Rajapaksa wants strong defence ties with India

Updated on Apr 08, 2004 02:52 PM IST

The new Sri Lankan Prime Minister said this in an exclusive interview to PK Balachanddran.

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PTI | ByPK Balachanddran, Colombo
The new Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has said that the United Peoples' Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government will seek close cooperation with India in the field of defence.

Speaking to Hindustan Times on being sworn-in by President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Tuesday, Rajapaksa said that strong defence cooperation with India was a must for the defence of Sri Lanka.

He further said that his government would seek Indian help in setting up industries and for the development of agriculture in Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa, who has been a long-standing admirer of India, dresses like an Indian politician in kurta-payjama and wears an angavastram  over his shoulders. And like his Indian counterparts, Rajapaksa                                                               is a votary of indigenisation.

The Indian High Commissioner, Nirupam Sen, met President Kumaratunga in the aftermath of the elections.Sources said that the discussion was very cordial and useful, with the President describing relations with India as the "cornerstone" of Sri Lanka's foreign policy.

Priority to changing the Constitution

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said that his first job would be to change the constitution of the country from the Presidential system to the parliamentary system "so that President Kumaratunga could become Prime Minister."

The UPFA is to introduce a motion in the new parliament to turn it into a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution. Rajapakse will steer the motion.

According to President Kumaratunga the present constitution gives too much power to the President and the Proportional Representation (PR) system prevents political parties from getting a two thirds majority which is needed to take major decisions.

In the elections held on April 2, the UPFA will have got two thirds majority under the First Past the Post (FPP) system. But under the PR system, it did not even get a majority. It is still eight seats short of a simple majority!

If the constitution is changed to a parliamentary one, President Kumaratunga will be able to enter parliament and lead the government as Prime Minister. Her second and final term as President expires in 2006.

Halt to needless privatisation

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said that the UPFA government,in which the radical Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is a key member, will not privatise public sector institutions unnecessarily. "The two state banks the Peoples' Bank and the Bank of Ceylon- will not be privatised," he assured.

Asked if foreign investment would be curbed, Rajapaksa said that foreign investment would be encouraged but only in the right fields, where Sri Lankan needed such investment.

He felt that it would be his mission to tone up government administration and make it efficient and service oriented by the use of modern management principles.

"The administration would also bring modern technology and English education to the rural areas so that the monopoly enjoyed by the urban areas over these, is ended," Rajapaksa said.

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