In what could be described as one of the most decisive ‘Political coups’ the country has witnessed, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) General Secretary and Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena said he would contest President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the upcoming presidential election.
Addressing a packed media briefing at New Town Hall, Mr. Sirisena said he would to take on the incumbent regime which was engulfed in “nepotism, corruption and the abuse of the rule of law.”
“The entire socioeconomic and political systems of this country have been taken over by one family. They have ruined this country that is now engulfed in corruption and blatant abuse of power. It is against this that I am coming forward as the common candidate of the opposition” he said.
The minister, who arrived at around 3.15 p.m. with Minister Rajitha Senarathne in the same vehicle, was later flanked by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike, Ministers Rajitha Senaratne, Duminda Dissanayake, M.D Gunawardena and MPs Arjuna Ranatunga, Wasantha Senanayake and Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe.
“I will abolish the Executive Presidency in 100 days after being elected as the President. I will restore the rule of law by reactivating the 17th Amendment to the Constitution and make the Police, Elections, Public Service and the Judicial Service Commissions fully independent. The president will be made answerable to the legislature and create a people’s government that enjoy real peace, prosperity and happiness,” he added. “We thank the UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, General Sarath Fonseka, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana and all other parties who came forward and convinced all stakeholders to arrive at a common understanding on key issues. The UNP leader will be the Prime Minister of the new government we hope to form” he said.
“I have suffered immensely at the hands of this family, I could not implement the national drug policy nor could I implement the pictorial warnings on cigarette packets. This country knows why that happened and who was behind it,” he said.
Having briefly explained the origins of the SLFP and mentioning the names of those who pioneered the party, Mr. Sirisena was careful not to make any reference to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s father D.A Rajapaksa and only referred in passing to the incumbent President whom he thanked him for “ending the war”.
“The entirety of the SLFP will be with me and I call upon all citizens of this country to come forward and vote for me, for a society free of corruption and where the rule of law applies to all citizens equally,” the minister said. He seemed at ease during the entire news briefing but however, turned emotional when referring to what he termed the “pressure exerted on” him by “them”.
“My children have supported me throughout these years under tremendous pressure. They have often told me, that if as a senior minister you are under so much pressure we can’t even imagine what the normal person would be undergoing. We will support you in any decision you take and we will be there even if it comes to sacrificing our lives,” he said.
“I am the longest serving general secretary of the SLFP and I took this decision with much difficulty. I was totally disappointed and heart broken the way the President treated me. I was removed from the Irrigation and Mahaweli Ministerial portfolios one week after I laid the foundation stone for the Deduru-Oay multi purpose development project that would give relief to millions of people in the Rajarata. “
Mr. Sirisena said his decision would result in various attempts being made to destroy his image and that he was aware of the consequences he might have to face.
“They will do everything possible to tarnish my image and will even go to the extent of murder. I know all of this and I took an informed decision when I decided to challenge the incumbent President,” he said.
The average Sri Lankans, public servants, farmers, professionals, private sector and professionals have suffered immensely under the executive Presidency while a few have become multi millionaires. Therefore, the priority of the next government under President Maithripala Sirisena would be to raise the living standard of this sections which do not have a voice, Minister Sirisena emphasized.
Thuggery, embezzlement, crime, drug mafia, nepotism and corruption have institutionalized under the Executive Presidency but alas President Rajapaksa or his government has done little to arrest this horrible and dangerous situation.
Answering questions posed by journalists following the two-hour long briefing, Mr. Sirisena said he had discussed these matters with opposition parties during the past two or three weeks.
He said he would have discussions with the Tamil NationalAlliance (TNA) and that he would contest under a broad alliance, the policies of which will be made public during the coming week.
“I am still the General Secretary of the SLFP and this is the SLFP that is here” he said emphatically.
Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike said for the first time in the history of the SLFP, “a real son of the soil has come forward to take leadership of the country.”
She said she re-entered local politics after nine years of retirement to save the country and the SLFP from the Rajapaksa family.
“Mahinda Rajapaksa treated me very shabbily and insulted me despite being the chairman of the SLFP. He did not give me a dignified send off and even removed me from the chairmanship of the SLFP despite pleas not to do so.
