Hambantota to be the most developed district soon

“I want to be my own light, not the light reflected from another” – Namal

By Sandun Jeewantha
Hambantota, once a synonym for the backwoods of Sri Lanka, is fast growing in its importance as an economic hub. The home turf of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and that of the Giruwapattu Rajapaksa clan, Hambantota has also served the son of a former President as the launching pad for his parliamentary career. The latest event that turned the focus of the nation on Hambantota is the advent of young Namal Rajapaksa to parliamentary politics as an UPFA candidate from this district.

The leader of Nil Balakaya and Tharunyata Hetak, Namal Rajapaksa in an interview with The Nation explains his vision and mission as a young politician while replying to various allegations being made against him by opposition critics.

Namal says that the idea of putting up election posters never appealed to him. “I stopped the poster campaign and I am spending the funds thus saved on the purchase of text books for distribution among school children in the district.”
Asked for his opinion about his political rival in Hambantota, Sajith Premadasa, Namal’s magnanimous reply was: “Sajith Aiya is a good politician...”

Asked whether he expects to get a ministerial portfolio after winning the election, Namal says: “I don’t expect any ministerial portfolio…….The distance I have already travelled is very short. But the journey ahead for me is very long.”

Following is the full text of the interview:

Question: We all as children cherish a dream of being somebody when we grow up. For example, some look forward to becoming a doctor or an engineer, didn’t you have such a dream when you were small?
Yes. I did have such a dream. I wanted to be a lawyer. And, in fact, now I am on the way to realising that dream. I look forward to appearing in court cases in the future. I hope to practise my profession for the good of the poor and helpless people. In fact, my father too rendered a great service to the people as a lawyer. He represented the interests of the disappeared youth of Hambantota and in other parts of the country. Well, he fulfilled a need of the hour. Today’s priorities are different. I hope to practice as a lawyer to suit the needs of the people today.

Q: Can you tell us as to when you decided to contest a Parliamentary general election?
Politics is not something strange to me or the other members of the family. In fact, we have been living in the thick of politics. We have always been very close to people. Doors of our home have always been thrown open to ordinary people in the Hambantota District. To the people in the district, our father is not His Excellency the Executive President of Sri Lanka. To them, he is still simply `Mahinda Mahatttaya’. Given this political background of the family I have had no life distanced from politics. I had a desire to participate in politics even from very young days. Contesting at this general election is my first step into the political arena. However, I have been moving closely with the people, the youth in particular since some time. I have been working for the wellbeing of the youth in particular.

Q: You have been implementing community service projects under the banner of an organisation called `Tharunyata Hetak’. However, the opposition charges that the `Tharunyata Hetak’ is nothing but a propaganda gimmick aimed at promoting your image?
I am quite aware of the allegations being made against me by the opposition. But the youth in the country know what `Tharunyata Hetak’ means to them. We launched a series of programmes under the `Tharunyata Hetak’ to ensure a bright future for the youth in this country. The youth in the country have greatly benefited from our programmes. This is a reality none can deny. We are doing some work for the good of the youth. This is a continuing process. I cannot help if my name is mentioned in connection with this good work. You get a good name if you do good. You cannot call it image-building. I am happy my name is linked to good and not to bad.

Q: There was much talk in the run-up to the last Presidential election about the propaganda adverts run by the Tharunyata Hetak. The opposition was questioning the sources from where the funds that met the cost of adverts were forthcoming.
I must say at the outset that the adverts run by the Tharunyata Hetak were a great success. Those adverts hurt the opposition. They went to the length of getting up a series of specially designed adverts to counter our series. The opposition through sheer spite made various allegations against me. They said that I had got funds from the LTTE to finance my propaganda campaign. Some people charged that an LTTE leader called Emil Kanthan was bankrolling my campaign. I must clearly state that the monies that the Tharunyata Hetak spent on the propaganda were not our own, but the monies from the President’s election fund. The opposition knew this, but wanted to make an issue of the campaign led by Tharunyata Hetak, for the sole purpose of slinging mud at me. However, there is a reason for me to feel happy about their mud slinging. They resorted to vilifying me because they had realised that I was for them a formidable challenge to reckon with. The youth in the country know well about the Rajapaksas. They know well that the Rajapaksas would never embezzle people’s money. Therefore, people do not take the malicious allegations against me seriously. If the Rajapaksas had diddled the people’s funds, they would not be able to do politics for 70 years in a row.

Q: You are known to be the architect of the organisation called ` Nil Balakaya’ as well. What are its objectives?
We founded the Nil Balakaya as a rallying point for the youth in the SLFP and to empower them. If a political party is to forge ahead as a popular force, and if it is to have a bright future, it should have a dynamic representation of the youth. We founded the Nil Balakaya to meet this need.

Q: There is another allegation that you are trying to build a team of your own in the government through the Nil Balakaya. Another allegation that has gained currency is that you have initiated a move to ensure that the members of the Nil Balakaya in the fray at this election would top the preference vote lists in their respective districts.
I am aware that the opposition is making this allegation. It looks that some in opposition are afflicted with `Namal Rajapaksa Phobia’. I am just another candidate contesting this election. Why should I form a team? Namal Rajapaksa is only a member of the SLFP team or the UPFA team.

