The Sunday Leader

MR, Ranil Both Didn’t Practise Party Democracy As Leaders – S.B. Dissanayake

Minister of Rural Economic Affairs S.B. Dissanayake – the former minister of Higher Education – has now become a strong arm in the pro-Maithri group. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, Minister Dissanayake said the SLFP is not a party but a front which may have experienced divisions at times even during the past due to diverse opinions of its members, but it always comes back together in no time. He added that he had worked with both former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and current Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, they both have not practised party democracy as party leaders which damaged them, their parties as well as their followers.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

By Waruni Karunarathne

Q: Has politics in Sri Lanka “gone to the dogs” as some say it has since politicians are switching sides even though they are elected to parliament via a particular party? What is your stand on this matter of switching sides at a rate?

A: Well, if a parliamentary member cannot agree with an extreme matter arisen in his own party, I should say that h/she should be able to decide whether to stay with the party. However in my view h/she should resign from his position as a member of parliament and any portfolios h/she holds. H/she should never leave the party just for personal benefits. For instance, I left the SLFP and joined the UNP in the past because I believed the SLFP party policies wouldn’t have helped to resolve the critical issues of the country. This is the reason I left the SLFP. I resigned from my ministerial portfolios and my party portfolios as well. At the same time I was able to topple the government with the support of 12 other MPs crossed over with me. The President lost the majority holding of the parliament and was compelled to dissolve it. We sacrificed our parliamentary positions but with the blessings of my supporters I got reelected under the UNP tickets in the following general election.

Before 1977, before the enactment of the constitution introduced by the former president J. R. Jayewardene Government, parliament members were elected through respective electorates. They could crossover their party at any given time and with that they lost their parliamentary post. However, during that period there was a mechanism to hold a bi-election for such electorates. Hence, soon after the resigning they could contest the bi-election. There had been many such elections before 1977.

Even with the 1978 Constitution, which former President J.R. Jayewardene introduced, switching from one party to another was illegal. However, subsequently many of the judgments given by former judge Sarath N Silva paved the way for parliamentarians to crossover at any point. The legal barrier was annulled due to his judgments. Even today there are debates among judiciary professionals on this matter.

In my opinion, the 20th Amendment should allow a parliamentarian to leave the party whenever the need arises but h/she will lose their parliamentary position automatically and they need to face a bi-election if they want to come back to the parliament. However this condition will only apply to those who get elected through electorates. Parliamentarians who are selected thorogh preferential votes (district basis) will not get this opportunity. Similarly parliamentarians who are selected through the national list also do not enlist under this and hence don’t get an opportunity to remain in the parliament if they cross over. In my opinion, if they crossover, under the 20th Amendment the law should be enacted to deprive them of their parliamentary positions automatically once they cross over.


Q: What is your opinion about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe; is he a better leader than Mahinda Rajapaksa?

A: Well I don’t like to pick just one person and discuss h/her leadership qualities. Everyone has their good and bad. However whatever said and done we should always commend and be grateful towards Mahinda Rajapaksa for ending the civil war which plagued this country for 30 long years. The victory is unique. No other leader or a country would have been able to defeat such a powerful force of terrorists who took up arms to resolve land, language and nationality issues. Similarly, I feel that amidst all malpractices, bribes and corruption and favouritism towardsrelatives and family, the country’s economy developed at a rapid phase during the former government.

I am not in a position to compare Mahinda and Ranil as leaders due to many reasons. I feel it is not correct to compare the two since Ranil Wickremesinghe hasn’t had an opportunity to rule the country as a leader of the government. He became the Prime Minister of this country three times but worked under an executive president.

But both act as party leaders, I feel both didn’t practise party democracy as leaders. Due to these weaknesses, I can see, in some instances both had to face problems which made damages to them, to respective parties as well as their members and followers.

One time Ranil Wicremesinghe had to give up his prime ministerial term and his government was dissolved within 2 years, because he never wanted to listen to his party members and seniors. He acts on his own and he has made an immense trust on then President Chandrika Kumaratunga without heeding views of other party members which led to dissolve the government within a short period.

