COLOMBO: Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said here on Thursday, that India is silent over the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government’s unmistakable tilt towards China probably because it has been promised control over Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai harbors and the Palaly airport in the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern provinces to balance China’s control over Hambantota harbor.
At a meeting with resident foreign correspondents, Rajapaksa wondered why India, which made such a fuss over the visit of an Chinese nuclear submarine and helped the US oust him from power, is silent over the present government’s pronounced tilt towards China.
In the run-up to the January 8, 2015 Presidential election, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combine had campaigned vigorously against projects he had assigned to the Chinese. But once in power, the very same combine is bending over backwards to give 80 percent of the stake in Hambantota harbour to the Chinese for 99 years, and gifting away 15,000 acres of agricultural land to the Chinese to set up an economic zone around the harbour.
However, Rajapaksa said that the primary agent of regime change in Sri Lanka was not India but the US and the Tamil Diaspora. India only played a subsidiary role, influenced by the US. The US government had itself admitted that it had spent US$ 648 million on bringing about regime change in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nigeria he charged. Even now, the US is spending LKR 1 billion on the development of parliamentarians in Sri Lanka.
Asked what kind of relations he would have with India if he wins the next parliamentary elections and becomes Prime Minister, Rajapaksa said that he would have friendly relations and would welcome Indian investments, but he would not compromise Sri Lanka’s sovereignty in matters of decision making in national and international affairs.
He totally rejected the proposed Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India, saying that it would open the floodgates to Indian labor. He wanted India to remove the Non-Trade Barriers adversely affecting the existing Free Trade Agreement before ETCA is negotiated.
Asked about the impact of his opposition to China gaining control over Hambantota habor on Sri Lanka’s relations with China, Rajapaksa said that his principled opposition was conveyed to the Chinese during his last visit to China and the Chinese appreciated it. The Chinese company which built the Hambantota harbor told him that it believed that social stability is necessary for any project to succeed.
Asked about his attitude to the government’s efforts to draw up a new constitution, Rajapaksa said that it is not necessary to change the constitution wholesale.
“Just two amendments will do. Introduce a new electoral system and set up a Second Chamber (Senate) in parliament to give the various provinces and ethnicities a share of power in the Centre,” he said.
Since the government has two thirds majority in parliament, it may be able to get a new constitution through.
The former President totally opposed the dilution of the powers of the Provincial Governors as that would weaken the Center and the country. He cited the Indian constitution and said that there too, the Governor enjoys over-riding powers.
The Tamil National Alliance’s demand to make the Governor a handmaiden of the provincial Chief Minister is totally unacceptable, he said.
Rajapaksa accused the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government of non-performance and said that every section of society is yearning for change. The drive against corruption has become a hoax with the government unable to convict anyone since it came to power two years ago.
From January 2017 onwards, the opposition will be engaged in frenetic activity as three provinces (Sabragamuwa, Eastern and North Central) will be going to the polls in September, and the local body elections will be held in June or July.
According to Rajapaksa, the Sirisena faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) will not get more than 10 percent of the party votes in these elections because party loyalists see the Rajapaksa faction as the genuine SLFP and the Sirisena faction of the junior partner of the United National Party.
He predicted that once the election results come out, there will be mass migration from the Sirisena camp of the SLFP to the Rajapaksa camp.