| by Shihara Maduwage
Courtesy: Daily Mirror, Colombo
( November 26, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Last week, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) stalwart and its General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to cross over to the opposition and his nomination as the common opposition candidate shocked the country. In an interview with Dailymirror Jaathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) General Secretary and the leading figure of the Pivithuru Hetak (Clean Tomorrow) National Council Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera revealed that he had played an instrumental role in this political twist.
As a party has the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) reached a decision on whether to support Mr. Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate?
I don’t think there will be any issues with regard to the JHU’s support. But the JHU has to reach an agreement on common principles with Mr. Sirisena. Even on Sunday, the party’s Central Committee held discussions. Without reaching an agreement on these principles, JHU won’t extend their support. In other words, the party’s support would be conditional.
What about your support?
Well, I also have to consider the stance of the JHU as I am a part of the party. When I take decisions I have to discuss with my party and be in agreement with their stances and principles.
What we have done so far is, we have created a common candidate. Our next step is to reach a consensus about how the candidate is going to proceed. We need to come to an agreement on the principles and the way forward of the candidate.
However, we cannot create the candidate and then abandon him. So I am confident that we will succeed in our next step.
Has the common candidate signed a MoU or any document indicating that he was in accordance with the proposed 19th Amendment and would implement it in the event of his victory?
Not yet, but we hope to sign such a document in the near future. Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe is in agreement with our proposals so I believe that coming to an agreement with the candidate put forward by him and his party would not be a problem.
The revelation that Mr. Maithripala Sirisena was put forward as the common candidate came as a shock to most people. Even now, no one knows the process or who was behind this plan. Could you reveal how Mr. Sirisena ended up as the common candidate?
A lot of people have various theories about how it happened and who was behind it. But I know the true story. I will reveal the truth on how this political twist took place in due course.
There is a rumour that it was former President Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunge who had the biggest hand in bringing Mr. Sirisena as the common candidate. Is this true?
Actually, I was the one who approached Mr. Sirisena and suggested to Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe that Mr. Sirisena would be the suitable candidate to lead the common opposition. This happened about a month ago.
It was a very difficult task. Until it happened, I was not sure whether our plan would be successful.
Why did you think that Mr. Sirisena would be the suitable common candidate? Has he approached you and expressed his wish to contest as the common opposition candidate?
No, Mr. Sirisena did not approach me. This was actually the result of logical reasoning. When we tried to bring a candidate from the UNP, there were disagreements within the party. Whether it was Karu Jayasuriya or Mr. Wickremasinghe or Sajith Premadasa, there were certain people in the party who opposed these people. This was when we realised that bringing an external candidate would be a better option. I would like to add here that we have certain pre-conceived notions about Mr. Wickremasinghe based on past incidents. However, this has proved that he is a very flexible, mature and an intelligent leader.
Have you always had such a positive impression about Mr. Wickremasinghe?
Well, we do have criticisms about his past conduct. However, if there is societal pressure, we can change people. I am always of the idea that no one is perfect and no one is completely bad. I am not afraid of people and I never divide people into categories when I work with them. I believe that through discussions and unity, we can change some of the negative ideas and actions of people. With dialogue, people can reach compromises. According to Buddhism, anyone can rectify their mistakes and become a better person. A person who has a strong vision and courage can influence others in a positive way and change their ideas.
Has Mr. Sirisena put forward any conditions or any demands on his part when he left the SLFP and joined the common opposition?
No, he has not made any conditions or demands. What he did was to volunteer himself to become the common candidate.
How can you say that the promise to abolish executive presidency won’t be another broken promise?
When there is such a strong consensus on a principle – as there is today – it is difficult for any ruler to ignore it. Today, all the opposition parties have reached an agreement to abolish the executive presidency, put an end to the rampant and large-scale corruption in the country and for a united ruling.
Do you think achieving this would be an easy task?
I think it won’t be too difficult if societal forces unite and stand together. What we need to do now is to line up these forces.
