In a candid interview, newly appointed UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Ameraweera unravels the shortcomings of the former UPGA regime which included giving protections to criminals and reasons for the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Q So you were also well treated by the President?
There is no issue regarding it. He always treats me well and I view this decision as something taken towards the party. He had done it not to help me personally but to strengthen the party.
Q Do you think you are suitable for this post?
I am the Assistant Secretary of the SLFP. The trade unions of our party are under me. Holding such a great responsibility this is much easier and I do not think it would be difficult. I never asked for such a position, and knew about it only when my name was proposed by the president at the Executive Committee meeting.
Q Do you think if Mahinda Rajapaksa had been in power, that he would have consented to appointing someone from SLFP outside the Rajapakas’ of Hambantota?
I am afraid I cannot give an answer to that question.
Q It now appears that you have not lost but gained from leaving Mahinda and crossing over to the other side?
This is not something personal to me. I do not gain anything from this. It is only a responsibility and not another Cabinet Appointment.
Q Is there an alliance now for you to handle?
The alliance is in existence. There are petty disputes. This seems to be the ideal time to accept the post of its General Secretary. I have faced challenges and have won them. At every election, I worked according to my conscience. I feel that this is the ideal time to devote my attention in resolving these disputes, for which I will dedicate myself completely.
Q Don’t you think that strengthening the alliance is no easy task in the face of challenges posed by certain former leaders of left parties in choosing a different political path.
I do not consider it as a challenge. We should include the former leader as well in our fold. It is not my intention to drive out one group and welcome another group. All should be in one group.
Q However, the Mahinda group thinks that the SLFP had been betrayed (To the UNP). In that context do you think they will ever join you?
I do not think a situation of that nature had arisen. This is not a Government of the Elephant, nor a Government of the SLFP.
Q The SLFP membership holds the view that despite you all being in this Government, it is the UNP that is calling the shots, and in this scenario the formation a new alliance will it not be a formidable challenge to you?
That is how some interpret the new system of Government. They are now looking for slogans in order to retain the membership to some extent.
I do not think a new alliance would be formed, and if that happens who will benefit from it.
"Even Mahinda Rajapaksa had said recently however much they try to chase him away, it is not so easy. The groups whom you refer to, had been having on the side line meetings within the Parliament and expressed a view that they should be united and not break into groups."
Q Do you mean to say that those who are attempting to form new parties are carrying out a UNP contract?
I do not think that that any SLFP member would stoop to handing over the victory on a palate to the UNP. Whatever stories that are now circulating, no alliance had been formed. Even Mahinda Rajapaksa had said recently however much they try to chase him away, it was not so easy. The groups whom you refer to, had been having on the side line meetings within the Parliament and expressed a view that they should be united and not break into groups.
Q How can you be so specific, when the parties already in the alliance are levelling scathing attacks on the President and the SLFP ministers how can a unity as envisaged by you ever see the light of day.
A-That is now history and I am not eager to speak on those which is time consuming. We can say much, in countering their allegations. I do not wish to deal at length on these issues. I am keen to stop these outbursts and soothe the pain of mind caused. My aim is to unite them and from my part I am doing the utmost towards this end.
Q Do you claim that your endeavour is to built up amity between Maithri-Mahinda, and why you efforts failed?
I did it from the beginning. The first discussions after January 8, were held at my residence. At the beginning these discussions appeared to be fruitful, but however with the intervention of some they failed to continue.
Q Are you hinting that some others misled Mahinda Rajapaksa?
I am not using such words. Mahinda Rajapaksa is not a child to be wooed in that manner. It is easy to separate two groups but difficult to bring them together. They had sneaked against each other. But I have not given it up, and my attempts at bringing the two groups together would continue, despite these set-backs.
Q Are you extending your invitation to Mahinda, and Basil as well?
Yes, definitely. I am ready to speak to anyone on behalf of the alliance.
It is applicable to Basil Rajapaksa as well. I do not want to leave out anyone.
Q The present SLFP Ministers, and those with Mahinda accuse Basil of destroying the previous government. Do you also hold that view?
I never said so, but 90% held that view. To be honest I had no grudge with him because he never harmed me.
Q If Basil was not the one to be blamed, then what happened?
A-It is no point in blaming someone for the defeat and washing our hands off the guilt. There were many shortcomings, which need to be probed now, and should include those from the top to the lowest Pradeshiya Sabah chairman. They should be investigated. There were several in the Pradeshiya Sabhas connected with rape.
Some convicted of taking bribes and those involved in crime were protected by us. If the law was enforced from the top to the bottom and they punished those who committed these crimes, irrespective of their positions, President Mahinda Rajapaksa would have been in power even now. It was his fault for not having taken action against those who committed offences. He regretfully mentioned these later.
Q What prevented you from pointing out these to him?
We had no say at that time, and to be honest, not bold enough to point out them directly to him. There was a clique very close to him, which was given preference over us.
Q The Rajapaksa charge that the Government is bent on taking revenge. What have you got to say about it?
I do not condone some of the statements made through media. Summoning him for non-payment of dues to the ITN and CTB cannot be approved. But it is a court procedure. President Maithripala Sirisena has no hand in this matter and he does not involve personally on this matter.
Q You were also one among those who clamoured against the FCID?
We are having deliberations on this issue and if a consensus is arrived at to do away with it then we would proceed further.
"If the law was enforced from the top to the bottom and punished those who committed these crimes, irrespective of their positions, President Mahinda Rajapaksa would have been in power even now. It was his fault for not having taken action against those who committed offences. He regretfully mentioned these later."
Q Does the SLFP hope to continue its journey together with the UNP?
We joined this Government towards achieving certain goals. On the Geneva issue this unity paid dividends as we were able to come to terms with them. In addition this is a great opportunity to develop the country. Our people are not used to a government of this nature. It is a new experience for them.
Q Are you contemplating forming a SLFP Government in 2020?
We cannot be in a haste. There should be a long term plan, and grassroots level organisations had to be made very effective. At the end of every election the parties tend to split. Being in the Government had not deterred us in strengthening our party and bringing in unity. The President allowed some to function as independents, some to join the government and others to remain in the Opposition.
Q The so called joint opposition is holding a protest rally in Colombo on the 17th, are the SLFP MPs allowed to attend this?
The Secretary of the SLFP has already issued a notice in this regard. That is the stand of the party. This is not in any way organised by the SLFP or the alliance.
Q As the leader of the party the President had replaced electoral organisers, who were elected, and replaced them with those who were loyal to him. In this manner can the SLFP think of winning future elections?
Any party should be disciplined. It is more important than the number of votes you garner. If anyone goes against the party, disciplinary action has to be taken and it would continue in the future as well.