On 25th July, Groundviews met with former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in Colombo to get her views on Sri Lanka’s present state of governance, plus a range of other issues, including – as is often today hinted at – the chances of re-entering active politics.
This is the first in-depth interview she has given any media in over six and a half years since she left office.
We talked for close upon two hours. The podcast is edited for length and content. Approximate time codes are provided when questions are posed or when particularly important points are made by the former President. This brief write-up is by no means a comprehensive account of what she says and readers are strongly encouraged to listen to the podcast in full, which you can download as an audio file here (plays in iTunes, Quicktime or VLC).
- 2.14:What are you doing these days? At around 4:40 she talks about the South Asia Policy and Research Institute [SAPRI] and the nature of its work and constitution.
- 5:53:Do you regret not being able to abolish the Executive Presidency? Around 7:50 she talks about the ’95 constitutional proposals, which included the abolition of the Executive Presidency, and how Prabhakaran may have reacted to them. Around 8:18 she talks about how Prabhakaran would have been isolated from the Tamil people had the proposals gone through, the support she had for them from the Tamil people and also the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora.
- 9:25:The future of the SLFP and how much the party has changed from when she led it. Around 10.20, after speaking about the way in which the incumbent President has stripped her of her powers in the party, she calls the SLFP a ‘Bandaranaike Party’. She calls the fate of the SLFP today ‘tragic’ and goes on to note that it is not a party that can be destroyed by Mahinda Rajapaksa or his family.
- 11:10:Asked if she would play a leading role in architecting change in the SLFP. Her response is direct – she will not return to active politics.
- 11:50:What are the chances for meaningful constitutional reform in post-war Sri Lanka? Around 14:10 she speaks about the ‘Tamil peoples problem’ whether there is a war of not, of the long history of this problem, and its root causes. She clearly notes the ‘Tamil peoples problem’ cannot be wished away just because the war has ended.
- 17:00:Is the re-emergence of violence inevitable if underlying structural conflict isn’t addressed? In the course of her answer, around 18:32 she notes that the underlying conflict could have been much easier to resolve had the Rajapaksa government not being in power post-war, and speak on a missed opportunity to use a totally different discourse to what was used post-war. Around 19:50 she also refutes the President’s assertion, made in his first address to Parliament after the end of the war, that there were no longer any majorities or minorities in Sri Lanka.
- 21:00: Assassination attempt by the LTTE in December 1999 – what do you think about it now and how has it changed you?
- 29:00:Asked how what she sees as the failures and excesses of the incumbent government are in fact any different to the timbre of governance when she was President, and under her government.
- 40:15:How successful was the war for peace strategy? How do you see your own strategy against that which happened on the banks of Nandikadal in May 2009? If you don’t see a continuation of the same idea, what’s the difference? Around 43:48 I ask whether she could not see parallels between what led her government back to war against the LTTE, and what led the Rajapaksa government to war, when talks with the LTTE failed in 2006. She also goes to explain why she said many years ago that terrorism cannot be defeated only by military means, and reiterates why even after the end of the way, Sri Lanka is no closer to a durable settlement to the ethnic conflict.
- 46:50:If you had a message to give to the Tamil people in the North and East, what would it be? Around 48:00 she has a number of interesting observations on the Tamil diaspora, including the fact that those who supported terrorism in Sri Lanka should now come back and invest their money in developmental projects in the North and East. She also speaks of the need for a new Tamil political leadership to enable the Sri Lankan Tamil people and the Tamil diaspora fashion what they believe is a durable solution.
- 50:19:Would you today think of going back the constitutional proposals of the mid-90s, which included extensive power sharing, as those that are still viable? Around 52:20 she suggests that if the present government does not want to go that far, they can still implement the 13th Amendment ++ (she goes on to say what ++ means to her).
- 53:22: Notes that she is extremely concerned about the way the present regime has changed the thinking of the Sinhalese people, “to a point of being extremely extremist against all non-Sinhala Buddhist people”. There is a further comparison made a little later to early Nazi propaganda. She also laments the radicalisation of even Colombo based professionals, who get their news and information from the mainstream media.
- 56:10:What does she now think about the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity made in the Channel 4 video, which she referred to two years ago, in light of earlier comments on how she had investigated, when she was President, killings done by the Army. She notes that there is some glimmer of hope only because of the “very vociferous interventions by the international community” that makes government “even slightly sensitive to the need to resolve those issues”. The lecture she refers to here, and once or twice elsewhere in the podcast is the Justice Palakidnar Memorial Oration.
- 58:10: Notes that this is the first serious political discussion she has had with any media in six and a half years.
- 58:30:Asked what she intends to do in the future to address all of what she said was wrong in Sri Lanka today. She goes on to state that Sri Lanka needs a serious systemic change. She also goes on to counter allegations that she is personally jealous of the incumbent President. Soon after she goes on to note how little support Mahinda Rajapaksa got, at the time the SLFP was looking for a Presidential candidate, from the central committee of his own party (just 3 out of 59). Inter alia, she also says the incumbent President was the one person who didn’t support her devolution proposals.