Q: You call yourself just another member of the team. However, it is the Rajapaksas who are occupying very high positions in the country’s political authority. If I suggest against this backdrop, that you are the most fortunate candidate in the running at this election?
Yes. I am at an advantage. However, there are many disadvantages as well. True, I stand out as the son of the President and I cannot help being my father’s son. But I don’t depend on my father’s popularity to win votes. I want to build my own identity. People in this country will determine the political future of Namal Rajapaksa on the basis of the image he has built for himself. I know that if I am to succeed as a politician, I have to be my own light, not the light reflected from another. I know I would be a failure if I failed to assert my own identity.

Q: Your father was only 24-years-old when he first entered Parliament. He is the Executive President of the country today. As for you, you hope to enter the Parliament at the age of 23. Do you think you will succeed in surpassing your father’s achievement someday?
Well. My father is the person who successfully met the most formidable challenge that the country faced in recent times. He put an end to terrorism that bedeviled our country for three decades. He is a great statesman of rare calibre. Therefore, people in the country today refer to me as the son of Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, my ambition is to win such a niche in the hearts and minds of people in this country, so that they would begin referring to Mahinda Rajapaksa as Namal Rajapaksa’s father! I know that such popular acceptability will not come my way as a matter of course. I will strive hard to gain it in the course of my political journey.

Q: You have started your political journey from the Hambantota District. What is the most pressing problem facing the people in this district? What are your solutions?
Unemployment is the most pressing problem in the district. We have already taken steps to solve this problem. Large scale development projects, such the Hambantota harbour, Mattala International airport, have taken off the ground. The youth in Hambantota will be the immediate beneficiaries of these projects. A plan is underway to set up a free trade zone in the area lying between the Hambantota harbour and the proposed international airport. A number of new industries will be established in Hambantota in the near future. Construction of a super highway and a railway line to Kataragama is making headway. There is also an international cricket stadium under construction. This means a massive development process is taking place in Hambantota, which will turn it into the most developed district in the country shortly. The long era of want and suffering in Hambantota is fast ending. People are about to step into the new era of prosperity when they can enjoy the dividends of development. The quality of life of the people will further improve with the development in the sectors like education and health. The water problem too has eased now to a great extent. Most problems related to water scarcity will end with the completion of the Uma Oya project.

Q: What would be the result of this election in Hambantota? Would it be five against one?
The UPFA would get 5 seats against the opposition’s 2 if we are to go by the results of the Presidential election in the district. But the situation for us has changed for the better. We are going to win 6 seats at this election

Q: Well. Tell us what would be the position that Namal Rajapaksa is to occupy in the order of preference votes polled by the winning six in Hambantota.
People will decide on which position I should occupy on the preference votes list

Q: Have you made no pre-assessment of your position?
No. I am still young. I have no problem about the `manape’.

Q: How many Rajapaksas, in your opinion, are likely to be returned to Parliament from the Hambantota district at this election?
The general opinion of the people is that three Rajapaksas will make it to Parliament at this election. The decision lies in the hands of the people. The position on the preference votes list is not something that bothers any of us. The position that Namal should occupy on the list or where Minister Chamal, Nirupama Akka, Ministers Amaraweera or Indika should be placed is not our concern at all. We are not involved in a fight over`Manape’. Our collective concern is the victory of the UPFA.

Q: Namal, you have stopped putting up posters, and begun distributing books among school children. Why did you give up the poster campaign?
From the very inception, I was not enamoured with putting up posters. I reluctantly agreed to put up one poster because many suggested I should do it. I felt pasting posters is an exercise which is not worth the money spent on it Besides, pasting posters leads to unnecessary conflicts. None would charge that you have pasted posters over those of others or you have disfigured parapet walls if you give up this propaganda exercise, I found that I could provide books for school children in the entire district at half the cost of putting up posters throughout the Hambantota district. So I am now distributing school books free instead of pasting posters.

Q: A special feature in the contest in the Hambantota district at this election is a son of an incumbent President and the son of a former President are in the running from two rival political parties. What is your personal opinion about politics being done by Sajith Premadasa in Hambantota?
Sajith Aiya is a good politician. We two discuss political issues. I am closer to Madam Hema than to Sajith. Sajith Premadasa is a young man who, I think, has a good political future. Sajith Aiya’s present conduct as a politician is decisive for his political future

Q: Do you consider him a challenge to you politically?
Certainly not. I don’t treat anyone as a challenge to me.

Q: You cannot disregard the JVP when discussing politics in Hambantota. Many government politicians say that this general election will mark the end of JVP’s political journey. Do you share this view?
I saw two or three JVP election offices in Hambantota. Their activism is now at low ebb. They have suffered a massive setback in the entire country. This setback is visible in the Hambantota district as well.

Q: Though you express a very negative opinion about the JVP, you had recently expressed a very positive comment about Wimal Weerawansa who had broken away from the JVP. You said recently that President Rajapaksa looks on Wimal Weerawansa as a political progeny of his.
Yes. Wimal Aiya is like a member of our family. Wimal Aiya made a very valuable contribution towards the victory of President Rajapaksa at the 2005 and 2010 elections. The President treats Wimal Aiya as a son...

Q: What is the ministerial portfolio which you hope to get after winning at this election?
I don’t expect any ministerial portfolio. I am still very young. I have just entered politics. The distance I have travelled is very short and the journey ahead for me is very long. I shall be quite satisfied with being an MP.