Commenting on her failure to abolish the executive presidency, Ms. Kumaratunga said she had a genuine desire to do it without the support of the opposition.
“I tried my best to abolish the executive presidency but the necessary support from the opposition did not materialise,” Ms. Kumaratunga said.
Meanwhile, Fisheries and Aquatic Minister Rajitha Senaratne said he decided to support the candidacy of Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate at the forthcoming presidential election as a policy because from the time of late President J.R.Jayewardene he opposed and fought against the executive presidency.
Addressing the media at the ‘Navarangahala’ Dr. Senaratne said the outcry against the executive presidency among the masses and the political arena had become a huge storm under which no one who supported it would survive.
“I fought against this draconian constitutional arrangement with colossal figures like N.M.Perera, Colvin R De Silva and Dr. S.A.Wickramasingha. We did not do that for any personal gain but as a policy and we were not successful but we will be successful this time and abolish the executive presidency soon after Minister Sirisena is elected President at the January poll,” he said.
We promise to restore the independence of all statutory commissions, good governance and rule of law which have disappeared gradually in the past few years under the executive presidency, he stressed.
He said the country was ruled by drug mudalalis, character assassinators, fraudsters and thugs. There will be mudslinging, charges of corruption and crime but they cannot shake us.
“I may be killed during this battle to abolish the executive presidency. If that happens you must vote for Minister Sirisena and ensure he becomes President and my fight would have been a success, he added.
“There will be more to come. We have only brought the head here. The arms and legs and the rest of the body will arrive in batches in the next few weeks,” he said.
Dr. Senaratne said he did not enter politics to earn money. He sacrificed his job as a dentist and spent his money for the party and took responsibility as the national organizer of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party after the killing of Vijaya Kumaratunga.
“The executive presidency and the rule of the Rajapaksa regime have put Sri Lanka in a difficult position in the global stage. Early next year, Sri Lanka will have to respond to the issues raised at the UN and UNHRC.(Sandun jayasekera & Hafeel Farisz)
15.10: Ministers Maithripala Sirisena and Rajitha Senaratne just arrived at the New Town Hall.
15.14: Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Duminda Dissanayake also arrived
15.20 Minister Maithripala begins speech by reciting verses of the Dhammapada - says he is was the longest serving General Secretary of the SLFP
I have been with the SLFP for 47 years and served as the General Secretary for 13 years.
We have come to an agreement with all the political parties.
I thank the UNP for appointing me as the common candidate.
I thank Ranil Wickremesinghe for selecting SLFP General Secretary as the common candidate.
Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike played a major role in defeating terrorism.
I thank President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the security forces for winning the war.
18th Amendment was a major blow to the democracy of the country.
Law and order has been challenged today.I never thought the UNP or other parties would select me as the common candidate.
I couldn’t even impose pictorial warnings on cigarette packets fully but I tried my level best as the Health Minister.
Vote for me at the upcoming election. I will abolish the executive presidency within 100 days of election.
We should develop the economy of estate sector and private employees. I request Navy, Army and Police to make provisions for a free and fair election. I will protect everyone.There is no media freedom in the country today. The truth has been suppressed. I will ensure media freedom.
The 18th amendment will be abolished, will also change the current electoral system.
I will appoint Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister.
My family was fully supportive and backed me on this decision.
I will look after helpless people
Ends the speech
Minister Rajitha Senaratne
This is the happiest day of my political life.
This decision is not against the President but against his rule.
The war was started by the Executive Presidency.
Fmr. President Chandrika Kumaratunga
I am thanking all the members for allowing me to join this worthy cause
I'm very happy about the opportunity given to return to my own headquarters
I’m so happy to return to active politics
I was expelled from the SLFP.
We lived and fought within the SLFP
Party policies were corrupted.
After nine years I have decided to join politics.I got many requests to contest as the common opposition candidate but I rejected all the requests.
I will not accept any position.
Our lives are in danger but we decided to take this risk on behalf of the country.
People will decide where the real SLFPers are
I have faith in the Elections Commissioner