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Sri Lanka: AKD on 13 A, corruption, IMF, economic policy & presidential debates

Anura Kumara Dissanayake, leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) led National People’s Power (NPP) answered questions posed to him in Sweden, where he was attending political gatherings.

Here are edited highlights of the Q&A:

There has been no response from the NPP on its position on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Can you explain what it is?

On several occasions, we have stated our position on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the provincial councils. Our policy document published in 2019 also contained our stand on the provincial councils. Nevertheless, let me explain it once again.

We don’t believe that the Provincial Council system is a complete solution to the ethnic problem in the country. However, the provincial councils have been in existence for over three decades, and our party is also contesting at provincial council elections. People in the North and East consider the provincial council is one of their rights. They think that the provincial council is a victory they have got after many years of demand. Hence, we are of the opinion that we should continue with the provincial councils, yet our opponents express different opinions on that.

How will the NPP focus on the Tamil Ethnic Issue?

I have already explained to you that the provincial council system alone cannot find solutions to the ethnic issue. Politics in Sri Lanka for a long time has been instigating one community against the other. For example, in 2019 at the presidential election, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory was completely based on a slogan that was against the Muslim community. Throughout the political history of our country, the usual practice has been organising one section of people against the other for political gains. Political parties, whether they are Muslim, Tamil or Sinhalese, in certain instances, have created dissension among communities at times to gain power.

Our politics is completely different from theirs. Even in the most difficult times, we are a party that has always stood for national unity and ethnic harmony among Tamil, Muslim, and Sinhala communities. Therefore, the first step to solving this ethnic issue is to establish a political system that integrates all communities rather than using divisive politics. We are doing it.

Then, how can we find solutions to the problem?

We know there are certain identical issues that Tamil-speaking people are facing just because of them being Tamil. It may be language, culture, freedom of religion, right of fair access to power and so on. These have to be addressed.

Though there are certain provisions in the constitution. They are not being followed. It has been 15 years now after the end of the separatist war, but no genuine solutions have been found to the problems that Tamil-speaking people are facing.

We believe in a two-way approach. Firstly, the political issue. We ensure the Tamil-speaking people’s fair right to have access to power which has been denied over the years by successive governments. Secondly, there are certain identical issues that Tamil-speaking people are facing. Similarly, there are several other common issues that they too are facing like the other people in the country.

We ensure that we find solutions for all those problems. Otherwise, the divisive political culture inciting one against the other cannot find solutions to the ethnic problem. Therefore, we believe as a party we can find lasting solutions to the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka and rebuild the nation.

What is your policy in respect of the Executive Presidency? Will you abolish or continue with it?

The Executive Presidency should be changed and we are very clear about our stand. Since the introduction of the executive presidency, we have believed it is not a suitable model for us. Even after 46 years of its existence, the executive presidential system has repeatedly proved that it is not suitable for a country like ours. Therefore, it should be abolished.

The deals of the government with the IMF. Will you retain them or propose changes? How will they come?

We have now entered into an IMF programme. If we had not agreed, we could have looked at an alternative. Since we have agreed now, whoever comes to power cannot leave the IMF programme. We know that not all countries could overcome their crises by going to the IMF. For example, Argentina, Greece and many other countries have not been successful in following IMF conditionalities. Also, there are a handful of countries which have been successful. The IMF can intervene to manage the crisis. However, its involvement will not be sufficient to solve the inherent problems in our economy. Therefore, our policy is to have a dynamic economic programme that enhances the production of goods and services, that people are actively involved in the production process, and that people enjoy fair distribution of such goods and services. Therefore, we strongly believe that unless there is a sound economic policy, we cannot overcome the economic crisis just because of being in the IMF programme.

What is the NPP’s policy towards the minority communities, like Tamils and Muslims?

We don’t need a government that acts against one community. We need a government that represents all communities. We have been talking with the political parties in the north. Also, we hope to negotiate with the political parties in the upcountry and with Muslim parties. We need not build a government only for Sinhalese, nor that people in the north feel it is a Sinhala government. We need a government that safeguards the rights of Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim people in the country. We need the support of all communities to form a government and also, we need them to represent our government. Therefore, we are having a broader dialogue with the three main communities and their political leaders in this regard.

What are the main NPP pledges to the public during the presidential election campaign?

We believe that there are two main causes for the present crisis. First, our country’s political culture which is full of corruption, mismanagement, and inefficiency. One main pledge that we give to our people is that we eliminate this corrupt political culture. This political culture has not enabled economic democracy in the country. The access to economic activities is determined to what extent the private sector is connected to politicians. As such, it has been impossible to run a business without soliciting the blessings of politicians. Therefore, our second pledge to the people at this election is that we establish economic democracy in the country whereby there will be a level playing ground. We also know that many people in society have been impoverished owing to the crisis. Recovering those affected is also one of our priorities.

There are moves for a debate between you and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa. What about one with UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe? Should you not be debating with him?

We have been explaining to people our political practices. Our opponents too are doing the same and people in the country have experienced their political behaviours over the years. We have been engaging with people, explaining our policies and programmes, and they have witnessed our practices. The SJB, which does not have an identity of its own, has been repeatedly challenging us for a debate. We have accepted the challenge. Honestly, our dialogue is not with them but with the people. However, now we have proposed a few dates for the debate, but they have rejected those dates. We have once again informed the SJB leader to give us a few convenient dates for him before 20th May. If the debate does not happen on or before 20th May, the talk on this matter should come to an end.

What about a debate with President Ranil Wickremesinghe or the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna?

We are also prepared to have a debate with Ranil Wickramasinghe as well.

How do you propose to cope with bribery and corruption when you are in power?

The first proposal that we make is to eliminate the political culture that nurtures bribery, corruption and nepotism. The main thing that is required to stop corruption is that the rulers do not engage in corruption. Rulers must not rob public money. This is the first step we need to take to stop corruption. The NPP is the only party that can do that. We will do it. That is not sufficient. The investigation arms, the legal system and the judiciary should be made efficient. We are a country that should not face a calamity like this. This is not a result of a natural cause. This is a result of corrupt political regimes that have robbed billions in public money. Therefore, people expect us to stop this corruption and mismanagement.

Hence, first, we must free the political authority from corruption. None of my party members or I have selected this political movement to waste or rob public money. Next, an uncorrupt political movement can build an uncorrupt government. We are such a party that proved to be uncorrupt through our practices over the last few decades. While strengthening the law enforcement agencies and eliminating corruption, we at the NPP will build a country that is free from corruption, mismanagement, and nepotism.

Excerpts only.

Sunday Times 28.04.24

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