MR did not receive the blessings of minorities, the Hindus and Muslims of our country during the last elections, because he did not heed opinions of the party leaders who were aligned with him and he didn’t listen to opinions given by senior members of the party. As a result, he lost the majority of minority votes.

In addition, MR did not foster relationship with India, America and Europe appropriately, simply because he never wanted to listen to the voice of party seniors and has not taken opinions of other minor parties associated with the SLFP who have been with the party for many years.


Q: Has the Sri Lanka Freedom Party now seen that divisions and splits resulted in its last days?

A: No I never agree with this. The SLFP is exactly not a party to me, it is a front. This has mentioned not by me but by the late Dr S.A.Wickramasinghe. This is a party, which represents almost all social classes from the elite to the poor. Also this is a party which consists of people with diverse opinions. That is why we can define it as a front not as a party.

Because of this nature, we have been experiencing divisions and unions throughout the history. Though the party gets divided, it gets back together in a short period of time. We have experienced it throughout the history of the party. There are some instances, about 75% of the party people left the party and formed new alliances. But even then after about a year or so these alliances united back with the main party. The popularity of these new alliances did not continue for so long and in the end the general public left them. The alliance formed through division got isolated and were left with only the four walls of their office. Party people were with them for a short spell simply because they are acting on emotions, not on party policies. Later, once they realize the reality they came back to the main front.

There have been many instances like that, I can recall the history of our party. T.B. Subasinghe – a very popular figure and a gentleman, lost his electorate and become the 3rd among others. TB Subasinghe and Nanda Ellawala left the party in 1976 and they divided the party, however they couldn’t win at least one electorate. The same thing happened to the Anura-Maithri movement.

Mahinda and Basil divided the party and with the help of President JR Jayewardene they took over the party office. Basil became the general secretary of the party. Then party leader Madam Sirimawo Bandaranaike established the party office in a garage, which belonged to parliamentarian Haleem Ishaq. But within few months’ time except Maithripala Senanayake everybody came back to the SLFP under the leadership of Madam Sirimawo.

When Vijaya Kumaratunga and Chandrika Kumaratunga left the party ¾ of members in the central committee left with them. However no one remained with the new alliance in the end.

These are good lessons to learn. These scenarios have shown us repercussions of division of the party.


Q: Has this Government addressed some of the issues the former Government failed to address, particularly in education sector? What are the areas they have failed to address?

A: The former government was far ahead on the education front. During the last regime education, higher education and vocational education have grown up and those areas have made drastic changes to their system both in access to education as well as in the quality. For, instance, in the higher education sector the number of students who entered Universities has increased at a rate of 300% and measures were taken to develop the higher education system to cater the demand of local and global needs. Similarly, a fairly good environment was established in the country to institute private higher education.

However, I need to mention few other things in this regard. The last Government could not establish peace after the civil war. I feel the way they act is not logical and it created more problems. They have focused only on development targets, not on social cohesion. The government could not able to get popular among people who live in the war affected areas though they are the most benefited through the termination of 30 years of civil war. The election results prove it. Further, the former government lost its ties with India, America and Europe and even with UN Human Rights commission with no reason. Similarly, they have failed to reduce wastage of the government, and at least to minimize bribery and corruption. Law and order of the country was in the hands of few influential peoples of the country. As promised they failed to abolish the executive presidency and preferential voting system as well.

Present government taken these things seriously and timely, and have taken steps to change the executive presidency system, majority of powers laid on to the president has given to the parliament. They handled it in a balanced way. President Maithipala took a leadership of this matter.

Under the 19th Amendment, the government is establishing independent commissions for Police, Public service, Judiciary system, and was given powers to Solicitor General Department and to the Election office to work independently.

The amount of budgetary allocations for the Presidential Maintenance was cut down nearly about 95%. To mention few of these, the present President left his all unnecessary comforts and gave up all royal palaces. He terminated supply of food to royal palaces – to president’s office from five-star hotels. 80% of President’s security force was reduced just after he became the President.

