National Freedom Front leader MP Wimal Weerawansa in an interview with the Daily Mirror talked about the current political climate in the country and the plans afoot for the Local Government Elections. Following are excerpts of the interview done with MP Weerawansa.
- Uniting SLFP with JO an arduous task
- It’s like swallowing a bitter pill
- If it’s a medicinal pill, it should be swallowed
- Most MPs believe JO shouldn’t tie up with the SLFP
- UNP-SLFP marriage no longer sustainable
- Couple is now separated
- We have to engineer the split between President and UNP
- President should make great compromises to convince JO
Q How are you getting ready for the Local Government Elections under the new political developments?
All the parties aligned with the Joint Opposition are working out arrangements to contest as a common front. We were in the stage of finalizing our nomination papers. Yet, some Government ministers, using their supporters as proxies, moved court seeking a postponement of the elections. The election process has hit a snag as a result. It shows how the Government fears facing elections. It’s a fear triggered by the buildup of public opinion against the Government. We can hardly find anyone sparing the Government of criticism. The severest form of criticism is made by those who worked to install this Government. It’s uncertain when the Government will have elections. People await elections to vent their frustrations against the Government.
The election process has hit a snag as a result. It shows how the Government fears facing elections. It’s a fear triggered by the buildup of public opinion against the Government
Q We read media reports about attempts to unite the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Joint Opposition. Some believe that the elections are postponed while such unity exists. What is your response?
This belief is reasonable. The SLFP wants to join hands with the Joint Opposition during the elections. Yet, the ministers representing the SLFP in the Government constantly slander the members of the Joint Opposition. When an election is around the corner, they seek to patch up. As I am aware of, there are some proposals by them. One is to form a political front like the People’s Alliance. Its leadership is to be offered to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
An SLFPer will be its chairman. Again, someone from the Joint Opposition is to be appointed as the General Secretary. The Joint Opposition is to command the majority support of the executive committee. That is one proposal being made. The other is to share the local bodies. In some localities, we will contest under the Flower Bud symbol and in others under the Hand symbol of the SLFP.
Most MPs have not agreed with these proposals. Mr. Rajapaksa has appointed a committee to hold talks with the SLFP. There is a committee appointed by the SLFP. They will discuss the matters and notify us in the Joint Opposition later. Yet, most MPs believe the Joint Opposition shouldn’t tie up with the SLFP.
Q According to your political experience, how realistic is such unity at this hour?
If the proposal forwarded by the SLFP is implemented, we will receive the controlling power of the proposed front. We will have the power to appoint someone from our side as the General Secretary. If it happens that way, the SLFP won’t be able to let us down after the polls. As a result, the Joint Opposition is able to consider this proposal. Yet, I sense there is only a distant possibility of such a patch-up taking place.
Q What is the reason behind it?
The Joint Opposition commands the support of the anti-government forces. These forces don’t trust President Sirisena. The conduct of the President at the last parliamentary elections left scope for such mistrust. These forces have expressed scorn regarding the President because of the manner in which he filled the slots in the National List. Secondly, these forces prevail upon the leadership of the Joint Opposition not to join hands with the SLFP. Therefore, there is the least probability of this happening.
If you compare the Government literally to a married couple, we can see the husband and the wife not sharing the same room. On and off, we hear quarrelsome voices. They only have to get divorced legally
Q Some say the United National Party (UNP) will gain in the event of such unity not taking place. What is your view?
It is an arduous task to join hands. It is like swallowing the bitter pill. If it is a medicinal pill, we have to swallow it despite the bitterness. Though the UNP believes the split will leave the party with an advantage, it won’t be the case. If the SLFP is divided, it will not be down. One segment will be marginal. It is a question of how big the divided factions are. It will all depend on the percentage of votes the SLFP can poll single-handedly at the elections. In the end, the country will be able to witness the level of public support the President commands. It will be detrimental to his political future. If the percentage of votes polled by the SLFP is big enough to ensure victory of the UNP, it will be crucial for us.
