United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP Thilanga Sumathipala, in an interview with the Daily Mirror, airs his views on the present political scene. He spells out the SLFP policy on the presidential candidate. Sumathipala was in the core group of SLFP politicians who tried to form a new government on October 26, 2018. Excerpts:
Q What is your assessment of the current political situation in the country?
As far as the political stability of the country is concerned, it is destabilised. There is a huge political instability in the country. President Maithripala Sirisena invited Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa to become the Prime Minister and wanted to go for an early election. Then, some people went to the Supreme Court and got the gazette notification annulled, calling for elections. If you look at the last one year starting from February 10, 2018, I cannot see anything constructive happening to stabilise the institutions of the country. What we now need is a national plan of action managed by one authority over a set period of time. Until such times, the current status quo would continue.
Q You were in the forefront among the members of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) who tried to reconcile the two factions of the party. But, you failed to muster the required number to form the Government. What went wrong?
First of all, a certain group of people from both sides declined to proceed with the pledges they made. Some parties decided to remain with the United National Party (UNP). Some of the SLFP members decided to rejoin the UNP. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) decided to support the UNP wholeheartedly. That was not anticipated. We were very disappointed about the manner in which Speaker Karu Jayasuriya conducted the Parliamentary proceedings. The Speaker acted in violation of the Standing Orders of Parliament and went on to protect his party. He put his party before Parliament. He defended the UNP and represented the UNP.
Q Does it mean that your original calculations were proven wrong?
It was not the calculation in terms of numbers. It was a matter of principles. That was what we had to stick to when the country was heading towards a terrain where there was no return. There were attempts at changing the Constitution, pruning the powers of the Executive President etc. Our position was that there was a mandate only for Constitutional changes that do not warrant approval through a referendum. We were opposed to any matter that required such approval of the people. We were very concerned about the way the Constitutional Assembly and the other forums were acting. That is to get the UNP and the SLFP to muster the two-thirds in Parliament for constitutional changes that cannot be reversed hereafter. We noticed how the UNP was pandering to the TNA’s requirements. It is not in the best interest of the majority of the people. We did not want to be part of the Government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe any further. Our political foundation was getting disturbed because of our alliance with the UNP. The SLFP lost its base so badly to Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) because we were a coalition partner with the UNP. Our vote base never expected it.
We will bid for the candidacy of President Sirisena’
We have to assess if a non- political Rajapaksa is going to be the presidential candidate
If it is a political Rajapaksa, it is a different story
The SLFP lost its base so badly to Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) because we were a coalition partner with the UNP
Q There are reports of about a dozen of SLFP MPs trying to join the UNP. Reports reveal that they have sought permission from President Sirisena to join the UNP and form a National Government. What is your view?
I do not think the SLFP, as a party, is in a position to join the UNP as a coalition partner. The SLFP will never join the UNP again. That is clear. If any member leaves the party, the individual will do it on his own. I do not think that the President, as the party leader, can accept anyone joining the UNP and taking up portfolios. That is not possible. The SLFP has decided to vote against the formation of a National Government. If anyone goes against it, it will be a violation of the party line.
Q The Presidential Elections are due at the end of this year. What is the SLFP planning for?
Our party has always contested. When late Leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike was stripped of her civic rights, Hector Kobbekaduwa contested in her place. Then, Ms. Chandrika Bandaranaike contested. Later, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa contested twice. We lost last time. If we form an alliance with Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), we know that Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa is the most popular single individual politician. If he is contesting, we would support him fully. He is not in a position to contest legally. As such we are ready to give him the next possible option-the premiership. The SLFP should take a hard and fast position. We will see the position available for its leader. If the slot for the presidential candidacy is available, we will bid.
Q Recently, at the meeting of the party’s Anuradhapura district organisation, there was a resolution adopted calling for the nomination of President Sirisena as the presidential candidate. Former Minister MP Duminda Dissanayake moved the resolution. What do you think of it?
