Right to life before right to vote- Attorney-at-law Manoj Gamage | Sunday Observer

Right to life before right to vote- Attorney-at-law Manoj Gamage

8 January, 2023
Legal Director to the President, Attorney-at-law Manoj Gamage
Legal Director to the President, Attorney-at-law Manoj Gamage

Here are excerpts from an interview with the Legal Director to the President Attorney-at-law Manoj Gamage who is the President of `Lawyers for Justice’ on holding elections at this crucial juncture.

Q: Certain political parties are demanding an election, especially the Local Government Election at this crucial juncture where the country is slowly and gradually becoming normal. What is your opinion ?

A: People’s right to life should be protected before their right to practice universal franchise. I have no argument whatsoever on people’s right to practice universal franchise and elect a regime they want. It is their democratic right. But the most important right of the people is their right to life. People should live to practise their universal franchise. The Government should decide whether to give priority to people’s right to life or their right to practice universal franchise.

Q: What are the burning issues of the people at this moment?

A: The burning issues of people are food, medicine, other essentials, monthly salaries, fuel, gas, electricity, fertiliser and so on. Some of those issues have already been solved and some of these issues are still there but under the current President Ranil Wickremesinge’s leadership now those issues are getting solved gradually and proceeding towards finding solutions in the correct path. The country was at the ICU before the appointment of the current President and now it is breathing without the help of a machine in a normal ward.

Holding an election at this crucial juncture is not suitable at all. It is because the country’s economy is still not strong enough to bear the financial expenditure of an election. Therefore, the priority of the Government should be economically strengthening the people before holding any elections.

The Opposition should put their power for greed aside and give priority to strengthen the economy. Otherwise the recovering economy will collapse once again and fall deeper than before. Unfortunately what they want is elections no matter whether people live or die before they vote.

Q: If elections are postponed, the Local Government bodies will be idle and it will affect the country. What do you have to say?

A: I can explain it through an example. The Provincial Councils are idle for a long time by now. The people will tell the country that not having active Provincial Councils is a blessing or a curse. According to the people it is a blessing because they do not need to feed more and more politicians, their staff and others. The people never demanded a Provincial Council Election or any other election.

The number of representatives in the Local Government bodies had been increased up to nearly 10,000 in the past. The country’s economy cannot bear this burden any longer. It is a must to reduce this number to the same number that existed before which is less than half of the current number. It should be done before holding the election. The people of this country are not happy about this large number of representatives in the Local Government bodies.

It is the poor people of this country who take the weight of the expenses of this high number of representatives of the Local Government bodies and the Opposition does not do it. The tax money paid by the ordinary people should not be spent on looking after 10,000 representatives of the Local Government bodies. The ordinary people hate this. First of all new techniques of strengthening democracy should be created before holding any election.

Q: The opposition and certain other political parties have already warned the Government about a possible huge islandwide protest similar to `Aragalaya’ against not holding elections. What will be the impact of this threat?

A: During the entire so-called `Aragalaya’ period, the country’s economy walked backwards and we all saw it. The country’s economy had a huge setback. The Opposition wanted to capture power at any cost and they even tried to do so using Covid-19 at that time. Certain political parties such as the JVP did a lot in the past to turn the country’s economy backwards. The Opposition is also responsible for the same. The Opposition tried to capture power over the dead bodies of people and they discouraged tourists visiting Sri Lanka and discouraged Sri Lankan expatriates from sending foreign exchange to the country. Instead of solving problems they tried to use people’s problems and suffering to capture power. They did not stop there. They added fuel to the already burning fire after Covid-19.

Now the Opposition thinks that their popularity will decrease drastically if the current Government solves people’s problems. Therefore they want elections before the President and his Government solves problems and normalise the country.

Under the leadership of the current President Ranil Wickremesinge, democracy was strengthened and the national security strengthened. The IMF, Iinternational bodies and foreign nations have built confidence on the President. The economy will definitely strengthen under his leadership and that it is the main problem of the opposition. The main and only objective of the Opposition is obtaining more seats than now through an election. But their sole responsibility at this moment is to support the Government to solve the people’s problems.

Q: Do you think that the current President has a practical and successful plan to solve people’s issues ?

A: Yes of course. The entire country saw how law and order was in danger before the current President came into power and how the country was at danger of becoming Libya number two. Democracy of the country was in grave danger. He managed all dangers very well and strengthened democracy and law and order. Today people walk along roads safely and express their views without any fear and without facing any danger. The whole world has confidence in him. Sri Lanka does not have a lonely journey any longer, especially after this economic crisis. We need the assistance of all at the international level. During restructuring debt, several international bodies such as the Paris Club, IMF and so on have already shown a green light. Holding elections will only weaken the country’s strength gained during the recent past. The Opposition needs a country to do politics and hold elections.

It is people’s money the Opposition and all the other political parties will use for elections and those political parties never give money for elections. Instead of giving money to the Government to hold elections, they will collect more funds from the people for their political propaganda campaigns. But people’s money needs to be spent in the coming months for more important things such as paying public servants’ salaries and so on. Therefore elections should be held only when country’s economy starts to breathe normally once again and not before that.

It does not mean that elections will not be held forever. Elections will be held soon. Elections will be held as soon as possible at the right time when the country can bear the relevant expenses.

Attorney-at-law Manoj Gamage is the Legal Director to the President and he is the President of the `Lawyers for Justice’ organization. He is also a Director attached to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC).