“Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a Living Hero to me” Declares Udaya Gammanpila

An Interview With Chamitha Kuruppu

“Gotabaya Rajapaksa is my hero. He made the biggest contribution towards winning the war and without him we would not have realised that dream,” said Udaya Gammanpila, UPFA candidate for the Western Province.

Gammanpila, who came under heavy criticism for inviting the Defence Secretary as the Chief Guest at his inaugural election campaign, noted: “It is anybody’s dream to have his one and only living hero launch his election campaign.”

He added: “There is no hard evidence for me to believe that he (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) has done any bad things for the nation. I always value the things that he has done for this nation. Those cannot be done by anybody else as far as I could see. Just because there are allegations against him, I am not dishonest to suppress my affection towards him.”

Following are excerpts from the interview.

Q: People describe your ‘100 rupee campaign’ as just another election ploy. Do you agree?

A: It is not an election ploy or a gimmick. Last time I volunteered to declare my assets and that triggered discussions about politicians’ asset accumulation. The discussion led the Election Commissioner to make submitting the assets and liabilities declaration compulsory for every candidate. That is the biggest victory I gained at the last provincial council election. This time I wanted the general public to focus on election expenditures.

Due to the election method practiced in Sri Lanka, you need millions of rupees to get elected to a public body. After the election either we should earn it during the office or we should allow somebody to do it. If we can’t do both, we should settle our mind and retire from politics at the next election. This method corrupts the politician. Understanding the vulnerability of the politicians, business community and profiteers come forward to finance election campaigns. After the elections, the politicians will be under the firm grip of those financiers. That is why politicians sometimes go against the public will at the risk of losing their popularity.

In this backdrop, good governance would be a daydream unless we rescue the politician from the grip of profiteers. That is why I wanted the general public to finance my election. Then I will only be answerable to the public because my campaign has been only financed by them. I am amazed with the response of the general public. I have only one bank account. People are complaining that they have to pay Rs. 250 as banking charges just to transfer Rs. 100. They want me to open accounts in almost every bank. But I haven’t made my mind to do that because having one bank account is good for transparency.

People also request me to introduce new technology methods such as EZ Cash and PayPal. I am a software engineer by profession; I would like to introduce new technologies to election campaigns. These tools have never been used in election campaigns. Last time when I said I will not print any posters, everyone was stunned. I used email, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and such cyberspace tools. People thought I was insane. But this election almost all candidates are using Facebook and similar tools

This time I have introduced fund raising instruments available in the world to Sri Lankan politics. Asanka Abeygoonasekera, the Chairman of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Centre, told me that Indians are also talking about this campaign. There are lots of election laws in other countries to have equal fair methods for the candidates to compete each other. For instance, in India all candidates disclose how much money they raise for their campaign. The USA has go on a step further and made it mandatory to disclose the source of funds. That is how we found out the LTTE-front organisation had financed Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama in their run for the democratic candidacy.

Most of the nations have laws setting ceilings for election expenditure. Further candidates should submit their income and expenditure details to the election officer. Unfortunately none of these laws are present in our system.

Some people have misunderstood that I am trying to raise funds this way because I have no other way to do it. I have studied in a leading school in Colombo as well as one of the largest universities in the world. On the other hand, I am in the corporate sector. I am a lawyer by profession. I can easily raise one million each from several of my friends. But I am making this difficult effort instead of doing that to bring good governance to the country.

I sincerely hope this campaign would trigger public discussion about election expenditure resulting in new laws to create equal opportunity for every candidate. Popular stars and extremely rich people get elected to public bodies at the cost of true social workers and political activists. That is why we have politicians who do not know what the Constitution is.

Q: What is the total cost budgeted for your campaign?

A: Election campaigns are different. If you have more money you can spend more; if you have less you can settle with that. I don’t know how much I am going to collect. By 14 February, I had received Rs. 1,144,000. I have Rs. 800,000 worth of 100 rupee notes at received at different meeting and delivered at my offices. The trend is gradually increasing. I am not sure how much I will receive. I have not started advertising in the media. I am not going to put up posters or cut-outs except at my election office. I don’t think I need much money. If I receive more, I will do some media advertising.

As I promised on the day I launched my campaign, I am going to publish details about all the income and expenditure in my website. If there is any surplus, it will be donated to the Wiru Daru fund, which is dedicated to awarding scholarships to children of fallen war heroes.

Q: The participation of Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Chief Guest at the launch of your election campaign has come under heavy criticism. As a candidate who emphasise son implementing good governance, why did you violate election laws?

A: Actually there is a big confusion here. Those days until 1978 ministry secretaries were known as permanent secretaries; they were government servants. When President J.R. Jayewardene was a minister, he was of the strong view that ministerial secretaries should be political appointees. That is why when President Jayewardene became the Minister of State in 1965, he obtained special Cabinet approval to appoint Ananda Tissa de Alwis as his ministerial secretary instead of appointing a civil servant. He was always opting for the American model. In the USA they practice the political concept ‘believer should command’. It means governmental ministries should be headed by people who believe the political vision of the president.

