Navin Dissanayake, the eldest son of prominent United National Party (UNP) politician Gamini Dissanayake, was the Plantation Industries Minister before the disputed government was appointed. He is the National Organiser of the UNP and one of the young UNPers who is being groomed to take over the party leadership. He is also the son-in-law of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. Navin, who is an Attorney-at-law, holds a master’s degree in Finance and Financial Law from University of London. He sat with Daily Mirror for an interview on the current political impasse and shared his and his party’s future plans.
Rajapaksas will breach their political contract and the promise given to the President. Despite this agreement between Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Sirisena, the Rajapaksas will present their own candidate
I don’t think I am ready to run for presidency as yet. It will take another five years for me to prepare myself
The vote of the motion freezing the disputed Prime Minister’s expenses was a very clear affirmation that Mr. Jayasuriya has acted in the best interest of the majority
Q Why is the UNP calling for a Presidential election when the UPFA and the SLPP are demanding general polls?
At the moment and according to the interim order given by the Supreme Court recently, the general election cannot be held till December 7. We hope the judgment on December 7 will be the same because once the court has given an interim order, it is difficult for the judicial body to change its judgment. We will wait and see. We will be pleased to hold a Presidential election after January 9.
Q But local government elections have been postponed for years.
With the situation the country is in at the moment, let’s go for a Presidential election and elect the Head of State.
Q Who is going to be the UNP Presidential candidate?
Everyone will come to know about it at the right time. According to our standard procedure, the UNP selects its candidates through closed door discussions and debates with its Working Committee and Parliamentary group. The best example is how we selected our candidate back in 1988. During discussions, Ranasinghe Premadasa, my father Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali were nominated but they came into an agreement that the best would be elected; that was Ranasinghe Premadasa.
Q What about the discussion on a common candidate from the UNP to run for presidency?
Well, it is going to be a common UNP candidate. There are several people in the list including Karu Jayasuriya, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa.
Q Why are you not in that list? There is speculation that you and Sajith Premadasa are potential leaders of the party. How well equipped are you for competition?
Sajith Premadasa and I have been marginalised from the party for years. He being the deputy leader and me being the National Organiser of the party, there is no competition between us. However, I believe competition in a democratic and decent manner is good because there should not be a monopoly in the party. Whoever musters the biggest support from the people and whoever is fortunate will get the chance to run for presidency from the UNP.
Q In case you are nominated as the UNP common candidate, how confident are you of winning the election?
First of all, I don’t think I am ready to run for presidency as yet. It will take another five years for me to prepare myself. I am confident enough to face any challenge. I am someone who believes in gut instincts as they have guided me throughout my political journey. I think there are more qualified people in my party for candidature. They should be given the opportunity. I will fully support whoever gets nominated by the party.
Q With the current political crisis, which is somewhat beneficial to the UNP, do you think your leader Ranil Wickremesinghe will agree to send someone else for upcoming polls?
It actually depends. As he had let himself to be replaced in 2010 and even in 2015, I think he will do it next year too.
Q Is there any truth in Johnston Fernando’s and Dayasiri Jayasekara’s allegations that you are influencing your father-in-law, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya?
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is a very strong politician who takes decisions independently. Our personal relationship never gets mixed up with politics. He does whatever he feels is right. He has never asked for my opinion when taking political decisions. Neither have I.
Q The Speaker, coming from the UNP, is the main reason behind allegations that he is partial to his party. What are your thoughts?
None of these allegations would come up if the Mahinda faction had a majority in Parliament. The vote of the motion freezing the disputed Prime Minister’s expenses was a very clear affirmation that Mr. Jayasuriya has acted in the best interest of the majority. He cannot act in the interest of the minority. One of the accusations levelled against him was that he had not followed the procedure in the no-confidence motion (NCM) against Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The NCM we brought against Rajapaksa was an extraordinary measure because this commotion happened all of a sudden. The Parliament had been prorogued even without asking the Speaker. When Parliament was summoned after the prorogation, Sumanthiran from the TNA stood up and suspended the standing orders.
