Q How is your group’s preparation for the forthcoming Provincial Council polls?
Both, the SLFP and the UPFA contested the local government polls and were beaten badly. A large number of SLFP and UPFA members have joined the Joint Opposition (JO) since then except for a few like Duminda Dissanayaka and Mahinda Amaraweera and few others. Our target is to achieve a landslide victory against the UNP and form a SLFP government under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister before the Presidential poll scheduled to be held at the end of next year. A sound victory for the SLPP at the forthcoming PC polls would be considered a stepping stone towards the Presidential and Parliamentary polls success, and we have no doubt that we, in the JO will meet that target easily.
We are on good terms with SLMC leader, Minister Rauff Hakeem, ACMC leader, Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, EPDP leader Douglas Devananda and CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman
Q Several Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the SLFP members have been charged in various courts on allegations of corruption, murder, embezzlement and many other crimes. Do you expect to form the next government with them?
No one can claim that the SLFP lost elections in 2015 because of the action of a single person. We all must take the responsibility for that setback collectively and no one can point the finger against Basil or any others singularly. Yes, there were allegations against a number of SLFP members and that was one of the main contributory factors for our defeat. But you must keep in mind that none of those who were charged had been convicted. However, if any of the SLFP, UPFA or SLPP members who had been found guilty of any offence, he/she would not get nominations from any of the party at the future elections.
But I must remind you that no legal action has been taken against MP Ravi Karunanayake, Ministers Malik Samarawickrama or Lakshman Kiriella and several other UNP members, despite the fact that they have many allegations against them on various misdeeds.
Q The PC polls expected at the end of this year or early 2019, Presidential and Parliamentary polls too are set to follow. As the result of this, there would be a bitter encounter among main parties such as UNP, SLFP and SLPP. What are the strategies in store to win these elections?
We, the group of 16 SLFPers will contest all forthcoming polls with the JO, though a few in our group want to contest alone. In doing so, we need to get a few minor issues sorted out, such as choosing a symbol, registering a party and selection of candidates etc. However, any SLFP or UPFA member of a local government body would get nominations provided he/she comes forward to contest the PC polls with us. The new electoral system which the SLPP had won the Local Government polls handsomely, is not an issue for us. Besides, a majority of SLFP and UPFA members are engaged in secret deal with SLPP. So, victory at all elections up to 2020 is ensured for the JO.
Our target is to win all these polls someway or the other. Mahinda, Basil, Gota and Namal are fully committed to this task, and therefore, joining even with the demon to achieve a massive victory against the UNP, is not an issue for us.
Our target is to achieve a landslide victory against the UNP and form an SLFP government under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Ministers before the Presidential poll scheduled to be held at the end of next year
Q Is any rapprochement possible between the UNP and SLFP after the PC polls to set up administrations in local government bodies, as it is extremely doubtful that a single party would be able to secure a majority in many of the Provincial Councils?
The SLFP went further down in the February 10 local government polls than in the Parliamentary polls in August, 2015, and one of the main reasons for this huge electoral setback was the marriage with the UNP to form the ‘Yahapalana’ Government. We would never condone any political deal with the UNP in future. We firmly believe that we would be in a position to set up administrations in all PCs, elect our own President and form a government on the results of the three forthcoming polls. Anyhow, if we need the help of any other political party, we would turn to minority parties but never to the UNP.
We are on good terms with SLMC leader, Minister Rauff Hakeem, ACMC leader, Minister Rishad Bathiuddin, EPDP head Douglas Devananda and the head of CWC Arumugam Thondaman. I have no doubt that when the time is right, they would join hands with us to form a government if we extended an invitation.
I have no issue with Ministers Mahinda Amaraweera or Duminda Dissanayaka personally or politically. Both have done much to uplift the party. I am also aware that Duminda was disappointed with the MR regime on how his father, late Berty Premalal Dissanayaka who totally dedicated his life for the SLFP, while Mahinda had some issues in his district (Hambantota) with Rajapaksas
Q The split among many factions within the SLFP has reached its peak now. This will no doubt affect badly on the party at the future polls. How are you going to tackle this?
Yes, this is a challenge to meet our ultimate targets. But, you know, the SLFP has suffered more serious splits in the past. In 1987, the SLFP was down and out in the country’s political landscape with the setting up of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP). Senior members of the party, the likes of T. B. Illangaratne, Ratnasiri, Chandrika, Vijaya and Ossy Abeygunasekara abandoning the SLFP. But many of them returned to the party and successfully contested elections from the SLFP and by 1994, an SLFP government regained power. I have a great confidence that the SLFP cannot be destroyed but there could be setbacks and divisions within.
