SLFP should quit Govt as soon as possible
19A is full of ambiguities and grey areas
They should think of broader unity
Mahinda, President Sirisena should read results of Feb 10 elections properly
MP Jayampathi Wickramaratne should be held responsible as the one who drafted it
The President has understood the fact that it is difficult for the UPFA to be with the government
Former Minister S.B. Dissanayake who is now spearheading the 16-member group of the
Sri Lanka Freedom Party responds to questions about the current political situation and the next presidential election. The excerpts of the interview:
QYour group sits in the opposition now. What is the next move?
We try to get more members to our side from the government. We hope a large number of SLFPers who serve in the government at the moment will team up with us shortly.
QNow, one SLFP section is with the opposition. There is another in the government. You all claim to be SLFPers. What is this bizarre political situation?
The problem is even more complicated than you mentioned. There is the third section directly involved in the politics of the Joint Opposition. There are three factions. It does not augur well for the party. We are trying to unite all these factions under the banner of the party.
QWhat is the first step aimed at this?
First, we have to make sure that those serving in the government join hands with us. Secondly, we should ensure that the SLFP formally severs its links with the unity government. Thirdly, we have to bring all three factions under a common front that includes the left –leaning, progressive and patriotic political forces which do not even have parliamentary representation.
QWhat is the main barrier you face in ensuring the departure of SLFP from the government as
The party has to take a decision. The SLFP Central Committee should decide it.
QNormally, the party leader’s decision prevails on such matters. It is the same with any party. So, do you see that President Maithripala Sirisena is at a loss to take a decision?
The President has not decided when to quit the government. However, he has understood the fact that it is difficult for the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) to be with the government. Likewise, he also realized that left leaning and progressive people of this country abandoned the UPFA because of its political alignment with the UNP in the unity government.
Above all, he has now understood that it is difficult for him to ensure incorruptible, democratic, transparent , accountable and harmonious governance with the UNP. He has realized that it is impossible to carry out sustainable development in the country with the UNP.
It is impossible to live up to such ideals with the present UNP leadership. Be that as it may, he cannot simply decide to leave the government. He is the President. He is obliged to govern the country whoever leaves it. Earlier, the President had the power to dissolve Parliament at his will after one year. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution took that power away from him. As a result, as the President, he has to form a government, come what may, rather than seeking a fresh mandate from people at an election. Furthermore, the UNP is one among the main political forces that elected him as the President. The UNP leadership is behind him. We hope he will take the right decision at the right time after weighing the pros and cons of all these things. However, he gave us his blessings for us to sit in the opposition as members of his own party.
QDo you fight for the opposition leader post?
We do not expect it that way. If the UPFA formally leaves the government and joins hands with the opposition, it will deserve the opposition leader post.
QAt the SLFP Central Committee (CC) meeting due to be held today, will you insist that the party should leave the government?
We have already proposed it to the CC. I proposed it along with MP Anura Priyadarshana Yapa. We don’t expect it to be adopted today. We only intend to take decisions regarding the political reforms to the party.
QThe President lost his power to dissolve Parliament. The 19th Amendment was incorporated into the Constitution under the blessings of the President. Do you see it as a mistake?
It is not a mistake by the President. None of us considered it that seriously at that time. In drafting the constitutional amendment, the UNP leadership appears to have made it a point to include such a provision to the effect that Parliament cannot be dissolved for four and half years. That is to make sure that Parliament cannot be dissolved during the term of the UNP leadership as the Prime Minister. In fact, some UNPers argued that the Prime Minister could not be removed under any circumstances even through a no confidence motion. Actually, there is ambiguity in the Constitution whether the Prime Minister can be removed through such a motion or not. There are a lot of grey areas in the 19th Amendment. Those who drafted it were fully trusted by us at that time. Therefore, we did not pay attention to it.
QActually, who is responsible for drafting it with such grey areas?
