Udaya Gammanpila

‘The outcome does not reflect the mood of pre-election Sri Lanka’

Print edition : September 18, 2015
Interview with Udaya Gammanpila, leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya.

THE 45-year-old Udaya Gammanpila is one of the young faces of the Mahinda Rajapaksa camp. Once a protégé of Jathika Hela Urumaya leader Patali Champika Ranawaka, Gammanpila left the JHU and launched the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) in the run-up to the presidential election in January this year. He had announced his support to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Since then, he has remained a key ally of the former President. Excerpts from his conversation with Frontline:

What is your assessment of the outcome of the elections?

Sad, surprising and disappointing. The outcome does not reflect the mood of pre-election Sri Lanka. We had truly expected victory for Mr Rajapaksa and the UPFA. If you compare rallies of the UNP with those of the UPFA, there was a huge difference. People flocked to the rallies attended by Mahinda Rajapaksa. Moreover, if you take President Maithripala Sirisena’s letter sent to Rajapaksa [a few days before the day of polling on August 17], it’s a clear admission of the victory of the UPFA. As you know, in his letter, he had urged Mahinda Rajapaksa not to accept the post of Prime Minister. He had made such a request only when he knew the UPFA was going to win. Otherwise, he would have asked him not to be Leader of Opposition instead of the Prime Minister.... If they [UPFA’s political rivals] know we are going to win, as reflected in Mr Sirisena’s letter to Mr Rajapaksa, they would have taken every possible step to prevent it. We are yet to understand what happened.

Were the elections not held peacefully, in a free and fair manner?

Even some candidates of the UNP have alleged that there was some manipulation in the election results. So, these allegations have not just been made by the opposition but also by the ruling side. However, we have to accept the election results as a reality and move forward.

Compared with the UPFA’s vote share in the presidential election, its vote share now has come down. According to my calculations, your vote share now is about 40 per cent, even though there has been virtually no change in the composition of the UPFA since January. But, it was 47 per cent or close to 48 per cent then. How do you explain this drop or fall?

Our vote share is actually 42 per cent. [Referring to the decline in the overall voter turnout, from 81.5 per cent in January to 78 per cent in August] There is no reason for the people [about 5.8 million] who voted for Rajapaksa during the presidential election to abstain from the elections now…. Since they failed to achieve what they wanted in January, they got another opportunity to accomplish what they wanted. We in the UPFA had also created another wave for victory mood. But, take the case of the other side [Maithripala Sirisena and his allies then], which secured 6.2 million votes during the presidential election. The people had voted with high expectations about good governance and they were from different parties such as the JVP [Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna], the TNA and the Democratic Party, apart from the UNP. However, the government has acted in an undemocratic and corrupt manner in the last eight months. There were disappointments about the government. It’s quite possible that supporters of our opposition would have stayed back at home. Anyway, it is too early to judge what has happened. And, there are complaints of malpractices…

It was a quite a close election.

Very close. Usually, when a party secures victory during the presidential election, it gets a landslide victory in the following parliamentary polls. This was what happened in 1989 and 2010, which are the classic examples. But, this did not happen this time. The gap was just 10 seats. And, on January 8, the people ended the 21-year-long rule of the UPFA, which was long enough to have a lot of dissatisfaction among the voters. Yet, we were able to bounce back within months. And, the new Parliament will have the strongest opposition.

The President has, in his letter to Rajapaksa, referred to the latter’s communal, racial campaign. He has also talked about his offer to Rajapaksa for an honourable retirement package….

Actually, what he [Maithripala Sirisena] stated was that he had wanted to run the campaign but because of Mahinda Rajpaksa, he couldn’t do that. He also said he [Rajapaksa] shouldn’t expect the post of Prime Minister if the UPFA secured victory. You know, Maithripala Sirisena belongs to the camp opposed to Mr Rajapaksa. It is up to Mr Rajapaksa to decide how to run his campaign. It is for the people to judge Mr Rajapaksa. Election is all about how the people decide and not your opponent. The damaging part of his letter is that “I am not going to appoint you as Prime Minister if you secure a majority.” But, the election, the wave is all about bringing Mahinda Rajapaksa back. Some people would have thought why they should vote when they knew they could not achieve what they wanted. That statement [of Sirisena] is undemocratic. It is a violation of the Constitution and a violation of democratic precedents set by his predecessors. In 1994, the then President D.B. Wijetunga of the UNP did not hesitate to invite Chandrika Kumaratunga of the People’s Alliance to form a government even though the latter did not get a simple majority in the elections. Similarly, in 2001, when President Chandrika of the PA was in power, Ranil Wickremesinghe of the UNP became the leader of the largest group in the Parliament and she did not hesitate to invite him to become the Prime Minister. These two precedents were set, respecting the Constitution of the nation.

Why did not Rajapaksa go to the Northern Province to campaign? Having fielded candidates of the UPFA, should he not have gone there?

He had explained even during the campaign in other places as to why he did not go to the North. He said he did not have adequate security. He had complained about it several times…. Since the government did not provide him with adequate security, we, in the Alliance, did not want him to take a risk.

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