Before the local government polls in February, the SLFP conducted a survey to get an idea on the voting pattern with the help of the Kelaniya University. The result was that SLPP was to get 32%, UNP 21% and the SLFP 12% of votes and the forecast was almost correct. I would say none of the traditional and established political parties such as the MEP, CPSL, LSSP or even the JVP should be driven away from the political scene. But, don’t forget that in the event the SLPP joins the SLFP and progressive forces in the JO, that combination would be an extremely formidable political force against the UNP.
We, the group of 16 SLFPers will contest all forthcoming polls with the joint opposition though a few of our group want to contest alone
When I convened the SLFP branch organizations at Hanguranketha a few days before the local government polls, a large majority of SLFP supporters indicated that they were to vote for the SLPP albeit remaining in the SLFP. That was the trend. It is the current trend too.
Q Though you are a member of the SLFP and do politics under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena, you virtually stand with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at each and every national issue. How and why?
I took a wrong decision in my political journey when I quit the Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga regime. I would have remained in the party even after resigning from my cabinet portfolio. When Maithripala Sirisena was fielded as the common candidate in 2014, he invited me to his camp, but I refused. That was another blunder. I wish and pray to bring the two leaders on stage together to fight the UNP.
Q How do you see the exposure of the New York Times which alleged the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) had funded Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Presidential Polls campaign in 2015?
The NY Times exposure is not something exclusive or new. It was a reproduction of a report published in the Daily News in February 2015, based on an inquiry on the matter. The truth behind this episode was that companies – foreign and local and top businessmen and entrepreneurs fund election campaigns of top politicians and political parties. This is common all over the world. Those who donate small amount of financial support cannot even meet the leader of a main political party and they hand over the money to a second-tier politician of that particular party. This is common and happens to any party with no difference whether it is the SLFP, SLPP or the UNP. It is not something illegal or a crime. But my personal view is that there is an ethical issue involved with it.
A sound victory for the SLPP at the forthcoming PC polls would be considered a stepping stone towards the Presidential and Parliamentary polls success, and we have no doubt that we, in the JO, will meet that target easily
Q But neither the CHEC nor the Chinese Govt. had denied these allegations...
Not necessarily. The Chinese government or the China Harbour Engineering Co. must not respond to a newspaper report that said one gave money to another. There was no legal validity or violation of any law in the transaction if it had taken place at all.
Q The MoU reached by the UNP and the SLFP to form the Yahapalana Govt after August 2015 Parliamentary polls, expired in December 2017. Presently there is no MoU to run the country under a unity government. How do you see this?
There was no agreement at all. If there was one, it was not possible to accept by Parliament or by a court of law. Even today there is no legally valid agreement to form a unity government jointly by the UNP and the SLFP.
Q You held important portfolios under Presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapakse and finally under President Maithripala Sirisena. Are you comfortable doing politics as an ordinary MP now?
Yes, to be frank with you, we are not comfortable because we had lost all the privileges, perks and comforts involved with a cabinet portfolio. We had a big personal
staff, an official residence, luxury vehicles with a chauffeur and many more. I had two offices in Kandy and Colombo. These days, I am trying to buy a jeep on a Rs.10 million lease agreement with a finance company.
The Chinese government or the China Harbour Engineering Co. must not respond to a newspaper report which says one has given money to another whether it was correct or not. There is no legal validity or violation of any law in the transaction if it took place at all
Q There are media reports that a new General Secretary is to be chosen at the next UPFA General Meeting and a new SLFP General Secretary at the next SLFP convention in early September. How credible are these reports?
I have no issue with Ministers Mahinda Amaraweera or Duminda Dissanayaka personally or politically. Both have done much to uplift the party. I am also aware that Duminda was disappointed with the MR regime on how his father, late Berty Premalal Dissanayaka who totally dedicated his life for the SLFP. While Mahinda had some issues in his district (Hambantota) with Rajapaksas. But I believe all these are not big issues to keep them apart, because we all have a common objective of winning all forthcoming polls and forming our own government and electing our own President. It was a good decision of the SLFP to appoint Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa as the General Secretary of the party even for a period of a few months.