Today politics is very dirty; in fact I have never experienced such dirty politics. There are no principles. Politics are solely based on financial deals and opportunism. After 2005, politics in this country is shameless.
Are you trying to say that those who left the government are different and they do have principles?
I am not going to give character certificates to anyone. However, there comes a time when anyone – no matter what flaws they may have – will listen to their conscience and take a decision based on his principles. At least some people have realised that the dictatorial way this country is heading is wrong.
Can you tell me what the next steps would be in the event that Maithirpala Sirisena does win the presidential elections?
What would happen is that a care-taker government would be formed together with the SLFP and the UNP for about three months. The Prime Ministerial post of this care-taker government should be given to Mr. Wickremasinghe because he made a sacrifice. However, this would be only to amend the Constitution. After April, Parliament will be dissolved and a general election will be held. Afterwards the President will not be able appoint the Prime Minister. A Prime Minister will be appointed according to the parliamentary majority.
Mr. Sirisena is from the SLFP. Mr. Wickremasinge is from the UNP. These two elements coming together have created the perfect environment for the constitutional amendment. It seems like this process has come together naturally.
Nobody expected things to go this well. Apart from the President, the Leader of the SLFP is Mr. Sirisena. He is a senior SLFPer who has been with the party throughout. His roots are in Polonnaruwa and he has a rural, agricultural background. He is a pleasant, flexible leader. He is the ideal person for this role that it seems that this is the way nature intended things to be.
However Mr. Sirisena has been sacked from the SLFP, has he not?
That will change once he becomes the President of the country. After winning the presidential election, the whole political atmosphere of the country will be different.
By the time the next general elections are held, which coalition would the JHU be affiliated with?
We have to make that decision after considering the political situation at that point. We have to think about the principality of each party and take a decision.
Are you confident that the opposition will be able to win the upcoming presidential elections?
I think the opposition was victorious the moment Maithripala Sirisena was nominated as the common candidate from the opposition. There was a new revival in the country within 24 hours after this historic announcement.
Do you have a back-up plan just in case the opposition loses?
We should be ready to accept any outcome. However, we are not preparing for a losing-election. We are thinking of this as a victorious election. As a monk, I don’t overly plan for the future. I will act according to the present situation. I prioritise the present moment. We cannot predict the future and we cannot jump into conclusions. We have to consider the future depending on the outcome of these moves.
Is there any threat of terrorism raising its head again if the opposition is successful in abolishing the executive presidency? In other words, will this move create a conducive environment for another LTTE to be created in the country?
No, we are not completely abolishing the presidency. The 19th Amendment is such that in a situation where national security, integrity or unity is threatened, the President does have some responsibility and the power to take action. We will only agree to an amendment where the post of the Defence Minister is vested with the President. So the President will not have simply a ceremonial role. He will have some amount of power and responsibility as well.
We will not agree to anything that goes against the 19th Amendment or threatens national security. We are only agreeing to strip the unnecessary powers of the executive presidency; this won’t be a complete abolishment of the presidency. According to our proposals the national leader would be the President and the leader of the government would be the Prime Minister. We will not agree to any other system. Different people might have different ideas but we are not going to act according to the whims and the wishes of these people. We need to be very clear on this.
Have you faced any problems, threats or intimidation since Mr. Sirisena was nominated as the common candidate?
There were a few incidents where thugs on the street tried to cause issues. Also, the municipal council workers were influenced to protest and ask to retake the land where Sadaham Sevana was located. But nobody can reclaim property or possession of the temples. This land has been given to the Buddha Sasana and no one has the right to reclaim it or give it to someone else. Even I don’t have the authority to do that, neither does the President. So this is a baseless demand. This is not my personal property and if someone tries to take away property that belongs to the Sasana, it is a concern of the Sasana and should be solved by the Sasana.
Furthermore, there are foreign monks who study here. There are classes and clinics held to serve the people. So reclaiming this land would be a disservice to the public.
