Protestors didn’t set fire to Ranil’s house - Gunaratnam | Daily News

Protestors didn’t set fire to Ranil’s house - Gunaratnam

A new constitution should be enacted that takes into account the demands of this newly united people’s power, Frontline Socialist Party Leader Kumar Gunaratnam said.


Q: You are a leader behind this people’s struggle. How did you organise the July 9 uprising?

A: First of all, let me clarify, that we are actively contributing to the struggle and there is no need to act from behind the curtains. We participate in this struggle very actively.

The situation that emerged on May 9 was the main reason for the July 9 uprising. When a situation has been created where President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has to resign on May 9, he reasserted power by colluding with Ranil Wickremesinghe by attacking peaceful protesters and allowing the violence that followed.

There was no answer to any of the country’s economic, social and political problems. Therefore, it was the economic and social crisis and the crisis brought about by this regime that affected the commencement of the July 9 struggle.

Q: People say that these protesters have no discipline. For example, incidents such as applying soap and bathing in the pool of the President’s House and in addition, it is said that the properties of Temple Trees have been damaged. What do you say about this?

A: When talking about discipline, we know about the financial discipline of these politicians, such as Rajapaksa’s rule and good governance in this country. We know how they robbed the Central Bank, Sugar Scam and Garlic Scam. We know that they helped, issued gazettes so that their friends would pile up mountains of profits. That was the kind of financial discipline and financial corruption we had. When it comes to the protests where hundreds and thousands of people participated, the said incidents that took place were minute.

Also, what kind of discipline was there when they made journalists like you disappear while using their political power to create paramilitary groups? Compared to these, what happened when these thousands of people entered these buildings should be disregarded. With such a large number of people, who are not from an organised party, it is difficult for us to avoid small incidents hundred percent.

Q: Why did activists of the struggle set fire to Acting President Ranil Wickremesinhe’s house?

A: We have serious doubts about this. I presented the facts to several media organisations on this as well. A large number of people came to the struggle that day, even when they were shot with live bullets, they acted with strength, courage and patience and with admirable personality that was built on these qualities. The people of the country and the people of the world saw that. People who have behaved peacefully with such patience and personality do not want to set Ranil’s house on fire. An example for that is the way people dealt with the Presidential Secretariat and the President’s House. When only twenty or twenty-five protesters came and protested against the Prime Minister demanding him to resign, the way the police officers acted was tragic. We saw it as a clearly persuasive and provocative intervention. Several journalists were severely beaten as well. They attacked them without any provocation.

State instigated terrorism was carried out by violating the rights of journalists who were on duty carrying the media ID card issued by the government. These officers behaved in an opposite manner to the way the majority of military and police forces behaved that day. Their actions are not credible and suspicious. We can see that there is a clear connection between this behaviour and this event.

Q: Are you saying that this house was set on fire because of the behaviour of the Police and the Army?

A: Their behaviour is very questionable and conspiratorial. Let us look at the situation with common sense. There is no need to unleash such violence upon fifteen or twenty protesters. There was no reason at all to attack journalists. This behaviour is very suspicious. We believe that this is a pre-arranged situation.

There was a similar experience on May 9 too where peaceful protestors were attacked. The Security Forces did not act quickly to prevent that incident. They didn’t do it when they had the ability. They expected a reaction by attacking a peaceful struggle, because that is a natural occurrence. The police did nothing to intervene during the said incident. The necessary security positioning was not done until the morning of May 10.

It was obvious that they allowed this incident to take place to create the setting to impose the Executive Power. The people were also not happy about the state of the country. The same script was dramatized regarding this incident as well.

Q: Are you saying that Wickremesinghe set his own house on fire?

A: If we look at the drama happening today, Ranil Wickremesinghe has been appointed without any mandate. At least Gotabaya Rajapaksa had a people’s mandate. Even he had to flee the country. Ranil Wickremesinghe, who came through the National List, was appointed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa for his own safety. Serious doubts arise when we see the way, the mad attempt to stay in power, hiding behind the articles of the Constitution. We think it is very suspicious. Serious doubts arise when we see the way he is dealing with this matter, disregarding the power of the people.

Q: That’s hard to accept, isn’t it? That he set his own house on fire?

A: There are many such examples in the political history of our country. There are cases where murders were carried out. There are instances where bombs were planted. There were times when conflicts were created for the sake of gaining political power. There have been cases of instigated racial conflicts. There are cases where human lives have been destroyed. Every political party in power has been involved in creating such incidents.

Q: You know that similar incidents happened during the Russian Revolution, the property belonging to Emperor Tsar was destroyed by the revolutionaries. Isn’t what happened here similar?

A: We cannot compare the Russian Revolution of 1917, to what unfold on July 9, where people’s power has been activated. Historically, they are two situations, and their character-traits are also very different.