Then, we were legally given the liberty to make decisions using the majority in Parliament. The Mahinda faction didn’t allow us to take a vote by name. That is why he went on voice vote which is not new in the House. For instance, when Chamal Rajapaksa was the Speaker, the House had a voice vote for the Right to Information Act. Karu Jayasuriya acted within the standing orders. Those who level allegations against Mr. Jayasuriya have no leg to stand on.
Q What do you think of your previous common candidate President Maithripala Sirisena’s course of actions and decisions in the recent past?
Just like every citizen of this country, I am shocked and disappointed about the President. He acted in a complete undemocratic manner which cannot be accepted by anyone. If the President is reading my interview, I would ask him to take a step back.
Q Why do you think he made such controversial decisions?
He has come up with various reasons. Therefore, only he knows the real reasons behind his actions. He has never spoken to us regarding any of the allegations he mentioned to the media. He should have called for a group meeting and a Cabinet meeting to discuss any issues he had.
What he did was having a dialogue with Mahinda Rajapaksa for about three months. Thilanga Sumathipala acted as the intermediary of this political contract. Deal is essentially that the President would block court cases against the Rajapaksa family and they would then give the SLPP Pohottuwa vote to Sirisena at the Presidential election. Their deal is already in action. In the next ten days, everyone will see how cases against the Rajapaksa family will get blocked and postponed.
Q Do you have anything to say about the silent approach of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga in this political crisis?
She is very subtle and silent, but I am sure she is operating behind the scenes. She is playing a hand, but I don’t know what kind of role it is. What I heard was that she is disappointed because she was the one who nominated Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate.
Q Gotabaya Rajapaksa was in the picture of social media in terms of presidency. Now he cannot be seen in the limelight. What is your opinion on the conflict within the Rajapaksa family over their future politics and how do you think it is going to affect the UNP?
Rajapaksas will breach their political contract and the promise given to the President. Despite this agreement between Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Sirisena, the Rajapaksas will present their own candidate. The UNP will have our own common candidate. If the President runs for the second term, he will end up with only 10-15% of the votes. He won’t break any of the UNP votes, but the votes of the Pohottuwa. However, there is another possibility that Pohottuwa voters might never vote for the President. The person who is going to lose out on this crisis is the President and not us. There is a lot of confusion over their political situation. As the President is also very unpopular, the Rajapaksas will not stick with him.
He acted against the principles of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. There is no doubt that Maithripala Sirisena is certainly a one-term President. He could have had a better, safer and honourable second-term as a ceremonial President with more powers than the Prime Minister. We had it in our minds.
Q Will the UNP and President Sirisena jointly work again in future?
After this crisis, even if there is going to be a reconciliation, it is going to be difficult to create a conducive atmosphere because the trust is lost. However, as we all know, 24 hours is a very long time in politics. There are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, especially in a country like Sri Lanka.
Q In the recent past, we witnessed how executive powers of the President can be used and how the country could be dragged into a political crisis. Now, where does the UNP stand in the abolition of the executive presidency?
We are considering the 20th Amendment to abolish the executive presidency and vest the executive powers with the Prime Minister.
Q Reports said money was offered to MPs to crossover to the disputed government. On the other way around, was money offered to stay in the
Our party isn’t that rich actually. I wish we were. But, we cannot match our party with the disputed government in terms of lavish spending. I know that a lot of money and government positions were offered to my colleagues. We are very happy that they refused those perks and benefits.
Q You have mentioned two people who reportedly tried to buy MPs.
I stand by what I said. Both Dudley Sirisena and Basil Rajapaksa were given the task to buy over MPs. I know Dudley contacted some of our colleagues.
Q Parliament was recently turned into a battlefield thereby setting a bad example to the younger generation. You were also there. How do you see the behaviour of public representatives?
It is such a disgrace to the country. How can such things happen in a civilized country? I have never seen anything like that throughout my political career. I hope they will learn a lesson. There are morally flawed politicians who shouldn’t be in Parliament.
Q How hopeful are you that action will be taken against the MPs who caused damage to parliamentary property?
The committee that was appointed will first observe the video footages of the commotion. Their report will come next. Action will be taken against those who are responsible.