Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) General Secretary and Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake in an interview with the Daily Mirror spoke about the party’s future in the wake of attempts by a section of its members to leave the National Unity Government together with the United National Party (UNP). He shared the following:
- President’s personal view is that the Executive Presidency should be abolished
- As a party, we believe in him to be the best candidate
- SLFP should honour agreement with UNP on Unity Government
- SLFP will contest PC Polls separately
- Parties engaged in hostile politics in the past
- It’s unreasonable to accuse Govt of delaying LG elections
- MR is misleading the public
- SLFP can’t give MR nominations to contest Presidential polls again
- After it lapses on December 31, we will decide on the next step
- The two parties achieved something, but much more remains to be done
Q A group of SLFP MPs has decided to quit the govt. President Maithripala Sirisena has asked them to remain till December 31, 2017. Why is this?
We joined hands with the UNP to govern the country for two years in conformity with a decision by the party’s Central Committee. The agreement, signed in this regard, will be effective till December 31. If we are to take a new decision, it should happen only after that timeline lapses. That is the reason for the President to make such a request. We have to wait at least till December 31.
Q You are the General Secretary of the party. According to your experience, what are your predictions after December 31?
As an individual, I can’t foresee the party’s decision in this regard. It’s a decision to be taken by the Central Committee after all deliberations. The two parties joined hands to ensure development and to enact legislation, considered difficult to achieve when a single party governed. In this manner, there is still a lot more work remaining to be done. The Constitution-making process is underway. There are elections to the local authorities and the provincial councils pending at the moment. We are talking about a new electoral system. We are yet to achieve all these.
The two parties should focus on delivering in this regard. People should also give mind to it. Unless we fulfil these obligations, the two parties would be rendered failures in the public eye. This is what we promised to the people. That duty is cast upon both the parties. After the agreement lapses, both sides should decide how to proceed in this regard.
It is clear that we will not contest with the UNP. We will contest separately. We contested the 2015 parliamentary election separately though we worked for the victory of President Sirisena as the common candidate
Q Now these members have, however, threatened to leave. How do you see this as the General Secretary?
They expressed their views on action to be taken after the agreement lapses on December 31. Once an agreement expires, it is rendered null and void. That is what these MPs meant. They did not say anything with malice. We will decide after December 31, and that would become the party’s decision.
Q Now the elections are due this year for the North Central, Eastern and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils. How about the preparations to face them?
It is clear that we will not contest with the UNP. We will contest separately. We contested the 2015 parliamentary elections separately though we worked for the victory of President Sirisena as the common candidate. The SLFP will contest on its own. The SLFP is ready to face any election.
Q The govt is accused of delaying the local government elections inordinately. Why is that?
It is unreasonable for anyone to make the allegation at the govt on the delay. When a new polling system is introduced, it has to be acceptable to many in the country. The legislation, enacted during the previous rule, had to be changed upon request by some parties aggrieved by the changes introduced at that time. Accordingly, several committees were appointed for wide public deliberations. It was a time-consuming exercise. Otherwise, the govt did not drag its feet on the matter. It was giving a fair share of hearing to the people’s complaints only to correct the situation. That is it. Now, everything is in place. So, we will be able to have the elections within a short period of time.
In the past, it was politics full of venom and acrimony. When one party was in power, it created chaos for the other. Be that as it may, the leaders of both sides have always stood shoulder to shoulder with each other
Q As for the PC polls, are you trying to say that the two parties would contest separately and form a joint administration thereafter?
We can see about it at that time. We are in the position that we contest separately. That is it.
Q UNP and the SLFP engaged in hostile politics for several years in the Anuradhapura district which you represent and many party men from both sides were victimized at the end. Now, you are part of a UNP-led government. How do you feel it?
To be honest, we engaged in hostile politics. In the past, it was politics full of venom and acrimony. When one party was in power, it created chaos for the other. Be that as it may, the leaders of both sides have always stood shoulder to shoulder with each other at the topmost level. Discord has been sown among the grassroots members only. We realized that we could do justice to people by being together. My father was once imprisoned due to political reasons. It does not mean that I should also serve jail terms in the future. I should not leave room for a culture of vindictive politics to my offspring. I am a person striving for policy-centred politics.
Q The UNPers suffered a lot at the hands of your father’s leadership in Anuradhapura. The arson attack on Dr. Raja Johnpulle’s residence in the run up to the 2008 PC polls was one such incident. What do you feel about these UNPers now?
Everything happened on political grounds, and not on personal reasons. There was no personal vendetta involved. We had clashed with each other during political marches and rallies. We have attacked each other’s political offices. These were incidents of political violence, not personal scuffle.
Today, we are united with each other. Therefore, we do not find any issues with UNPers.
MR is misleading the general public, that is obvious to us. He cannot seek presidency again in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Then, how could the SLFP give nomination to him? Then, what should I tell?
Q You said recently that SLFP would not give nomination to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. You came under criticism for making such a statement. What did you actually mean?
MR is misleading the general public, that is obvious to us. He cannot seek presidency again in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Then, how could the SLFP give nomination to him?
Then, what should I tell? He is 72 years old now. We are talking about a presidential election to be conducted in three years time. Both MR and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga are not eligible for candidacy next time. Our candidate is none other than President Maithripala Sirisena.
Q President Sirisena came to office with the sole promise of abolishing the Executive Presidency and not contesting for the second time. Is there any change of mind now?
It is his personal view. I, as the General Secretary, say President Sirisena is the best bet the party has. The President has delivered something to the country. We want to field a candidate who can win. If the President declines to accept it, then we would have to consider the next option.
Q As the General Secretary, are you aware of any intention by the President to contest for the second time?
We have not spoken to him about it. We consider what we should do as a party. If the President is willing, he will be the best candidate for us. Otherwise, we have a second tier of leaders ready to contest.
Some powers of the executive presidency have been pruned already. Other powers could not be pruned because of the ruling by the Supreme Court.
Q Does the SLFP believe that the Executive Presidency should be abolished?
Some powers of the executive presidency have been pruned already. Other powers could not be pruned because of the ruling by the Supreme Court. Otherwise, we were ready for it. Yet, in keeping with the court ruling, we had to go for reforms that did not warrant the approval of people by referendum. We are not opposed to the abolition of the Executive Presidency. When powers are fully devolved to the PCs under the 13th Amendment, there should be some safeguards. We have to work out measures in the greater interests of the future of the country. The executive has control over the provincial councils today. We believe in such control. We have to work out a Constitution meant for generations to come. It is not something meant for the present rule.
We have to iron out the shortcomings in the present Constitution and bring in changes to address the issues at hand. One may call it a new Constitution and another may not. Therefore, we should not engage in a hair-splitting theorizing exercise and arguing that it is a new Constitution or not. One group argues that there should be a new Constitution. Some others say there should only be Amendments.
Whatever, they might say, we have to rectify the shortcomings in the present one with changes in the greater interests of the future of the country.