There is a reason for this. For instance, in 2005 people mandated President Rajapaksa to implement the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’. Whatever his vision, it should be implemented through ministry secretaries; they are the heads of the Government setup. If secretaries do not believe in the ‘Mahinda Chinthana,’ if they do not cooperate with the political leadership to implement the manifesto, the result would be failure of that program. Once the President completes his term he will have to go back to people and say ‘I genuinely attempted to implement the manifesto but secretaries did not corporate’. That should not be the answer.

That is why President Jayewardene after coming to power introduced the second republic Constitution. In Article 52 it says all secretaries are appointed by the president and there is no restriction that they should come from the State civil services. That article further says after dissolution of the cabinet of ministers or end of the term of the president, secretaries would also lose their office. This clearly reflects they are political appointees. The president can appoint any citizen as a secretary. Secretaries are not under the control of the independent Public Service Commission. The commission has the authority from additional secretary downwards.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa without being a public servant and just being the President’s brother holding the important portfolio of Defence Secretary itself reflects that this is a political appointment. Despite this background, we are still in the mentality of the British model. That is why there are allegations being levelled against me about the Defence Secretary’s participation at the launch of my election campaign. He was the Chief Guest at the launch of my first election campaign five years ago. Nobody criticised that. When this launch was under attack, I consulted the Election Commissioner, unfortunately he was also of the same view. I am not going to argue with him because he is the authority in respect of elections. I am not here as a lawyer or a legal academic, but as a candidate. So I respectfully accept his verdict and I am not going to engage any ministerial secretary in my election campaign although I strongly and firmly believe those are political appointments just like chairmen of corporations.

Q: Why did you invite Gotabaya Rajapaksa?

A: He is the hero in my life. The biggest dream in my life was defeating the LTTE. I gave up my business and professional career to dedicate myself to this cause on a fulltime basis. For me, we were able to realise this dream because of him (Gotabaya Rajapaksa). He is a living hero for me. It is anybody’s dream to have his one and only living hero launch his election campaign.

Q: How can you say the Defence Secretary alone defeated the LTTE? Are you denying the fact that others contributed to this endeavour?

A: True. But for me, he (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) made the biggest contribution. Fifteen years ago we were alone fighting to defeat the LTTE instead of talking to them. We were the solitary movement who believed in defeating the LTTE instead of negotiating with them and coming to a settlement. Actually we triggered the war by launching the procession from Neelapola Rajamaha Vihara to Mawilaru. This forced the Government to recommence the war.

We worked very closely with the defence establishment to realise this dream. My personal assessment is that Gotabaya Rajapaksa made the single biggest contribution. Some people may believe something. I respect other people’s respective views about who has made the biggest contribution. Opinions are subjective. I believe Mahatma Gandhi was the best role model in the 20th century. Others may say it is Nelson Mandela, Mao Se Tung or V.I Lenin.

For me, Gotabaya Rajapaksa made the biggest contribution and without him we would not have realised this dream. I have huge respect for him. We are close friends. In addition to my parents, I always wanted him to be with me at my election campaign launch. That is why I invited him. I did not consider any other thing. I have handed over all public properties before commencing my election campaign this time as well as last time. This time it is a legal requirement, but nobody does it. The previous time I had the opportunity of contesting the election slipping to the Chairman of the Central Environment Authority. I never did that. I never misused public property. I never considered Gotabaya Rajapaksa as public property. I only look at him as my hero and my friend.

Q: There are numerous accusations against your ‘hero’ of alleged links with the criminal world, supporting hardline religious groups and safeguarding drug leaders and it is said that he is more powerful than the President. Aren’t you disturbed that he is somewhat unpopular among a certain section in society?

A: I don’t know the veracity of these accusations. I don’t say he is a perfect person. He may not be a perfect person. But his achievement for the nation is unmatched. Without him we would not have achieved this as far as I read the war against the LTTE. As we know during Gautama Buddha’s time there were lots of allegations against him. The first hero in my life is Gautama Buddha. Second hero is Mahatma Gandhi. I am not going to compare Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Gautama Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi. They are at different levels. Buddhists believe Buddha means the perfect one. Gautama Buddha was under serious allegations. We are Buddhists and we know the Buddhist version of the story.

It is the same with Mahatma Gandhi. Subash Chandra Bose was a heavy critic of Mahatma Gandhi. Communists considered him as a traitor of India. But for me Mahatma Gandhi was a living God. Take Jesus; not only he was subject to allegations but he was killed because of those allegations. There has been nobody in this world free from allegations. I am looking at the good things he has done for the country. There is no hard evidence for me to believe that he has done any bad things for the nation. On the other hand, I accept as a human being he may not be a perfect person. But I always value the things that he has done for this nation. Those cannot be done by anybody else as far as I could see.

His determination was admirable. He had a fair understanding about the military strategy. There were a lot of people who had an understanding about military strategy. But they failed to win the confidence of their leaders. Fortunately because of the brotherly relationship he had with his leader, he was able to take decisions on his own with his military experience and political clout. That is a unique combination and he delivered the results exploiting resources and opportunities available to him. Just because there are allegations against him I am not dishonest to suppress my affection towards him.