Actually, it is MP Jayampathi Wickramaratne who drafted it. I learnt from another Minister that MP Wickramaratne initially drafted something even worse than that what was enacted. It appears that there is a dictatorial Prime Minister instead of a dictatorial President. It does not bode well for the country. MP Jayampathi Wickramaratne is responsible for it.
QThere are lots of talks about the next Presidential Candidate. The President says he will not retire from politics. Who is the candidate in your mind?
The President should not retire from politics. He is the party leader. If he remains, he should contest. It is good that the UNP thinks of fielding its own candidate. The Joint Opposition considers three possible presidential candidates- Chamal Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. All these are positive political developments. Yet, we all should get together and agree on
QWho is the best bet?
I will not mention anyone. We have to think of the persons who can get the vast majority of votes from the people.
QWhat do you think of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as the candidate?
Of course, he displayed his talents as the Defence Secretary at that time. He is the one who ensured unity among the three forces. The then Army Commander Minister Sarath Fonseka tried to sow discord among the three forces, actually. Only Gotabhaya Rajapaksa struck unity. In the urban development, he was efficient and delivered a whole lot of work. He has proven himself as the Defence Secretary and the head of the Urban Development Authority. Nevertheless, he antagonized the minority communities.
He has attraction among the Sinhala Buddhist people, intelligentsia and the middle-class in particular. At the same time, the minority communities fear him.
In the selection of the candidate, there are two decisive persons- former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and current President Maithripala Sirisena. Former Minister Basil Rajapaksa who formed the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is also a decisive factor. I think the two leaders should consult each other and decide on the candidate. All the others will fall in line with that decision.
QThere is a lot of antagonism between the President and the former President. Will they be able to see eye to eye as a result?
They worked as the Chairman and the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party for 14 years. They acted in camaraderie with each other. There is a demand from the left-wing, progressive forces in this country. None of these two leaders can act regardless of that demand. They cannot disregard people’s demand also. If they read the results of the February 10th election properly, they cannot play around with the public opinion. They have to think of a broader unity.
The SLPP won the elections on February 10. However, President Sirisena emerged stronger in areas where the minority communities are concentrated. The President’s SLFP won some electoral wards in the north and the east. In our areas, we saw how the Muslims and the Tamils were rallying behind us.
The election results can serve as the guiding factors for the two leaders.
QIs there any possibility for the UNP, the SLFP and other parties to get together against SLPP at the next presidential election?
If there is a change in the UNP leadership, such a political strategy can be contemplated. Yet, it is not certain whether such a strategy can lead to electoral success at the next election. At least, it can be considered if there is a change in the UNP leadership. The present leadership is unpopular even within the party. He faces charges related to the Central Bank bond scam. Also, the UNP leadership is responsible for the current economic collapse.
QWhat do you think of the JVP’s plan to bring the 20th Amendment to the Constitution to abolish the executive presidency?
There is nothing to talk about it. It is a private member’s bill. There are so many such motions and bills. Only a handful participates in such debates in Parliament. If there is a bill for the amendment of the Constitution, it has to be perused by the Attorney General. Then, it has to be approved by the Cabinet. It has to be endorsed by the Legal Draftsman’s Department. Afterwards, it has to be presented in Parliament. It is a long process.
Anybody can write such a motion on a piece of paper during leisure time in Parliament after meals.
QThe UNP sought the Samurdhi Ministry for them this time. You are the founder of that movement. What do you think of it?
As soon as I ceased to be the subject minister in the past, the movement never lived up to its founding ideal-- poverty alleviation.
QThe poverty level has dropped to six percent now. How applicable is the Samurdhi movement now?
I think the former government led by Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa should be credited for it. While fighting a war, that government achieved the target. It was achieved despite that government being affected by the world economic crisis, food crisis and fuel crisis. Our economy was developed despite all that. Our GDP grew. The per capita income grew. We had increased foreign reserves.