There is no armed struggle taking place here at the moment. The State, the Army and the Police are the one with arms here. They are the ones who carry the armed weapons. It is through them, the politicians are using various rules and regulations, trying to find a way to shoot the people. The people are unarmed, they don’t even have stones in their hands. The people are completely unarmed. That is why the people are passionate and involved. The people are high spirited to fight and highly involved in this struggle.

Because in the past, the people of this country were scorned for being slaves. Now they have come forward to fight for their rights, for the rights of others, for the rights of the entire people, for their democratic and economic rights.

It is a very good situation for the country’s democracy and the country’s economic needs. Therefore, what is happening here is not a militant struggle, it can be called non-violent, but even more a peaceful struggle. But, it is a very passionate struggle. That’s why we see people actively and courageously fighting for the political cause they believe in despite the suppression.

Q: Now you have thrown out three Rajapaksas, but the next Government has to be formed by the 225 Members of Parliament, so they will appoint a Government and act as they want. What do you say about that?

A: Now it is a bit difficult to look at this issue while placing ourselves in the old discourse. Now a new discourse has been created in the country. In the previous discourse we had the democratic trinity of judiciary, executive, legislature, and now today a new pillar, in addition to these three pillars, which is people’s power, has been built against these three pillars, it is this pillar representing people’s struggle and people’s power.

This new power, is the power of the people, it is unlike the democracy that has been curtailed under the limit of representative power. In this structure, there was no opportunity for the people to be involved in politics for five years after declaring their vote. Now, as of today, the people have a structure built for them to do politics outside the legislative.

The uprising has developed a model of politics outside Parliament and outside the prevailing system. Then this pillar of “people’s power” is a turning point. Now we need to structure this power at village level, city level, farming community, fishing community level, then factory based or field based. These should be made into People’s Power Councils, and be developed into councils at the village level, at the district level and finally into a national council.

This power must be organised and activated separately to the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Now we are experiencing it at the moment. It is no longer an idea, it is not a manifesto about people power or a document about people power. Today it is a tangible force, today we are experiencing it, today we are practicing in it.

So now if we look at our old discourse, the 225 MPs in Parliament, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna have the majority and there would be numerous number games played out. Whatever games played, there would be a situation where the people’s power, as a new pillar, could not be disregarded.

Before this political power, the Rajapaksas have given up power, and the President with Executive Power has fled the country. That’s why this is a reality, this is a real force, this is not just a concept.

The political power playing done with a number of heads will have to deal with this newly activated people’s power. That is why we say, here are the basic demands of the democratic, economic and social level presented by this new power, these are not socialist demands, these reforms can be done within the capitalist state, for these reforms, and the 225 in this Parliament should be ready to comply and compromise with the demanded reforms.

A House which consents to the reforms demanded by the people’s power should be able to form a Government. A new Constitution is needed as the laws we have right now are not enough. Laws were created for personal gains, for example, they brought the 20th Amendment, then a dual citizen brought into Sri Lankan politics.

If those laws were brought for personal political interests, now, within a year, a new people’s Constitution must be built. The newly appointed consensus government should complete drafting a new Constitution within a year.

Q: Some people say that no matter what, the President and Prime Minister should be chosen through this 225, then your proposals are anti-democratic, what do you say about that?

A: What was anti-democratic? Wasn’t it the Twentieth Amendment? Wasn’t it the concentration of powers in such a way that a dictatorial power is built over a single person? The judiciary, all other public services, administrative services, allowed to be the intervention of a single person, was that democratic? Using the power of two-thirds of Parliament to build such an arbitrary constitutional dictatorship, is that democratic?

Is Abolition of the Office of Executive President anti-democratic? Or what truly anti-democratic is where a two-thirds change the laws as they whims and fancies allowing a person with dual citizenship to hold a ministerial post in the country’s Parliament.

Is it anti-democratic to make it the right of the people of this country to call a referendum whenever they want? Or giving the people the power to recall the Parliamentary representatives, who are acting anti-people, is that anti-democratic? Is it anti-democratic to bring a law that gives people lands, houses and a good salary for deprived people? Demands presented in the people’s struggle are fully democratic.

Look at every law brought by the rulers who have ruled this country so far. Anti-labour decrees, decrees that abolish people’s food security, decrees that abolish people’s energy independence, decrees that abolish people’s democracy. These are what these rulers have brought. Therefore, we think the struggle is about demanding full democratic demands against the anti-democratic decrees brought by the respective governments so far.

Q: Are you saying that we need to introduce a new Constitution to absorb this new pillar of people’s power legally into the system?

