Saturday, 04 February 2023
‘Rajapaksa sons lived normal lives,’ claims Namal

‘Rajapaksa sons lived normal lives,’ claims Namal

Former heir apparent to the Rajapaksa dynasty and UPFA Hambantota District Candidate in next Monday’s election, Namal Rajapaksa sat down for a brief chat with the Daily FT on Wednesday during a campaigning pit-stop at his Carlton family home in Tangalle. Sitting in the foyer, below a picture of his youngest brother Rohitha dressed in nilame costume, the younger Rajapaksa said that the only crime the Rajapaksa sons had committed was to be regular boys living normal lives.

Namal Rajapaksa strongly denies the charge that his family, three members of which are contesting in the Hambantota District, led to the shocking defeat of his father and ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa in January but admits that the negative propaganda against the Rajapaksa name was having a slight impact on his own electoral campaign.

Following are excerpts:

Q: How goes the UPFA Parliamentary election campaign in the Hambantota District?
A: We are not doing big meetings. We are only doing door-to-door campaigns and small pocket meetings.

Q: Why is that different this time? Why no big rallies?
A: We have to play the Opposition ball game. It’s more convenient and more practical at this stage to go house-to-house and discuss issues and discuss what went wrong during the last campaign.

Q: What response do you get when you ask what went wrong?
A: It’s good. They all want Mahinda Rajapaksa back as the Prime Minister.

Q: Are you confident that UPFA will carry the Hambantota District?
A: Yes, for sure. The majority have already decided that they should vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa. They feel that the country without him is not safe, and the development is also at a standstill at the moment.

Q: Do you think that your father’s decision not to contest in Hambantota has made it more difficult for Rajapaksa family members in the district at this election?
A: More than that, for the Rajapaksa campaign and especially for me, if you look at the negative campaign against Mahinda Rajapaksa in the main UNP campaign, it will definitely affect me to a certain extent. Not in a big way though. But surely they keep slinging mud at us and they use the surname and that has a little bit of an effect from that. Other than that my father going to Kurunegala has not affected us.

Q: What can you say about the rest of your family’s fortunes in this electoral race?
A: I’m sure they will do well. It’s not about whether we come first second or third in the preferential list, it’s about forming the Government. That is what we are looking at. If you look at my campaign, I’m not going for preferential votes at all. My main target is to go to small clusters and take back the people who left us after 8 January for various benefits. And we’re looking at trying to attract new voters. That is what we lacked last time. We were very sure that we were going to win by 2.5 million vote majority. So we concentrated more on the glamour of the campaign rather than looking at what the people needed. This time my personal campaign is not about the number of preferential votes I get but it’s about making sure we increase the number of seats in Parliament.

Q: But if a Rajapaksa doesn’t top the Hambantota list, won’t that be a sort of a psychological blow to your family’s political hold on this district?
A: I don’t think that way. As I said, we have a goal. That is to make Mahinda Rajapaksa the Prime Minister. We have a target. I personally am not looking for personal glory or personal achievements. Our main goal is to make President Rajapaksa Prime Minister. If we have to sacrifice our preferential campaign, we have to do that. I feel that what is important is not whether I come first or my uncle comes first.

Q: Something that comes across very strongly when we talk to people in regions that are traditionally SLFP bases, is that your father is innocent of most accusations against him, but that it is his family – his siblings and his sons – that was his undoing and what led to his defeat. How do you respond to the charge that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s family is his Achilles’ heel?
A: That was a campaign, planned propaganda that was initiated at the time against the then Government by the JVP and the UNP. They knew that President Rajapaksa’s strength is his family. Look at this campaign in Hambantota. None of us are interested in preferential votes, we just want him to become Prime Minister. Instead if I started going for preferential votes, then there would have been a clash within the family and the party. So it’s just a perception that they created for the past 10 years. Not just recently. First it was Basil Rajapaksa, and then once he got out of politics it has become Namal Rajapaksa. That happens. The sad thing in Sri Lankan politics is that nobody wants to accept good things of a young boy or girl coming into politics. They would rather point out the mistakes. If someone tries to say that President Rajapaksa lost votes because of me, then the only things I have done is not going to nightclubs and getting into fights. Just because we three played rugby, doesn’t mean we did wrong.

Q: But there are other allegations.
A: Such as?

Q: The night races in Colombo and Kandy, abuse of power….
A: See the night races were organised by Carlton Motor Sports which is being managed by Rohan De Silva. We have nothing to do with it.

Q: But your brother participated in these races, you participated…
A: My brother participated only in Colombo. Not in Kandy. In Kandy we didn’t even participate because we were not approving what was happening.

Q: Really? But didn’t you go with the Kandy Mayor to the Asigiriya Mahanayake to convince him to allow the races?
A: I went not for night races. I went for political reasons. Then Mahanayake Thero asked me, and I said we don’t have any involvement.

Q: But then given the sort of power your father as President and his family wielded at the time, and you have to admit you wielded tremendous power …
A: (interrupts) He had people’s power. If you look at Mahinda Rajapaksa even today, he is probably the most popular person in Sri Lanka at the moment, not President Maithripala or Ranil Wickremesinghe. So it was people’s power that he had.

Q: Okay, so given the power of his mandate and in light of the priests’ strong objections to the races, couldn’t you have stopped the races if you wanted to? If you had said ‘don’t hold the night races’, would the night races have happened?
A: The Mahanayake Thero didn’t want the races to be held at the Dalada Maligawa. It was held in Peradeniya, not at the Dalada Maligawa. The organisers actually listened to the Mahanayakes, not us. And they shifted it from the Dalada Maligawa. But in the 1970s it was in front of the Maligawa during JR’s time.

