Front liner of the 16 SLFP rebel group, former State Resources Development Minister Lakshmana Yapa Abeywardana discussed the future of the SLFP, forthcoming PC, Presidential and Parliamentary polls and current politics etc with the Daily Mirror. He shared the following views:
- We don’t agree with US Envoy’s comments
- SLFPers with Govt. digging their own political grave
- Electing office bearers is not to hoodwink anyone
Q Cracks have already begun to appear among the members of the SLFP rebel group of 16 on many issues such as the next Presidential candidate they would support in 2019, their leader and with whom they stand in contemporary political scene. How do you see this situation?
This is natural in politics in any country. It is understandable when politicians get pressure from voters at constituent, district and national level. However, no one must get over enthusiastic or desperate on how the SLFP gets its act together for the forthcoming PC, Presidential and Parliamentary polls as we are determined to arrive at the most prudent and timely political decision including the choosing of our Presidential candidate. What ever our decisions are, they must ensure the victory at all three major elections. What is important is that we must do the right thing at the right time.
We all are in the same political wavelength and working together to form a UPFA government and contesting most probably under the betel leaf symbol. We are still the members of the UPFA.
I must tell you that we have an immediate target to make Mahinda Prime Minister before the Presidential and Parliamentary polls to ensure our victory at the two big elections after toppling the UNP-led unity government.
Q Don’t you think that you have to take a firm decision on your political future sooner than later and decide to whom you would support?
We have already taken a decision to unite with all like-minded political parties and politicians to form a formidable front against the UNP led government. Joint opposition leader, Dinesh Gunawardana, National Freedom Front leader Wimal Weerawansa, Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader Udaya Gammanpila and Democratic Left Front leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara.
Q The best bet for the joint opposition group which includes SLPP and SLFP’s MR faction in the late 2019 Presidential poll is Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. But the US is determined to prevent it. Don’t you think this is a major setback for your front?
I presume, if US Ambassador Atul Keshap actually made these observations, they are his personal views. I don’t think the foreign policy of the US government is based on personnel matters or individuals. But I must categorically say that we don’t agree with his comments reported in the media.
However, you may be aware that not only Gotabhaya’s but of many other senior politicians’ names have been quoted by the media as potential presidential candidates. Whatever said and done, the winner would be the person named and supported by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. No one will be able to win the Presidential poll without his blessings and approval. Therefore, our group will support and campaign for the victory of the Presidential candidate chosen by MR.
I must tell you that we have an immediate target to make MR Prime Minister before the Presidential and Parliamentary polls to ensure our victory at the two big elections after toppling the UNP led unity government. We have taken an inspiration from what Dr. Mahathir Mohamed has done in Malaysia at the age of 92 at the May General election.
Q If not Gota, who would be the other potential candidates?
We have so many contenders for this position. It could be Dinesh, Chamal or even Basil but the final choice is in the hands of MR. Some argue that Gota will not get the support of minority parties in the country which is a misconception. MR has been able to build a close rapport with Muslims and Tamils. Our recent discussions with TNA leader, R. Sampanthan have been very fruitful and constructive.
We have already taken a decision to unite with all like-minded political parties and politicians to form a formidable front against the UNP led government.
Q It is quite obvious that you would not emerge victorious against UNP in any of these elections unless you unite the entire opposition which includes SLFP, SLPP and all other southern minority parties such as JVP, MEP, CPSL and NFF. How are you going to surmount this difficult task?
True, but this is exactly what we are doing right now. We have made much headway in uniting all anti UNP and anti government forces under one roof. At the local government election, the SLPP was able draw 46% of votes. The anti-UNP camp is stronger now than it was in February this year. Therefore, obtaining over 50% of votes at any future election will not be a big task for us.
Q Basil has made it clear that he was not in favour of welcoming the SLFP rebel group to the SLPP. How do you see this?
I don’t think he made such comments on the entire group but only on a few members. But we are chums with having same political agenda and views. I don’t think we must take his comments seriously and I have no hesitation whatsoever that we cannot work together to achieve our ultimate victory.
Q President Maithripala Sirisena will be the SLFP Presidential candidate according to the party sources. The SLPP’s candidate would most likely be Gotabhaya. Whom would you support?
The SLPP leader Prof. G. L. Peiris is on records saying that the SLPP would not campaign for President Sirisena in 2019 Presidential polls. Politics and electing the Executive President are two different entities. If MR becomes Premier before 2020, making him the next President is not a difficult task. You can get a clue from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Malaysia’s leader Dr. Mahathir Mohamed.
President Sirisena has never said that he would contest the Presidential poll scheduled to be held in late 2019. I repeat that the absolute winner will be the one who gets the support and blessings from MR.
We all are in the same political wavelength and working together to form a UPFA government and contesting most probably under the betel leaf symbol. We are still the members of UPFA.
Q There are differences between the SLFP rebel group of 16 and those who support the SLPP. Don’t you think this is setback for you all?
As long as we remain divided, yes, it is a set back to meet our goal. I assure you that we all, the SLFP, the UPFA, the SLPP and all other minority parties grouped in the JO will form a formidable common front to challenge the UNP at forthcoming polls. Don’t forget the widely accepted saying that there are no permanent enemies or friends in politics. The best indicator to this adage is the recent peace agreement signed between the US and North Korea. In penning it, the sworn enemies for decades, the US and North Korean Presidents became friends.
Q The main reason for you to leave the ‘Yahapalana Govt’ was the Central Bank bond scam. But you quit after remaining in the govt for more than three years, despite the fact that the fraud took place in February 2015. What do you have to say about this dereliction on your part?
We joined the UNP-SLFP ‘Yahapalana Government’ on the approval of the SLFP Central Committee and on the request of President Sirisena on a set policy. Unfortunately, we felt that the government was not taking the correct path that we expected. Therefore we became distressed, disappointed and dejected. We felt that if we were to remain in the government, we must attempt to direct the government in the right path by exposing its wrongdoings. Uncovering the Central Bank bond scam is one of them. We were also instrumental to introduce amendments to a range of budget proposals in 2015, 16 and 17 that we felt would further burden the masses. So we, the 16 members, quit when we realized that our task in the government was nearing its end.
No one will be able to win the Presidential poll without his blessings and approval. Therefore, our group will support and campaign for the victory of the Presidential candidate chosen by Mahinda Rajapaksa
Q I assume that your main concern right now is to take out the remaining 23 SLFPers from the Yahapalana Government to isolate the UNP. How is the progress in this endeavour?
What I can only say is that if they are not ready to leave the government sooner than later, they would dig their own political grave. Their hesitation to leave the ‘Yahapalana Government’ would affect them more, not the JO.
Q The UNP has introduced new faces to the party. You all are going to face the forthcoming polls with same old faces and the voters don’t see any reorganization or restructuring in the JO, SLPP or opposition group led by MR. Are you confident in your success with all these seasoned personnel?
In early September, the SLFP will hold its annual convention and elect new office bearers to all key posts. We would do it in an extremely free and scientific way. Electing office bearers to the SLFP is not to hoodwink anyone.
Q The opposition front led either by MR, Gota or even Maithripala will face the UNP with those who have been accused of financial crimes, frauds, money laundering, embezzling nepotism and murder. Some of them have been charged in courts of law and certain others have fled the country and evading arrest. Are you sure the people will vote for them blindly in the forthcoming polls?
Not a single SLFP member has been found guilty for any of these politically-motivated charges. Besides, if found guilty, no member will be given nomination from the party at elections and people will not vote for them either.