Here are excerpts from an interview given by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) leader and MP, Namal Rajapaksa, to Jamila Hussain of Daily Mirror and published by it on January 14, 2020.
Jamila Hussain: Rajapaksas are back in power. And what we have seen so far is that while Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidency, he appointed his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister and his other brother Chamal Rajapaksa as state minister of defence. In addition, these two brothers also hold various other ministries and many powerful state institutions that come under them. How are you going to explain to the public that this is purely not a Rajapaksa-regime?
Namal Rajapaksa: Well, this is definitely not a pure Rajapaksa regime. As we have always stressed, our interest is purely the national interest and our policies are based on the people’s needs that have been out forward to us through the SLPP and professional organizations such as Viyathmaga and other organizations. So our policy structures are based purely on the proposals we received through these organizations. And Rajapaksas were elected by the people, not appointed. As you can see, Chamal Rajapaksa is one of the most senior members in Parliament. And of course Mahinda Rajapaksa is the leader of the SLPP and there is no question of him being the Prime Minister and Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected with a huge majority in the Presidential Election. So just because they hold the same surname, it is not fair to marginalize saying most of the portfolios are being held by one single family. End of the day none of them have been appointed as you say. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chamal Rajapaksa are the people’s choices who has been elected. And currently, the portfolios have been divided among 15 cabinet ministers as this is a caretaker government for three months. So it is a limited number of members who have to share the portfolios.
JH: You are saying they have been elected by the public, but we have still not faced a general election. As of now, it is Gotabaya Rajapaksa who has been elected. So you cannot say that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Minister Chamal Rajapaksa have yet been elected by the people. That is yet to be seen. And most of these powerful state institutions, are within the family, which cannot be denied. So, is the SLPP happy about this?
NR: There is a strong understanding among the President and SLPP and the SLFP which is our coalition partner. So all these portfolios were divided in consultation with senior stake holders in both these parties. And the President has to be comfortable with his cabinet and the Prime Minister has to implement the policies promised by the President, as the head of the cabinet, so all these decisions have been made in consultation with the party leaders and the senior members of SLPP and SLFP. So there is no reason for anyone to complain. And at the same time, even though they have still not been elected to govern in Parliament, it was their campaign that led to the victory of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It was Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who led this campaign. So we do agree that it is still not our Parliament and we are still running on the supplementary budget put forward by the UNF. We do respect former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who stepped down from his post. We did not ask him to do so but he did, respecting the mandate of the people. We asked him to dissolve Parliament so we could go in for general elections. But it was the UNP who decided that instead of facing an election, to go sit in the opposition by handing over the government to us.
JH: You are the youngest member of the Rajapaksas to be in politics. Are you eyeing a portfolio yourself, if your party wins the general elections?
NR: It all depends on the party needs. The SLPP has to decide where my future is going to be held. So let the party decide that. Right now my focus is to make sure the SLPP wins the general elections with a 2/3 majority which we believe we can win.
JH: As far as your future is concerned, are you eyeing the party leadership after your father? Are you eyeing the presidency?
NR: Well, if you look at recent history of Sri Lanka, none of the candidates who eyed the presidency could win it. One thing is to be a President, it has to be in your destiny. People need change with different faces and different policies. It all depends on who is the best candidate to win at that time. In the last presidential election, the SLPP thought it was best that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was not even in politics, contests the presidency and he won. So it all depends on that particular time. But what is most important is that the country comes first and based on your party’s decision and party’s policies, we will make our decision and our call at that time.
JH: These days MP Ranjan Ramanayaka’s leaked telephone conversations are the talk of the town. And in one of those leaked conversations, it is alleged there was a plot to assassinate you and Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage. How do you respond to this?
NR: There are a lot of voice clips which include personal clips as well, which I am not interested in, as that’s the MP’s personal life. But there are certain clips which we have to be concerned about, especially where Ranjan is talking to the former PM over a plot to murder some members. And also plotting to arrest me and Johnston Fernando and communicating with judges and discussing certain cases with the CID. And one clip which is of serious concern is that of Duminda Silva where Ranjan says, “My target is to send Duminda Silva to prison”. This shows they had certain targets. The police cannot do investigations with targets in mind. They have to investigate impartially. And based on the findings they have to file reports to courts, and then the courts have to decide based on the facts by listening to an impartial hearing on both sides. But here, it is clear that the former government had a target and this is something that is of concern to us. This is not only about Ranjan, but it is about the entire judicial system in this country, entire police authority. Anyone can now challenge their crimes, who have been convicted of murder, drugs or even rape, can always come forward and say the police were influenced or the judges were influenced. So we have to rebuild the confidence of the judiciary and the law and order again.
JH: Has there been any reaction from the President or Prime Minister regarding these leaked conversations because there are allegations that these conversations have been leaked purely on the government’s instructions?
NR: This is not true because as a government we do not want to get involved in the law and order or any sort of investigations. For example, I myself have 19 cases ongoing at the moment. We will not interfere with the police or judiciary to stop investigations or not to call my cases. I will face it all. So we believe all these matters have to proceed naturally. But one thing is that we will never interfere with the judiciary or investigations like the former government has done. As far as the CDs being leaked is concerned, from the information we have received is that someone had alerted the police of these CDs and I can assume that whoever this person is, may have had copies of the CDs. So it can be he who may have released all these CDs to the media. We do not know who has done it. You cannot blame the police or government for releasing this vital information.
