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"Politics Is a Terrible Game"

An interview with Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga
 

 

Copyright © 2005 Time Inc.
 
FROM THE MARCH 29, 2004 ISSUE OF TIME MAGAZINE
 
President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the daughter of two Prime Ministers, has been a member of Sri Lanka's First Family for half a century and President since 1994. She spoke to TIME's Alex Perry at President's House in Colombo.

TIME: What will the upcoming general election decide?
KUMARATUNGA: The main issue is good governance and achieving a true and durable peace, not this farce of a peace process. The Prime Minister [Ranil Wickremesinghe] fooled everybody—the L.T.T.E. [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam], the people, the President and even a large number of Cabinet ministers—[by] saying everything was fine. [He made] secret promises to the L.T.T.E.—we still do not know what. There has been no transparency at all. And when I say good governance, I mean that there is [currently] a huge amount of corruption. Everybody's shocked and disgusted with it.

TIME: What was the immediate reason for calling an election?
KUMARATUNGA: I was forced into it by a total breakdown of cohabitation in government. The Prime Minister was determined to harass me and chase me out. He has only one obsession: he wants to be the President. And he does not seem to care what happens to the country in the process. We came to an impossible impasse. The only way to resolve it was to ask the people for a mandate.

TIME: What about the harm this has done to the peace process?
KUMARATUNGA: The story that the peace process was harmed after [I] took over is completely false. It had semi-broken down eight months before. There were no talks. After I took over, the Prime Minister made that his excuse.

TIME: Is this crisis solely the Prime Minister's fault?
KUMARATUNGA: I think so. When the Prime Minister was elected, I sent for him and said, "This is a golden opportunity to work together. Though your work methods and personality are very different from mine, I am happy you are carrying on the peace process we started. But please let me know the main framework of the talks." He said, "Yes, Madam, I can tell you in two days," but, I tell you, in two years, those two days have never arrived. It was a great, great chance for the country because we are both democratic and our economic policies are similar and we both stand for peace. It's a matter of personality.

TIME: Where did all this animosity start?
KUMARATUNGA: In the genes of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe. You can write that down.

TIME: You sound tired by it all.
KUMARATUNGA: My daughter says, "I like your soul and your spirit, and all this is killing your soul. Please go out of politics fast." In Sri Lanka, politics is a terrible, terrible game. So dirty, absolutely filthy. Decent people do not want to have anything to do with it anymore. It is my dream that we move beyond [this]. I hope this will be realized before I get out of politics.

TIME: You want to quit?
KUMARATUNGA: Of course I do. I would love to leave. I am dreaming of a life beyond politics.

TIME: How can you be so sure that what you want is what the country needs?
KUMARATUNGA: I don't think any individual [is] indispensable. But there are times in the history of a country when circumstances converge in a particular manner where people are called upon to lead historic processes. That's how mankind has moved forward.

 


WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka