Ranil Wickremesinghe, 67, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for a fourth term and leader of the United National Party (UNP), is the spearhead of a complex game-changing project where the stakes are extremely high. The project is to see through Parliament, and then through a referendum, a major constitutional change that will put an end to the system of an overbearing executive presidency and usher in a prime ministerial system — and, crucially, put in place an enduringdevolution of power solution to the Tamil question. Mr. Wickremesinghe leads a national government made possible by a highly unusual compact between the two main rival parties in the political system — the UNP, the party with by far the largest numbers in Parliament, and a minority of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) MPs who are with the Prime Minister’s political opponent-and-ally, President Maithripala Sirisena. While the leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have taken a positive view of the constitutional change under way, the political forces of Sinhala ultra-nationalism are trying to rally round the former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In a recent interview given N. Ram of “The Hindu” at Temple Trees in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s assured and confident-sounding Prime Minister answered questions relating to these key issues
Q;Prime Minister, the overall political situation in Sri Lanka seems to have stabilised after the big change in 2015, the election of Maithripala Sirisena as President followed by your victory in the parliamentary elections. How do you see this process, which has seen improvement as well as complications?
A;With the parliamentary elections in August 2015, we created the National Government. And we gave it a period for it to stabilise. I think that has taken place now. We also prepared a new policy framework. We had incurred a heavy national debt, there was adverse publicity for Sri Lanka, and human rights was a big issue — all those have been resolved.
I would say we have sort of created the stability and cleared the way. Now, next year is when we have to deliver on our promises, which will also help us to consolidate this arrangement. We have started the journey, it has been slow going. It would be, if the two major parties have to get together. It’s a tremendous task. Still haven’t got the two major parties to get together in India or anywhere else. But it has worked out well here. Now it is a question of delivery and consolidation. We are moving on different fronts. We are looking at reconciliation, looking at the crisis in the North — both the human problems and the economic problems, the development. The President is now focussing on the rural poor. We are discussing a new Constitution. I would say that the next two years are important for us to consolidate the gains we have made.
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