Colombo: In an exclusive interview to NDTV's Sreenivasan Jain, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe speaks about his country's relations with India, the debt-ridden relationship wth China and the way forward on the devolution of power to the island's minority Tamils.
Here is a full transcript of the interview:
NDTV: Many believe that Maithripala Sirisena's dramatic victory in the Sri Lanka elections would not have been possible were it not for the support of Ranil Wickramasinghe, one of the most seasoned politicians in Sri Lanka and who's now back as Prime Minister for the third time- sworn in almost immediately after President Sirisena took charge. Thank you very much indeed, Mr Wickramasinghe for joining me and is that a fair assessment, that without you Sirisena would not have won? You are the true kingmaker of this election?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: The kingmakers are the people who wanted a change. They didnt want a king, they wanted a president and the abolishment of the executive presidency. So we decided to have a common candidate. The UNP was the largest party in the opposition and certainly ran the organisations on the ground outside the northern province.
NDTV: But you know the change many believe came peacefully, except news came that actually there was an attempted coup by former president Rajapaksa. Now you actually came to visit him here at Temple Trees, the official residence, early that morning, where he finally conceded. Did he concede immediately or was there some sort of planned coup?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: President Rajapaksa sent me a message, wanting me to give him a telephone call . that he had lost the elections. I replied that I will come there and discuss the transition with him rather than do it over the phone. So when i came here, President Rajapaksa conceded defeat and we discussed the details of the transition.
NDTV: He didn't put up a fuss or anything?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: No there was no fuss when he met me, no.
NDTV: But you know the fact is that many believe that you are going to be the real power behind this throne; this is actually going to be a Ranil Wickramasinghe government, not a Sirisena government. Is that true?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: Well we have made Mr Maithripala Sirisena the President and the parties constituting the government will run that jointly.We want to bring an Amendment to the Constitution this month to abolish executive presidency. Then in June, most probably May or June, we'll hold parliamentary elections and the people can decide who should be the Prime Minister and head the government.
NDTV: Okay. You're saying that you're a transitionary government but many believe that it's a Wickramasinghe government because all the cabinet ministers are from your party.
Ranil Wickramasinghe: No the major party as I said was the UNP so therefore the major number of ministers are from the UNP. But, we did set apart a number of ministries to be offered to the members who supported President Rajapaksa in the SLFP.
NDTV: Now let's look at three big issues which India is concerned about. Number one is whether you will grant full autonomy to the Tamils or will that just remain a promise on paper?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: Well the agreement is that the 13th Amendment be implemented, and that's the discussion we are having with the TNA. In principle all have agreed that the 13th Amendment should be implemented.
NDTV: You're okay with that?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: We are with that. We're only having discussions about the police powers and how it should function, that's all.
NDTV: But that's the key thing.
Ranil Wickramasinghe: No, police powers is a provincial subject but there are certain concerns Once we bring the independent commission in, how do we do that? To ensure that..there is big fear in the country, not only the North, that the nine ministers.. chief ministers may turn the police into their own private army. We're all concerned, even the TNA is aware of it, so we've got to have safeguards against it
NDTV: But you're not in principle against it? You're not in principle averse to granting full powers?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: The 13th Amendment will be implemented in full and then there's a question not only of an independent police commission; there's going to be independent public service commissions. So how that relates to the provinces also has to be discussed.
NDTV: The second is of course to do with the exaggerated pro China tilt by the Rajapaksa government. Will you rectify that? Because that's a matter of great concern for India.
Ranil Wickramasinghe: As far as we are concerned we will continue the tradition of a policy of friendship with India while we maintain our friendship with China, Japan and the other countries.
NDTV: But do you agree that the tilt towards China had gone a little too far during the Rajapaksa time? A lot of contracts were signed.
Ranil Wickramasinghe: I have always said that President Rajapaksa's regime tried to play China against India and India against China and they came a cropper.
Ranil Wickramasinghe: We are looking into all foreign contracts and local ones and where there is corruption, we will certainly ensure we take action whether it be Chinese or any other country. We are also reviewing the port city project because we have not yet seen the feasibility study and the environment impact assessment. I asked..when i was with the opposition, I asked the government to table it in parliament. They didn't do so. Therefore we will have to look into the environmental and feasibility aspects.
NDTV: You will be looking into that? Do you believe there was corruption there?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: We're looking mostly into the two reports. Then we will know whether there has been corruption or not.
NDTV: What about the question of prosecution of war crimes?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: Our position has always been that whatever we do has to be within our domestic jurisdiction.
NDTV: So you're saying no international probe is going to be allowed?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: No, we're saying the jurisdiction to try any person who's committed a crime lies with Sri Lanka.
NDTV: So your stand remains the same as the previous government? A UN probe is not welcome; you will do your own internal probe?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: No, UN can give its probe. We'll engage the UN on these issues. That's the difference. We're going to engage the UN Human Rights Council on these issues. All we're saying is any criminal jurisdiction must be exercised in Sri Lanka. Any civil jurisdiction has to be exercised in Sri Lanka. Only the Sri Lankan courts can determine this issue. The same as India or USA. We are no different from anyone else but we will restore the independence of the judiciary.
NDTV: Okay, but you concede that these war crimes did take place?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: Whatever the violations of human rights, we are looking into it. Anyway, the UN is going to send its own reports so there after we will decide what we're going to do. But we will have engagement and the UN report is not about going to the international criminal court. It's about whether violations took place or not.
NDTV: Is Sri Lanka essentially a unitary state? A Sinhala state? Or is it a state that includes all its people? This is a concern that was there with the previous regime. There are concerns whether there's going to be any change in that position.
Ranil Wickramasinghe: The 13th Amendment is on the basis of the present Constitution which India has accepted. It's unitary and it's Sri Lankan. It's a country for Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, everyone. And that is accepted by everyone here.
NDTV: Will former president Rajapaksa face justice for the charges that have been leveled by you during the campaign or has there been some kind of a deal that has been done?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: Yeah, we are looking into everything and if we need to take action, we will take action.
NDTV: You will? And right now what would you say is your single biggest challenge as Prime Minister?
Ranil Wickramasinghe: Our challenge now is first to get the Constitutional Amendments through.
Ranil Wickramasinghe: And to give the relief to the people and restore democracy.
NDTV: Right. Prime Minister, I wish you all the very best. It's a challenging time for Sri Lanka, but a remarkable one. Thank you.