Another thing is, when this temple was built and given to the sangha, we did not promise to support the President or the regime. We are not under any condition or obligation to help the regime just because they built a temple. Just because the government helped the Sasana, we are not bound to support all their wrongdoings.
Have you faced any threats to your life?
There has been a lot of mudslinging in my direction and a lot of lies are being spread in the media about me. Anyone can understand why they are trying to assassinate my character.
However, not many people know about my spirituality. They only know me as a very vocal political leader. But they don’t know that I meditate every morning. A team of us chant pirith every day, blessing this cause. I have built my own spiritual strength so that I can face any challenge without fear. I am not afraid of life because I know this life is impermanent. Nobody can bring me any pain or fear. If I die tomorrow, it is detrimental to the country, not to myself. Once someone immerses himself or herself in the Dhamma, that person won’t be intimidated. This is my vision. I am not someone who is constricted to any political party and I will take my decision bravely no matter what. The best way to protect ourselves is to be with the people, among the people.
The SLFP has alleged that the common candidate is a foreign conspiracy. What are your comments on this?
This is a natural process which took place in the country. Since the government needs some excuse, some way to console themselves, they are now saying that this is a foreign conspiracy. They are trying to hide their own flaws and faults.
We have no such foreign connections. I will not be aiding something that has such ties. I don’t know if some people have any such ties but the principles would be created according to what we want. I am a part of this campaign and I have not received any finances or other aid from foreign sources.
The President made a statement recently saying he has files on those who left the party. How do you interpret this comment by the President?
If he has files, he can reveal them and take necessary action. We don’t know what he is referring to. As for me, I don’t know what kind of file he has on me and am not concerned. The real file about my life is not with him but in my conscience. I alone will have to bear the fruits of my doings, nobody else. This is according to the Dhamma. I cannot determine Mahinda Rajapaksa’s file. Whatever I have done in this country has been transparent. I have not harmed anyone. So I am not scared of any file he might be having on me.
Are there any other government ministers joining the opposition?
There were some who were ready to join but we cannot say anything for certain right now. Let’s wait and see.
Don’t you think what happened to the common candidate last time will happen to this time’s candidate as well?
Not just Maithripala Sirisena, but we will all face problems in the coming days. There will be a very violent atmosphere in the country; we can just feel it. Terrifying bursts of violence will take place if we win. However, there is justice in the world and I am confident that we can face whatever challenges that comes our way. But we will continue forward with the people; we are not ready to back down no matter what happens. Every time I face a problem or a threat, Mr. Sirisena will get more and more votes. If I am killed, he will win by a great margin.
We need to ensure that free and fair elections take place. This is the responsibility of the Elections Commissioner. If the people stand together, no one can cheat at the elections.
Finally, what do you hope to achieve by your campaigns?
We have no need to topple Mahinda Rajapaksa. Our aim is to make a change in the way the country is run. We have no underhand intentions or hidden agendas. We gave him a golden opportunity to implement the 19th Amendment. We tried to influence him in many ways and get him to listen to us. We held personal discussions with him as well as discussions as a party. We had huge rallies. Even the day before Mr. Sirisena’s nomination was announced I tried to get the President to implement the proposals. Breaking away from the government and joining the opposition was our last resort. He had the opportunity to go down in history as a golden leader. But now he will be known as a power hungry, greedy leader who is extending his term for a third time. He could have at least implemented the amendment before running for a third time. But he lost his chance. Even by joining the opposition we tried to get him to see sense but it was nearly impossible. We had no intention of toppling the government but had to do something to stop this dictatorial, corrupt regime. If we didn’t act, the future generations would curse us.
If somebody says that they will implement these amendments and does not keep the promise, we are ready to sacrifice our lives for this cause.
However, we will not let anyone take Mahinda Rajapaksa to international war crimes courts or let any international forces harm him. In those issues, we will defend him, stand by him and support him. But we will carry out a public investigation with regard to bribery and corruption allegations and take necessary actions.