JH: How is your relationship with MP Sajith Premadasa? Simply because you are now going to face him at the general elections and both of you will be contesting from the Hambantota district. It will be tough to face off as Sajith’s popularity is also very high…
NR: We have no personal grudges or personal issues but of course we have our political differences and we do have our political parties and policies. So it is a love and hate relationship. I have nothing personal against him. But I do not agree with certain things he has done in the past such as certain projects which he initiated. Because I believe such projects are not in the best interest of the country. But at the end of the day he does his politics and I do mine.
And his popularity was shown in the last Presidential Election. Hambantota he received only 24%. And even when he was a Samurdhi Minister, I received more preferential votes than him. So end of the day, people do not vote based only on popularity but they do go for policies. He will do his campaign and I will do mine, so let the people decide.
JH: Why do you think people should vote for you? What have you done so that you deserve to be in Parliament?
NR: It is not about myself only, but it is the policies that my party carries. I am a person who would go and campaign for preferential votes because my campaigns have always been party-based and I have always eyed to get more votes for the party. Because if my party gets more votes, I will automatically get more preferential votes. So every vote we get is for our policies and nothing else.
JH: In 2015, there were allegations, that the downfall of your father’s government was his sons, including yourself. There were allegations that you all imported Lamborghini luxury racing cars and you all had night car racing, which was not the need of the hour. So going forward, if you make it back to Parliament and your party wins, how would you personally be able to win back the people’s trust?
NR: Well, the people have already shown the trust they have in us. In the 2015 January elections, all these allegations were thrown at us. And they were investigating for the past four and a half years and we saw how they investigated, through Ranjan Ramanayaka’s voice clips. And we have been telling they had established various departments etc., only for political victimization. Now it is proven all this was just false. At the same time, people still believed me. The Hambantota people know me, because I grew up with them as its my hometown. Sajith came from Colombo to Hambantota whereas I grew up in Hambantota. So they know all what I have done for them and they know all these talks about Lamborghini cars were all just rumours. And to clear the record, the Kandy night race was started by the late President Ranasingha Premadasa in the late 70s or early 80s. We have never been involved in the Kandy races before 2015. If we were involved they would have at least gone to courts. A Presidential Commission investigated it, and they found out it was nothing to do with us, but it was a third party who re-initiated it after Ranasingha Premadasa.
JH: So what about the races in Colombo? Are you saying you had no hand in them as well?
NR: The Colombo races, we did help the organizers because we believed it was good for tourism and entertainment. After 2015, it was the former Rajapaksa government who revived the tourism industry so much so that today Sri Lanka has emerged as one of leading destinations in the world for tourists. I also initiated the Carlton Rugby Sevens through which a lot of local players benefited. But I was remanded for a week simply for finding sponsors for this tournament. However, after the government changed in 2015, entire Colombo went dead and even the sports industry went blank. So there are certain things that certain people did not understand as to what we were trying to do. Colombo races were not organized for us to go racing. There are so many individuals today who attend the races overseas, but we do not do that. We have never attended the Dubai or Abu Dhabi races, or the Singapore Grand Prix, but I do know of certain politicians and their children who attend these. We wanted to build a similar industry in Colombo to attract the tourism and generate income. So we helped the organizers, but it was misinterpreted.
JH: There have been calls by your government that the Bond Scam should be re-investigated and all those involved should be punished. However, there are allegations that your family has maintained good relations with Arjuna Mahendran and Arjun Aloysius. In fact there were rumours that soon after his release, Arjun Aloysius attended one of your brother’s weddings. If these allegations are true, would there ever be justice over the Bond Scam?
NR: The Sajith faction always blamed Mahinda Rajapaksa for having good relations with Ranil. So you cannot just say that just because you know someone, you can let everything go. Mahinda Rajapaksa has always gone against Ranil in politics and he defeated Ranil. So just because ‘X’ and ‘Y’ has a relationship, and here you are only assuming we had a good relationship with Mahendran and Aloysius, that does not mean we are going to let ‘Y’ go if he has done something gravely wrong. The UNP never called for Mahendran’s extradition for the past four and-a-half years and neither was a thorough investigation conducted. But we will do it.
JH: So your government will bring Arjuna Mahendran to task?
NR: Let the authorities handle it and the judiciary decide. And if it is proven, then he has to face it. And we are going to call for him to be extradited.
JH: How is your relationship with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa because there were rumours of some friction during the previous Rajapaksa government?
NR: It is very good. I have a two-way relationship with them, one, they are my uncles, and secondly, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the President and Basil Rajapaksa is the founder and national organizer of the SLPP. So of course the personal relationship as uncles and nephew is very strong and the bonding is very strong as well. Politically also we have the same policies, since we belong to the same party. The approach perhaps may be different, but I guess this is due to the age difference. I respect them a lot. So no one should worry about anything.
(The featured picture at the top shows Namal Rajapaksa, SLPP MP with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa)