Colombo-Two years after he was unseated, former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the first time explicitly stated his intent to make a political comeback, saying he wants to “topple” the current government in 2017.
While the National Unity government, led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has a majority in Parliament, it may not last as “they are fighting each other”, he told Colombo-based foreign correspondents on Thursday.
Sri Lanka’s Constitution disallows dissolution of the Parliament before four and a half years. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combine currently has about 155 seats in the 225-member Parliament.
The pro- Rajapaksa faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party — which President Sirisena leads — sits in Opposition, with nearly 50 members.
In a wide-ranging discussion at his Colombo residence, Mr. Rajapaksa, attired in a multi-coloured sarong and half-sleeved shirt, spoke at length about his political project for 2017 and on Western, Chinese and Indian diplomacy in Sri Lanka. He attributed his defeat in the January 2015 presidential polls to the opposition campaign that he accused the U.S. and India of backing. “That was too much for us. We didn’t know what was going on inside the party,” he said, alluding to President Sirisena’s unexpected defection to the joint coalition that challenged him.
He blamed his successor-government of failing in management and development of the country. “The biggest thing they did was they stopped all the development work and they started taking revenge.”
Commenting on the government’s contentious joint venture with the Hong Kong-based China Merchants Port Holdings Company — Sri Lanka plans to lease 80 per cent of the port in the southern Hambantota district to it — Mr. Rajapaksa said his administration only wanted to give the Chinese 750 acres for an industrial park, but the current government had agreed to part with 15,000 acres.
“This is the people’s land. No other country would have given land like that,” he said, adding he did not oppose investment, but opposed privatisation.
‘India is like a mouse now’
In a strong critique of Indian diplomacy, he said: “Those days our Indian friends were shouting at me when a (Chinese) submarine came calling at the Colombo Port, they were very worried… Now they are like a mouse.” Suggesting that India had other interests in forcing this apparent shift in its response to Colombo-Beijing ties, the former President said: “They [India] also must be getting something. I don’t know whether the Trincomalee Harbour is going to them or Palaly [airport] and Kanesanthurai [harbour],” referring to projects in the north and east.
He said he opposed the Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement with India, which Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has been pushing. “India should not do this. They have to be very cautious about it. Because when the people go against you all, go against the country it is not good for them, not good for us.”
On India’s role during the end of the war, which former NSA Shivshankar Menon speaks of in his recent book Choices, Mr. Rajapaksa admitted to receiving New Delhi’s help to defeat the LTTE. “Yes, I have said that [before]. But they didn’t want to come out. Because of South Indian attitudes.”
Admitting that there was “some truth” in the criticism that he failed to unite the country after the civil war ended, the former President said: “Unfortunately, I thought people must have their basic facilities… I didn’t do politics there. I first gave them everything they needed to live.”
On whether he had misjudged the people’s requirements – the northern Tamils overwhelmingly voted against him in 2015 — he said politicians and the diaspora had influenced them.
“When I wanted to move on political solutions, I invited [TNA leader] Sampanthan and other political parties. They didn’t want to have anything to do with me at that time. They didn’t even want to discuss with me,” he said, adding:
“That was the West’s influence.”
In a scathing attack of the United States, which vocally criticised him during his presidency, Mr. Rajapaksa said the US had spent nearly 650 million dollars to bring about a regime change. Blaming the current government for cosying up with the super power and roping them to train its officials, he said angrily: “Let the Americans come and rule the country.”
On his political future, Mr. Rajapaksa said he had initially planned to retire from politics following his January 2015 defeat, but the current government “went after him”, forcing him to “respond”. Asked if he was confident of making a comeback, the two-time President said: “Very.” “Earlier when I said that I am going to defeat Prabakaran, I knew, I could” he said, emphasising he felt “similar confidence” now.
Via The Hindu