I do not think any branch or provincial organization of the party can be stopped from passing such resolutions. We do our lobbying with Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. When we are close to the election period, we would see what kind of a leader the people want. If people look up to a candidate who can take this country to the next level after 2020, we have to be ready for it. If President Sirisena is ready for it, we would support him. What we are looking at now is not the individual. We are looking at what the country and its people want, and how we are to get there. Once that is finalised we can look at the leader who could take us there. If President Sirisena is ready in this respect, we would support him. We have so much to do within the next six months.
Q But, party seniors have always mentioned the name of President Sirisena as the candidate. There is nothing secret about it. What is your view?
That is not happening for the first time. Over the past one year, it has happened at many forums or meetings. That is not bad. In the UNP too, some are proposing Karu Jayasuriya, and others Sajith Premadasa. There are names floating in any party. Last time, everyone talked about Karu, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Ven. Sobitha Thera. None of them came forward finally.
Q As someone close to the President, how do you read his mind?
I think he may consider candidacy if the party and Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa want him. Right now, he has not given his word.
Q If you look at the results of the last Local Government Elections, the SLFP – led alliance was relegated to a distant third position whereas the SLPP became the largest party. Then, is it possible for your party with less than 15 percent of votes to prevail upon the SLPP in nominating the presidential candidate?
At the end of the day, we are coalition partners. We have to see what the best combination is for us to go before the people. When we addressed a rally together on November 5, people were so happy about the Mahinda-Maithri combination. We noticed the enthusiasm of the crowd. One would have ruled out such a combination prior to October 26, 2018.
We were very concerned about the way the Constitutional Assembly and the other forums were acting
I do not think that the President, as the party leader, can accept anyone joining the UNP
Q However, the SLPP is proposing its own candidate. It is not ready to give candidacy to someone from a different party. How do you respond to it?
Look at their plight! Unless they come up with a name, the party will be diluted. They have to mention a name.
Q What is your view on Gotabaya Rajapaksa as a candidate as mentioned by the SLPP?
If there had been a provincial councils election, he should have contested in the western provincial council and won. Then, he would have become the finest chief minister from the Western Province. From there onwards, he could have developed himself as the presidential candidate. It would have given us a way to transform him. He is a good executive authority. He performs so well. He has turned in an outstanding performance as an administrator. He has a right to contest as the son of D.A. Rajapaksa. There is no question about his eligibility.
If we are to select a political Rajapaksa as the next candidate, it is a different story. However, we have to make an assessment if a non- political Rajapaksa is going to be the candidate.
Q How realistic is a Provincial Council Election since the UNP is not willing to go for it?
The President submitted a Cabinet paper. Then, the UNP asked for one week to make observations. That period has passed now. As a policy, the SLFP is for a mixed electoral system. If it is impossible, at least let there be elections under the old system.
The UNP says it is for power devolution. For the past four years, it has even taken away the little power that was devolved. But, the UNP acts as the champion of the so called power devolution. During the Rajapaksa rule, we had such elections. We gave elections to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) though it is opposed to us.
Q There are reports that former President Chandrika Kumaratunga is trying to form a political party. Are you aware?
If she does it, it would only be an advantage to the UNP. That is sad. She may be having something against the Rajapaksas. If she does it, she would be going against her own party. I don’t think she would do it. But, the people may use her name. I don’t think she would form a party. Her thoughts are against us at the moment, though. She would never form a party under her signature.
Q Apart from politics, the team backed by you took control of Sri Lanka Cricket. What are your priorities now in cricket?
In short term, we have to give priority to the World Cup. Afterwards, we have to rebuild our domestic premier tournament called Sri Lanka Premier League. We plan to be the world’s best team by 2020.
It is not merely playing the games only. Ours has to be a loving team also. It means we have to develop players’ attitudes, behaviour and how they represent our motherland. We have to develop domestic cricket, administration, financial discipline and the goodwill of Sri Lanka Cricket.