Q: There were night races during President J.R. Jayewardene’s time?
A: Yes and they were racing in front of Dalada Maligawa. And it was the Dalada Maligawa wall that was the safe wall, during that time. But that is the fact, we had nothing to do with the races. At one point us playing rugby was a big problem, us doing law was a big problem, my second brother joining the Navy was a bad move apparently, my youngest brother being an astronaut was a mistake. Instead if we were in London having a good time with everything we wanted, it would have been fine. The only mistake we have made was living normal lives and doing day to day things.

Q: Since we’re talking about rugby, can we discuss this alleged murder cover-up of rugby player Wasim Thajudeen?
A: I don’t know how this came up about us because we were very good friends. I don’t know how it became so political. I don’t think it should be political. What they are doing now is to make it extremely political. Two or three days before the election them coming up with all this, it will upset his family and his friends.

Q: You believe the CID is acting in a partisan way?
A: They should be. I don’t know if they are acting on their own or whether the current regime is pushing them to do so. My only request is not to make it political. Because making it political won’t do justice to his family.

Q: You were summoned to the FCID on 12 August, but the Elections Commissioner intervened to have your inquiry postponed until after the poll so that your opponents can’t take political mileage from it. Do you think this kind of independent stand by a public official would have been possible during your father’s tenure?
A: Yes I informed Susil Premajayantha and he informed the Elections Commissioner. The Commissioner asked the FCID not to summon me.

Q: Yes but the UPFA says the FCID is political, right?
A: Yes, it is political

Q: But at the same time, you also experienced the Elections Commissioner having the capacity and the power to stop the FCID from summoning candidates and giving that edge to your opponents. And politicians have not got in the way.
A: That has nothing to do with politics. This is the power the Election Commissioner has. It’s obvious no. If someone wants good governance then this is good governance. Not summoning a candidate two days before an election.

Q: But the political leadership has not got in his way, have they?
A: We have to be very thankful to the elections commissioner for doing that. He is being very understanding and looking at it from the candidates’ point of view. Anyone would understand two days before campaigning ending they summon two candidates to the FCID. If they really had something on me, they had six months. What were they doing for the last six months? They wait till two days before an election just about to finish a campaign and two MPs were summoned to give these statements.

Q: There are a number of corruption allegations against your family. Is that why the UPFA is pledging to dissolve the FCID?
A: Not really. We are glad that they are asking me to come before the FCID, that will help to clear my name and that will prove to the world that my hands are clear. In a way it is a good thing it happened. It’s bad to happen during a campaign of course. But none of my family members are corrupt. Our hands are clean. We are willing to face it. My mother went before the FCID. I went before the CID for seven hours about trying to murder the President.

Q: Because your bodyguard had a pistol and was very close to President Sirisena.
A: He had a water bottle. They say it is a pistol.

Q: What do you think about President Sirisena’s decision to dissolve the PSD and put his security in the hands of the STF after the PSD’s alleged involvement in the
Thajuden murder?
A: The PSD was dissolved not because of the Thajudeen murder. It was removed a long time ago.

Q: That’s not true. PSD was removed from the President’s security detail last weekend.
A: The PSD was anyway dissolved.

Q: DIG Wickremasinghe was in charge of the PSD until three days ago. The PSD was in charge when your bodyguard was caught, with his ‘water bottle’.
A: PSD is Presidential Security Division. Every President has that.

Q: So why do you claim it was dissolved long time ago?
A: There were Gajaba units and so on.

Q: Yes the commando units were dissolved after the January election. But the PSD was disbanded only last weekend over allegations officials from the unit are facing about the Thajudeen killing.
A: My feeling is that that was an internal issue. Even if you look at the water bottle case, it was an issue between the police and the STF. The IGP is STF. The CID head is STF. People who are giving evidence saying they saw a weapon on my bodyguard are from STF. The guy who was apparently holding the weapon at the meeting was an Army boy. They were blaming the Police for not taking him in. So how can three STF officers be put as witnesses and two Police officers and Army boy as accused? So this entire story…

Q: So you think it’s all a cook up?
A: It is. We know. My father was there for 10 years and we all know how internal clashes take place. If the Leader does not stand and take the right decision, then things like this will happen.

Q: With regard to the Thajudeen case, you think there was no cover-up?
A: No, I don’t think so.

Q: So you think the police are acting in bad faith. There was no murder?
A: I don’t know but from the looks of it, there was no murder.

Q: But do you think the case should be investigated?
A: Yes.

Q: And you realise your brother may be implicated or become part of the investigation?
A: It’s okay, even I am part of investigations. But I know my brother has nothing to do with it. And none of our family members or friends were involved. He was a family friend, I mean we had no reason to be involved in such a thing.

Q: There is some talk in rugby circles that Wasim Thajudeen had been outspoken about the way the Rajapaksa brothers were controlling the sport of rugby in Sri Lanka...
A: He was very supportive of that. It was Wasim who asked me and my brother to come and play for Havelocks. We were in the same team in College.

Q: Are you aware that your brother’s former girlfriend was interrogated in connection with this issue?
A: Yes, she had put up a Facebook article. It’s very sad that they are ruining the reputation of another girl. She has kept denying that she has had anything to do with him. They kept on accusing her of having a relationship with him.

Q: A relationship with Wasim?
A: Yes, but she says no. So I think women’s rights activists should take up this issue.

- Dharisha Bastians