The joint opposition says it will continue to protest against the selling of government owned assets despite the recent crackdown on a protest in Hambantota. Joint opposition Parliamentarian Prasanna Ranaweera said he would fight against the government’s policy of selling off national assets, even at the expense of his life. Ranaweera, who was recently removed from his post as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Kelaniya electorate Organiser, is currently in remand custody over the Hambantota protest incident until October 30.
Following are excerpts of the interview;
by Ashanthi Warunasuriya
Q. According to your view what is the biggest national problem we are currently facing?
A. The biggest problem the country is facing is the sale of national assets and the government’s attempt to divide the country and hand it over to various parties. Although there is major opposition against these moves, the government nonetheless, is using its powers and forging ahead with their plan. The opposition in fact is just a small group of us as the Joint Opposition. Hence we have a huge responsibility on our shoulders to protect the national assets of this country and safeguard the country from being divided. In addition there is the JVP who are an extension of the government and are having their own slogans and trying to hide the misdeeds of the government. The SAITM issue and Uma oya are definitely issues that needs to be addressed, yet the JVP are using these issues to mask the real national issues in favour of the government. Focussing the people’s attention on these two issues, they are assisting the government to hide the real threat of selling off our national assets to outsiders. The JVP is working in cahoots with the government to destroy our national assets.
Q. Despite a Court Order banning the protests to be held in Hambantota, why did you engage in this protest violating the law?
A. The court order stated that we should not damage public property and that the protest should not inconvenience the general public or obstruct their daily life. But this was a peaceful protest that was aimed at protecting our national assets. Yet it was the government that attacked this peaceful protest and created an issue.
Q. Whatever is said to justify the protest, eventually it boils down to violation of court orders, isn’t it?
A. Well, anyone can argue this incident in many angles, yet, nowhere was it proven that we violated court orders. That day it was after we had handed over the letter and walked out that the police began to attack us. They damaged the eardrum of a journalist as well. Therefore, is it we or the police that broke the law? Ours was a peaceful protest and we did not defy the court order in any way. But the police were sent there to create an issue so they could silence us and make us look guilty of defying court orders, in the eyes of the public.
Q. In that case if as you claim you have done no wrong, why are you behind bars?
A. Not just us there are even 70-year-old mothers too who have been locked up. In total there are over 40 of those who supported us. But, we are working towards getting them all released. There are mothers, social activists, journalists and many others who support us who are also locked up, but don’t worry we will ensure they are all released.
Q. Eventually, MP Namal Rajapaksa was released but you are still in remand. What do you think of this situation?
A. I am happy that he got out. We all applied for bail but everyone would not get it and we knew it. In fact Namal tried to have his bail cancelled and stay back in prison with the rest of us but as a group we did not want Namal to become a victim of this political witch-hunt. Hence, we decided to let those who got bail to be released.
Q. Are you still a member of the SLFP?
A. Yes. Not just a member of the party but I am one who is committed and is an SLFP activist who will act in the best interest of the party.
Q. If that is the case, don’t you think you are attacking your own party leader and the presidency?
A. Although we are members of the SLFP, today our party has no head. But as party members we are doing our best to bring a proper leadership to the party and we are working at ground level from the villages to organise the party. We are struggling to protect the integrity and rights of our party’s supporters. These supporters are with the policies of the party and not with individuals.
Q. You recently lost your party organiser post. How did you react to the news?
A. This is the current pathetic situation that has befallen the party. Those who received hundreds of thousands of the people’s votes are being removed and replaced with those who either lost the election or had only managed to get just a few thousand votes. This is a pathetic situation. Today the SLFP is in a pathetic situation where they have become the tail of the UNP. We are fighting against this situation and before long the people will understand why we are agitating and shouting against this pitiful predicament that our party has been brought down to.
Q. Under this current situation, where in your opinion, will those who are removed and those who step down, go to?
A. They will join a place that upholds the party policies. Still there is no definite decision as to where we will all gather, but it will definitely be a place that upholds the SLFP policies. However, it will soon be decided and we will all join up to a place where we will fight collectively against the forces including the UNP, and will work together to destroy their destructive motives.
Q. According to the SLFP, you were removed based on the notion that you were not acting to safeguard and strengthen the party’s intentions.
A. I totally reject this allegation. The time the party strength was at its peak was during the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa. At that time the party had 2/3 majority in parliament as a single party. Yet today the party has been brought down to a point where even the party supporters are disgusted with the party and are beginning to leave the party or distance themselves from the party. The party leaders are to be held responsible for this pathetic predicament of the party.
Q. However, the party president is your leader. Don’t you think that by your actions you are disrespecting the party leadership?
A. My view is that nothing that they are doing is justifiable. It is the leaders that should take measures to uphold the dignity of the country and act accordingly. The right thing for the party leadership would have been to discuss with the party’s most senior leader, the former President and discuss together means of how to strengthen the party once again and not to cling onto the UNP’s tail.
Q. You and others of the party had made an attempt to unite President Sirisena and former President Rajapaksa. What happened to that attempt?
A. It is not very promising. One cannot clap singlehandedly.
Q. Your group was of the view that within two poya holidays the government would be toppled. What happened to that attempt and where is it at now?
A. I will not commit on any definite date or time frame. But in the past too there have been instances where a government had been toppled overnight. We have a plan on how we are going to achieve our goals and it will happen at the right time. This government does not have much time. As journalists you should know what the people are saying and how they feel about the government and how disgruntled they are. Hence you can figure out for yourself what the future of this government would be.