Q: Do you feel the Defence Secretary would make a good politician, a good leader?

A: I do believe so. He is not cunning at all. He is open and honest and that is why a lot of people don’t like him. If he is to hit you, he will not hesitate to tell that at your face. He is open and straightforward. Gotabaya Rajapaksa openly shows his anger. Almost 99% of the politicians are dishonest. Openness is something we badly need in politics and that is the very same thing lacking in politics. Fortunately Gotabaya Rajapaksa possesses that character but unfortunately he hates entering into politics.

Q: Who is the UPFA’s chief ministerial candidate for Western Province? Is it you or Prasanna Ranathunga?

A: This rumour was triggered because of the President’s unprecedented decision to appoint me as the group leader. None of the major political parties have appointed a group leader outside of the main political streams throughout history. I am grateful to the President for his appreciation of my contribution and commitment towards the UPFA. I can see a lot of people have put up cut-outs and posters claiming they are going to be chief ministers. In fact at the last propaganda rally held for the North Western Provincial Council election campaign at Wariyapola, the President addressed all candidates as chief ministerial aspirants, because everybody used to claim they were going to be the chief minister. We should be mindful that the chief minister will be decided by the Leader of the UPFA, that is the President of this country. I am not going to interfere in his work. I am not going to read his mind. Let him make the correct decision at the correct time.

Q: Do you aspire to be the Chief Minister?

A: Believe me, I have never aspired to even a ministerial post. I never went behind anybody. The President invited me and assigned me the ministerial portfolio. Similarly he assigned me to group leadership. I never aspired to any office. I am a practicing Buddhist.

Q: You seek a mandate from the people to implement good governance but can you achieve this goal all by yourself?

A: As a Buddhist I believe that influence is better than force. When I set an example, it is appreciated by society and gradually other politicians too want to follow the same. When I decided to run my previous campaign without posters, polythene and crackers, a lot of senior politicians laughed at me. They thought I would lose. I didn’t use liquor, I was never involved in violent activities, I never sling mud at other candidates and I never accepted funds from foreign embassies and nongovernmental organisations. Many believe these are essential elements of an election campaign. I never lied to the people.

A senior politician once told me that lying is essential if I wanted to become a good politician. This Minister was genuinely worried that I was going to lose the election. Considering all this I settled my mind that I will receive around 35,000 votes. My results not only surprised me, but stunned the entire country. Two millionaires completed at that election and they spent millions of rupees. However when the results were released I had received more than 116,000 preferential votes. Minister Prof. G.L. Pieris while congratulating told me that my victory was an invitation for decent people to come back to politics.

Because of my campaign there are at least four other candidates in this provincial council election who do not paste posters. The Elections Commissioner and monitors have urged the candidates to carry out eco-friendly campaigns. The Central Environment Authority Director General has made such request. That is because we have proved to the world such campaigns can also bring results and secure victory.

We have practiced what we preach. We have set an example and influenced others. I have heard candidates claiming on stage that they do not provide liquor to attract supporters. Our practice and especially the public response to that practice has changed the mindsets of politicians. This is indeed a difficult task. I do agree with you. My election campaign is like swimming against the tide.

Q: You may claim to be promoting good governance but your party seems to be acting against your principles by suppressing members like Nishantha Warnasinghe. Do you agree the JHU does not give him due recognition and opportunity to rise as a politician?

A: There is no truth in that. With great reluctance he agreed to contest the election. I take him to every single political meeting I attend. Warnasinghe has the fullest support of the party. People like Warnasinghe and most of the JHU’s politburo members believe politics is not a place for good people; they think politics is for drug dealers, racketeers and the liars. My belief is that cursing the darkness is not the solution; we should be the light.

Q: The United States has clearly stated that there will not be any sanctions on Sri Lanka and all they want is LLRC recommendations to be implemented as assured by the Government. Don’t you think the Government is exaggerating the ‘Geneva problem’?

A: They are going to appoint a rapporteur. Although the USA wants to take action against Sri Lanka, they don’t have the official documents to do so. The Darusman report was not authorised by any United Nations body. It was a consultation report exclusively requested by the UN Secretary General. If they want to take action against us, they should have an official UN document which contains facts and figures to confirm allegations against Sri Lanka. Therefore they are going to appoint a rapporteur to report back to the UNHRC at its next sessions in September. I think the report has already been prepared. It is matter of placing the signature for the rapporteur to be appointed. Thereafter they may take action against Sri Lanka probably in March 2015.

They want to make different resolutions but haven’t they taken action against us? They have been bringing resolution after resolution since 2009. Their ultimate objective is to have a regime change. They have observed that there is no strong Opposition in Sri Lanka. They know that the present Government maintains a strong popularity. They want to keep this issue live until the Government becomes unpopular. That is why they are not taking any action against us although they have kept on making the same accusations for the last five years. They are waiting for the right time to hit Sri Lanka. As you said this time they will not bring any sanctions against Sri Lanka but definitely they will take another step forward in achieving their goal.