By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Joint Opposition (JO) yesterday declared that it was ready to work with India in spite of misconceptions that may have led to New Delhi’s backing for the change of the Rajapaksa government in January 2015.
Former External Affairs Minister and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Chairman Prof. G. L. Peiris explained that though there could have been faults on both parties, they had now realized the importance of a new relationship. Prof. Peiris was flanked by UPFA Kalutara District MP Rohitha Abeygunawardena and former Gampaha District JVP MP Siripala Amarasinghe.
Prof. Peiris said so in response to The Island query at media conference called by the SLPP at the Nelum Mawatha Office of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Prof. Peiris accompanied former President Rajapaksa and his eldest son, Namal, lawmaker on a three-day visit to New Delhi last week.
Asked whether the JO/SLPP could now conveniently forget accusations its leaders directed at India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in the aftermath of the change of government, Prof. Peiris quoted Rajapaksa as having told Indian media they wanted a new chapter in Indo-Lanka relations.
The former External Affairs minister strongly emphasized that there was no point in discussing the past.
The Island also sought an explanation as regards the US-Japan-India partnership against China against the backdrop of the US seeking change of government here in 2010 and 2015 over the then government’s close relationship with Beijing, Prof emphasized the UPFA received the backing of all countries to defeat terrorism.
We also pointed out that former JVP MP Amarasinghe who addressed the media minutes ago accused his former comrades of being part of an international conspiracy to bring the Rajapaksa government to an end. The Island said that the JO owed an explanation as to how it expected to work with India after having accused that country of interfering in Lankan domestic affairs.
The electronic media raised whether the JO was divided over its policy towards India as some members of the grouping were strongly critical of New Delhi. It was also pointed out that there was quite a strong anti-India rhetoric during the Local Government polls campaign and even thereafter. Prof. Peiris explained that they couldn’t be trapped in the past and the need to improve and enhance ties with India and other members of the international community was of pivotal importance.
Commenting on the JVP project to abolish executive presidency by way of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, Prof. Peiris said that the JO was opposed to the JVP move. Prof. Peiris insisted that the 20thAmendment required a countrywide referendum in addition to a two-thirds vote in parliament.
Former JVPer Amarasinghe said that the JVP was well aware that the project couldn’t succeed under any circumstances. But for want of any other worthy cause, the JVP now struggling to cope up with extreme political difficulties, was pursuing a futile exercise, Amarasinghe said.
Responding to another query from the Sinhala print media, Amarasinghe explained the gradual deterioration of the JVP after having secured 41 seats, including three National List slots at 2004 April parliamentary polls. Recollecting him quitting the party without taking duty free car permit or pension, Amarasinghe said that he was followed by Nandana Gunatilleke and then Wimal Weerawansa left the party with 11 others. Subsequently, the JVP suffered debilitating setback when Kumar Gunaratnam quit the party, Amarasinghe said, adding that the party never recovered from a foolish decision to go it alone at Local Government polls close on the heels of its best performance at parliamentary polls in 2004.
Rata Mahindata, Gama JVPta (Country to Mahinda, village to JVP) campaign at Local Government polls was nothing but a disaster, Amarasinghe said.
Asked by The Island whether the JO/SLPP still believed former President Rajapaksa could contest 2019 presidential poll in spite of the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, Prof. Peiris insisted that there was no change in their position. The 19th Amendment was no impediment to the former President, Prof. Peiris said. The Island sought an explanation as to why he as the SLPP Chairman had not so far moved the District Court of Colombo as promised to secure confirmation whether Rajapaksa could contest 2019 presidential poll. Prof. Peiris said that the SLPP would first move the Supreme Court to thwart the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government project to further delay Provincial Council polls. That would be the SLPP’s priority, the former minister said.
Prof. Peiris said that they were not in a hurry to announce presidential candidature as the next election was 14 months away.
Prof. Peiris said that they were seriously concerned about the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo delaying not only Provincial Council polls but general elections on the pretext of introducing electoral changes meant to do away with preference vote.
At the onset Prof. Peiris and MP Abeygunawardena explained positive Indian reaction to growing popularity of the former President and the possibility his party would form the next government.
Prof. Peiris said that the former President was received by Premier Modi and top Congress leaders in New Delhi where there was consensus on positive relations.
The JO expressed confidence that the level Indian media interest underscored the former President’s status in current political set up in the wake of huge victory at Local Government polls in Feb this year.