UNP Gampaha District MP Karu Jayasuriya is among the key leaders invited and determined to attend a meeting organized by the United Bhikkhu Front to be held on Oct 18 at Hyde Park as a common platform for the abolition of the executive presidency and several other issues such as restoring good governance and freedom of speech.
"It is not for the formation of a political alliance or a party but only a get-together of like-minded people against the executive presidency and for the restoring the law and order to save the country, which is heading towards a despotic regime," Jayasuriya told an interview with The Island held at his residence at No 2, Amarasekera Mawatha, Colombo 5. "I lived in a free and independent Sri Lanka with basic human rights guaranteed. I do not want to die under a dictatorship. Therefore I will stand up to safeguard democracy at whatever cost," he said.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: Could you tell us about the political alliance or the parties that are going on stage on October 18?
A: No. What is happening on the 18th is not the formation of a new political alliance nor the formation of a new political party. Like-minded people who are against the executive presidency are planning to have a meeting to express their solidarity for the abolition of the current system of executive presidency. The most Ven Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera on his 70th birthday pledged to fight for the abolition that was how the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) was born. The NMSJ with the United Bhikkhu Front are organizing the meeting. This move is backed by lot of political parties, civil society and very eminent persons. What we are doing is only furthering this objective. And on the 18th we think that there will be a successful meeting. But having said that the very effective and united opposition is essential at this time and it is through such a united opposition that we can face the threat to democracy posed by the government. Our hope and prayer is for all political parties, all political leaders to get together to ensure that democracy is preserved, human rights, freedom of speech and good governance established. And therefore a united opposition can meet this threat. We have been invited by the organizers the United Bhikkhu
Q: What is the real need for or the motive behind this?
A: Our country is heading slowly but surely towards a despotic regime. Norms of democracy are getting gradually eroded. Good governance is becoming a mere dream. In the day to day running of the government all actions taken by the authorities seem to be in this direction. For example the Divi Neguma Bill that we take with utmost concern because it takes out the powers given under the 13th Amendment. The administrative control of funds via the PCs will be severely affected and close upon 18 thousand million of funding will come under the purview of a minister. What is worse is that a secrecy clause has been incorporated which mean there is no transparency in the spending of this vast sum of public funds. We also are seeing with utmost concern the recent attempts to interfere with the judiciary. Our only hope for the preservation of democracy is the existence of an independent judicial system. But here what has been happening lately is to interfere in the administration of natural justice and the statement that came out from the secretary of the Judicial Service Commission speaks for itself. This was a decision taken by the distinguished members of the commission chaired by the Chief Justice and the secretary merely conveyed the sentiments to the media. We also heard of an attempt to summon the judicial officials by the President. What is worse is the character assassination campaign carried out by the government against the members of the judiciary and the secretary of the JSC. We saw a similar low level campaign against the President and the Secretary of the FUTA (Federation of University Teachers’ Associations) where they were labelled as EPRLF and LTTE sympathizers with financial support coming from the terrorist Diaspora. We also recollect how the world’s best Army commander was treated as a rogue and a traitor when he unsuccessfully contested the Presidential election. All these actions clearly indicate that anyone going against the thinking of the government is punished. This has also happened to some of the countries who are talking about human rights, press freedom, when the government classifies them as LTTE sympathizers. This is a very unfortunate situation. Today with the death of the 17th amendment to the Constitution, the 18th Amendment has given vast powers to a single individual. These powers are enjoyed by the single individual or the immediate circle around him. They do not pay any heed to the public opinion. We have repeatedly said that the Divi Neguma bill should have been discussed through the proper channels, discussed at parliamentary consultative committee then all provincial councils must approve of it. In the absence of the Northern Provincial Council the governor of the North giving the consent does not reflect the true views of the Northern people. It is very important that the whole nation endorses this bill. We are not against the primary objective of the bill so long as it is for helping the people. By all means our blessings are there. But proper procedures should be followed. Now there are peaceful conditions in the country, presidential elections were held, parliamentary elections were held, and local government elections were held. So therefore we see no reason why the provincial council elections cannot be held for the North. It is nothing but fair to give to the people of the North the opportunity also to express their opinion. But the government is bulldozing the whole bill since they are having a two third’s majority. This high handed action is not healthy for the future and we must tell the government that least at this stage they must start at respecting the people’s views.
This tendency of going towards dictatorship must be stopped for the sake of the future of the country.
Q: But what we hear in political circles is otherwise. It is being said that this is the beginning of a new party headed by Gen Sarath Fonseka and Karu Jayasuriya.
A: As I said this is not the occasion for the formation of a political alliance or political party. But if this type of united effort succeeds my belief is that a common united front can naturally emerge. It is only a getting together of likeminded people. And my participation here is on the basis of a citizen of this country who stands for what are right.
I personally took a very active role in the establishment of the 17th amendment. It was I who chaired the first citizens’ committee for drawing up this amendment when I was the mayor of Colombo. The initiative was given by the religious leaders and all political parties were involved. And finally in 1999 it was brought forth soon after a very disgraceful provincial council election in Wayamba, where all norms of democracy were violated; people were assaulted and people were stripped in public. So there was an agitation coming from the country for some sort of control of the executive. And this was the birth. I also recollect that subsequently when we found that the 17th amendment was not performing to perfection due to various deficiencies a committee was appointed chaired by Mr DEW Gunasekera and here again I played a vital role and all the shortcomings and deficiencies were identified and a draft report prepared rectifying all those shortcomings but unfortunately the government did not want to proceed with it and instead 18th A was rushed through. Then again in 2001 with the UNP government coming to power I proposed a change of the electoral system and my proposals were accepted by the government and the speaker and we ourselves proposed that this should be chaired by an opposition member and that was how Mr Dinesh Gunawardena was appointed to chair the Parliamentary Select Committee on electoral reforms. It is still working. Then also I took a very active part in the presenting of the freedom of information bill which was once again defeated and I was almost physically assaulted for trying to bring the bill into parliament.
Then, the abolition of the executive presidency: although it is a brainchild of the UNP, the party itself having realised that there were white and black areas and finally decided to call for its abolition. This fact was even confirmed in the run up to the Presidential election before proposing Gen Sarath Fonseka in 2010. You will see that I stand for democracy and its preservation and as much as I was born to a free and independent Sri Lanka with basic human rights guaranteed. I do not want to die in a dictatorship. Therefore I will stand up to safeguard democracy at whatever cost.
Q: In what capacity are you attending?
A: We are made to understand that all political parties would be invited and I am also invited.
Q: But your party leadership has banned party members from attending meetings with Gen Sarath Fonseka. Would this not be in violation of party discipline?
A: I am not aware of any such instruction, but some people have told me of such news reports. But since my childhood I have been attending all religious functions and ceremonies. I have not been attending any meeting organized by political parties. The last meeting I attended was in Anuradhapura where United Bhikkhu Front organized an Asheervada puja for democracy in the country. And they also took the issue of abolition of executive presidency. I have not violated the party discipline and I always stood by the rights mentioned in Section 14 of Sri Lanka’s Constitution on freedom of assembly.
The meeting on the 18th is not organized by any political party but by the UBF. They are for the abolition of the executive presidency and even my party is for the abolition. I do not see why a UNP member cannot attend this meeting. If there is anything against my party’s interests I would not attend.
Q: Do you think the executive presidency is a problem for the common man? Don’t you think they have got used to it?
A: We have seen opinion surveys carried out by professional organisations. Those researches indicate that the majority of the people are of the view that the time has come to change the presidential system and the preferential voting systems.
Q: What about the participation of other parties such as the JVP?
A: I do not know. Organizers have spoken to all the parties and as far as I know all the opposition parties are for the abolition of the executive presidency. There were several minor parties against it but now they too have realized that there ought to be a head of state answerable to parliament.
Q: What would happen after this meeting and what is the future of this common platform against executive presidency?
A: That I do not know. But my hope and prayer is that it is a step towards finally bringing all political parties on to one stage. That is the only solution for all these problems. There is no point having separate struggles. We can come on a common platform for common purpose such as electoral reforms. And I’ve been advocating unity in the party and unity within the opposition.
We all have agreed with the content of a 10 point programme prepared by Ven. Sobhitha thera to bring about good governance and saving the country being led towards a dictatorship. That is what we all have agreed. There are no parties, no colours or party symbols. This national movement has been misunderstood as a political movement. It is the United Bhikkhu Front that is organizing this.
Q: The UBF is the bhikkhu wing of the UNP. Isn’t it?
A: It was earlier, but not now. And for this meeting on the 18th, we have blessings of a lot of leaders. Not only the bhikkhus but other religious leaders are also fully backing it, though they are not coming on stage. This is something good for the people and for the future of the country. My humble appeal is for the members of the opposition to unite for the sake of the country.
By Saman Indrajith