Actually, we are reviewing the 1982 period now. At that time, there were internal squabbles within the Bandaranaike family. As a result, Hector Kobbekaduwa was fielded as a presidential candidate. Yet, he got lost because of internal wrangling. The UNP received the advantage finally. After that, it crushed the youth insurrection killing as many as 60,000 people. It climaxed in a virtual bloodbath.
Though this is a Local Government Election, it has assumed the characteristics of a referendum. The Government’s future will depend on its outcome, be it a victory or a defeat for them. If we win, it will prove the erosion of public trust on the Government.
It will lose its moral base to be in power. Such a Government has no legitimate right to bring in a new Constitution. Therefore, this election is crucial.
Anyhow, if the UNP gains the upper hand, in case by accident, President Sirisena will be politically cornered. It will use the fresh mandate to accelerate its work on the separatist Constitution. The UNP will become more and more repressive, particularly on the members of the Joint Opposition. The Government will start work on neoliberal economic policies.
We should view this election as a referendum. We should leave no stone unturned in our effort to win this election.
Q How feasible is it for you to prevail upon the Joint Opposition to adopt your position?
We have presented our view. However, everyone is reluctant to join hands with President Sirisena. Even I have the same feeling, at times. We had some bitter experiences during the last elections. If we can accommodate him on our terms, we should consider it.
As I am aware of, there are some proposals by them. One is to form a political front like the People’s Alliance. Its leadership is to be offered to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. An SLFPer will be its chairman
Q Politically, how realistic is it for you to expect President Sirisena to rally behind you against the UNP?
The SLFP Central Committee has taken a decision in this regard. It should have been taken well with the connivance of the President. Normally, the Central Committee decisions don’t translate into action. President Sirisena should understand one thing. The public force behind the Joint Opposition is against the President because of the bitter experience at the last parliamentary elections. The President should take some corrective measures to convince these people of his genuine intentions. We were even denied of the Opposition Leader’s post. We were denied of the post of Chief Opposition Whip.
The slots in the National List were filled with their nominees. Some of these members should resign from their MP seats enabling us to fill them with our nominees. We should be presented with the post of Opposition Leader. If that happens, any overture from the President won’t be viewed favourably. The President should correct his past mistakes.
Q You recently met with the President. It means you maintain contacts with the President. How can you use your contacts with the President to persuade him to make such a compromise?
We sought that meeting in writing with the President to discuss constitutional matters. The President gave us an appointment. We wanted to bring to his notice the dangers inherent in the proposed constitution. We discussed only that.
Q Your understanding with the President has given rise to some speculation. How true is it?
There is no such understanding. It is not correct to say that I act with some understanding. Yet, we believe there are two factions in the Government. If you compare the Government literally to a married couple, we can see the husband and the wife not sharing the same room. On and off, we hear quarrelsome voices. They only have to get divorced legally. It is better if the couple gets separated legally. Now, State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe is being used by the UNP leadership to slander President Sirisena. The UNP is being targeted through the Bond Commission. Both sides are trading blows. It will explode at one point. We have to be strategic enough in our politics to engineer that political explosion.
Q You talk about a split in the Government. You also face a similar split within your party with two members resigning. What is your response?
It is an exaggeration if you call it a split. Former National Organizer of the party Piyasiri Wijenayake has only taken some indecent political steps. We know who is behind it. If anyone slanders me at this hour, he will naturally get a better political bid from the other political camp opposed to us.
General Secretary Priyanjith Vitarana resigned citing personal and health reason. There is a difference between what he did and what Piyasiri did.
Q What are you planning to do with regard to the Bond Scam getting unfolded before the Presidential Commission?
This is the largest financial fraud affecting the entire spectrum of the economy. It caused a hike in the bank interest rates. It affected the exchange rate. It has even affected the cost of living. All responsible, irrespective of their positions, should be taken to task.