader. He tries to conduct the upcoming General Election in a more disciplined and democratic manner. Therefore, there won’t be any issue in conducting the election under the prevailing environment.

Q: The Opposition alleges that the Government attempts to use of the Covid-19 pandemic as part of its election campaign. What are your views on this allegation?

A: Actually, we didn’t create the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. Today, it is a global phenomenon. However, the Opposition has some sort of jealousy due to the successful initiatives taken by the Government to contain the virus. The decisions by the Government to control the pandemic has become an advantage to the Government while it has become very disadvantageous to the Opposition.

Q: The UNP says the SJB has a deal with the Government while the SJB says the UNP has a deal with the Government. How do you respond to this claim?

A: We don’t wish to have any deals with both these factions. We have our deal with the people. After the Presidential Election, our bond and dealings with the people were further strengthened. As both these UNP factions have faced a severe setback, they are accusing each other of having deals with the Government to cover their imminent defeat at the election.

Q: A new Covid-19 case has been reported from Kebithigollewa, Anuradhapura three weeks after the country was fully opened. Will this have any adverse effect on the Government’s anti-coronavirus campaign?

A: As the District Leader and Cabinet Minister for the Anuradhapura district, I along with the Government officials have done our best to prevent the spread of the disease in the district. As a result, we could safeguard Anuradhapura with only a minimum number of Covid-19 cases and without any fatalities.. A Covid-19 patient who had recovered had once again tested positive. However, it has been controlled within his family. There is no possibility of spreading the disease in Anuradhapura. Even the doctors say this is not a serious situation. Therefore, we should not unnecessarily panic about the situation. However, everybody must realise that Covid-19 has not been completely eradicated from the country. Thus, we have to be cautious about the situation.

Q: Could you explain the decision taken to reopen National Parks?

A: A decision was taken to reopen National Parks from June 15. However, that decision was taken laying key emphasis on the Covid-19 pandemic situation. We cannot continuously close these National Parks as it would lead to a further collapse of the tourism industry. National Parks, Zoological Gardens and Botanical Gardens are key income generating avenues of the tourism industry. That is why a decision was taken to reopen National Parks strictly following the guidelines given by the health authorities.