Interview with Sobitha Thero, leader of the National Movement for Social Justice.
It is not just the Tamils, but a wide majority of Sinhalese too are disillusioned with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, according to Sobitha Thero, leader of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) in Sri Lanka.
In an interview to The Hindu on Sunday on the premises of the Nagavihara Buddhist temple near Colombo, he said: “From the police force to the judiciary, the President has everything under his control. People who are corrupt are protected by the government and people are suffering.”
Executive presidency posed a serious threat to democracy and rule of law, he said, making a strong case for constitutional reforms in Sri Lanka.
Perceived as an influential religious leader, the 73-year-old Buddhist monk is one of the chief architects of the campaign for the abolition of executive presidency in the country. With the common opposition platform adopting the issue as its central agenda for the presidential elections scheduled on January 8, 2015, the monk’s pet theme is now in spotlight.
“We had told the government that if they don’t abolish executive presidency, we would have to field a common candidate to challenge him.” Sobitha Thero — along with former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and former Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickramasinghe — now backs Maithripala Sirisena, who recently defected from Mr. Rajapaksa’s party to be named the common candidate. The senior monk’s support to the common opposition platform could potentially dent Mr. Rajapaksa’s Sinhala-Buddhist support base.
“The fact that he [Mr. Rajapaksa] rewrote the Constitution to allow himself a third term created a serious problem for the country,” said the monk, referring to the 2010 amendment removing the two-term limit on presidency.
On whether the Sri Lankan Tamils were likely to support him, he said: “The support of Tamils will be crucial for us in abolishing executive presidency.” Fair negotiations were crucial in addressing the Tamil question, he said, adding that the government needs to constitute a credible parliamentary select committee before insisting that the Tamil leadership come for talks.
“We need a government that will look after the interests of not just the Sinhalese, but also those of Tamils and Muslims. There cannot be any discrimination based on religion, caste or ethnicity. “
[Original Caption ‘Many Sinhalese too unhappy with Rajapaksa’]