A: That means, a new constitution should be enacted that takes into account the demands of this newly united people’s power. Since the day the executive presidency came into existence, it has become a pest. It is a serious problem for the country’s democracy. We saw Gotabaya Rajapaksa elected as Executive President. We saw how decisions were made under his rule.

This means that we cannot suddenly make a complete change. A people-friendly Constitution should be drafted by the newly appointed government and office-bearers as soon as possible. Making a people-friendly constitution should be done even if we have to work outside the existing constitution. Because what is happening to us right now is not happening as per the Constitution. We have achieved what we have achieved up to now in this struggle through the direct exercise of people’s supremacy.

Building a new people-friendly constitution is an essential matter for this country. It can end the national problem that has been in this country for decades. A discussion needs to start now. Ensuring the basic rights of the people like education and health should be sealed into this constitution. Provisions like right to report, judicial review and calling for referendum should be ensured. Now we have no way, even if we desperately want, to send Gotabaya Rajapaksa home, when his mandate has ceased to exist. Only he himself can call a referendum. A people’s constitution must be introduced to protect people’s sovereignty.

Q: How do you apply the progressive ideas you put forward into the Constitution? Because there is no member of yours in the Parliament. JVP also has only three representatives. So will others listen to what you say?

A: Now, did Gotabaya Rajapaksa listen to what we said? He had to listen. Did Mahinda Rajapaksa consider what we say? He was pushed to consider. Basil Rajapaksa and the old Cabinet could not do anything other than listening to what we said.

We represent the people of this country. Our long term goal is socialism. Our goal does not end with making a people-friendly constitution. We cannot build an egalitarian society by changing the tax policy and giving concessions to the people. We have long-term goals. On the way, we are advocating for reforms such as these.

The politicians do not bring forth these reforms willingly. So we need to push political parties to the point where they cannot avoid the reforms. The pillar of people’s power should be activated pressuring the three pillars of democracy.

Recently we saw that when various proposals were presented by the groups involved in Aragalaya, all the political parties had to agree to them. We think that is what the people’s struggle is all about. Gotabaya Rajapaksa had a very powerful position, even more powerful than during the time of J.R. Jayewardene. He had a 6.9 million vote base. Yet he had to listen to the people’s struggle. So why not the political parties representing the Parliament do connect with this people’s pillar and take the opportunity to correct their past mistakes.

Q: Are you running for the next election?

A: Yes definitely. We have always contested elections right from the beginning. Our political activities take two forms. One is that we take the opportunity to contest the elections. We take those opportunities as political platforms. We make these opportunities our platform to say that these problems cannot be solved by this Parliament.

Even if we are elected to Parliament, we will use that opportunity to prove that there is no solution to this problem within this system. Our representatives are currently protesting demanding necessary changes to this system. We use the attention these institutions get to popularize our opinion. Also, the power outside Parliament is our biggest focus.

Our long-term goal is to structurally strengthen an external force parallel to the democratic-trinity. That is what is happening now and in this people’s struggle; it is a further strengthening of the people’s struggle. People will not always just sit on the street and struggle. The structure of the struggle may change. Within each of these changes, we are looking to organise the people’s power that is being built outside.

Q: As you said, our people, when it comes to an election, are either in support of main political forces such as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party or the United National Party or the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. Leftist parties have diluted since Independence. As this is the case, will your party be able to get at least one seat in the House? Because even the JVP has only three MPs in this Parliament.

A: Now we have to look at the problem like this. As a political force trying to build a society of equality, we should see how we can systematically raise the economic, social and democratic rights and conditions of the people. The culmination of that process is the socialist society. Then, rather than thinking about whether we have one or two seats in Parliament, yes, we can debate within it, within this existing system, but more than that, we will focus on how the people will get tangible benefits. Our focus is on how to solidify the democratic rights of the people. This is our goal. Now, if we can bring a new constitution through the struggle, then the people will get a tangible benefit, while we do not have a single seat in Parliament. If executive powers are curtailed, that would also be a tangible benefit, while we have no representation in Parliament.

Meanwhile, if we can have our representation in the current Parliament, we will not hesitate to do so.

Q: The protestors beat Dr. Rajitha Senaratne but not Sarath Fonseka. What is the reason for that?

A: When tens of thousands of people participate in this struggle, we cannot completely control the behaviour of every individual. Even when the most organised and trained forces are fighting, we have experienced breakdowns in discipline and isolated incidents. It is only but natural for such isolated incidents to happen while people are protesting in large numbers.

Most definitely, we condemn such moves. We are totally against any person using violence against another person. Instigation of violence is harmful to us. Violence has always been harmful to the protests and it did not help it anyways. In such isolated incidents and in connection with individual characters, we ask you to control and regularize those impulses; the enemy is always trying to provoke us. Do not fall for those tricks.

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