Other than these, several remarkable steps has taken by the present President to save the country and the nation.

During first few weeks he addressed the Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) issue prevailing in the country for many years. By understanding the rate of increase in number of victims and number of families affected by this disease, he has taken many measures personally to recover this situation.

It is a known truth that the last government does not implement its environment policy and haven’t practised it which could have lead to sustainability of nation and the land. Understanding the importance and the value of nature and natural resources management for the well-being of the people and to sustain country’s economy, first time in Sri Lanka the President Maithripala Sirisena took over the ministerial portfolios of environment to his hand. He has taken many measures to prevent malpractices in natural resource management and seems to be handling it in a scientific manner to create a thriving country.

Q: Is there still room for a National Government after the next parliament election? Would there be a necessity? If not, why?

A: I do not agree with the national government concept. I am in a stance, that it affects the democracy of the country. We need an opposition. However, I believe that all parties need to come to a common platform to address alarming issues in the country and to set long-term development goals of the country. We need to have strong consensus on these matters, need to develop national policies with consensus. Changing governments should not change the policies, we are experiencing this and it affects the development targets of the country and in turn affects the whole nation. Similarly, I believe, we need to further analyze the 19th and 20th Amendments and come to a proper consensus for the benefit of the country as a whole. For above reasons, there is a need to all the parties get united and work together.


Q: Most of the minority parties seem united with one goal in mind. But that does not seem to be the case with the UPFA and UNP. Why?

A: It is a good trend, all ethnicities, nationalities and religious parties should work as a team. We are planning to introduce the new election system through the 20th Amendment. One of its main objectives is to stop the division among people based on religion, nationality and caste. Before the present election system enacted, well, before 1977, Abusali was elected to Parliament from Balangoda electorate, A.C.S Hameed was elected to Parliament from Akurana, without having at least 10% of the votes of the majority of Muslims of respective electorates. People were rally around the personality, not around the race, caste, religion or nationality. During that time, electorate organizers were appointed irrespective of their nationality, caste or religion, instead by taking into account their skills, talents, and the popularity.

Present generations never take seriously caste system. New generation never cares about these things. However, the preferential voting system has given an influence to take it up in the society. But it does not fit in to the values and principles of modern era. I feel this is the time to come together as a nation where people should remain with a party on the basis of its policies, principles, visions and missions and the qualities of candidates of that particular party. I believe it is the right time that we put an end to all disputes between nationalities, religions and castes for the benefit of our country. I wish to request people to come forward, join a party on the basis of its policies. I have my gut feeling that our political culture is changing for the good of the people, people are getting more and more conversant with politics.


Q: The UNP had said that devolution of power they will consider if they win the parliament election. Does the SLFP agree with devolving powers to the provinces? If so, to what extent?

A: Sri-Lanka is a unitary state. It is our duty to protect its status. Our state is not large enough to develop it as a federal state. This is a small island. That is why we were on the stand that the President of Sri Lanka should have executive presidency but with moderate or controlled power. Yet we need to make sure that there is enough power given to provincial councils, pradeshiya and municipal councils. This does not mean that I agree on delegating powers to these entities, which would lead to the division of our country. Well, we should not keep a loophole which might enable these entities to divide the country one day.


Q: You have recently said that President Maithripala Sirisena had strengthened ties with the EU and the US and that this was good for Sri Lanka. But when you were in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government, did you not agree with his foreign policy? What is the difference now and then?

A: Even during MR’s regime, I was not in agreement with the way MR handled the United Nations Human Rights issues as well as his foreign relation with India, America and Europe. I feel the main reason for creating all of these problems was due to the fact that we did not handled relationships with India in a proper manner. Despite several of my attempts to convince MR to get in to good term with India it never came to fruition. I can see the present President Maithripala Sirisena is handling this problem cleverly.

I should say that the MR’s government didn’t have a proper foreign policy or adhered to such, also there were no qualified professionals in the Diplomatic Service to implement viable foreign policies.


Q: Should we allow any country to dictate us? To what extent can we allow international community to involve in domestic matters?

A: No…………I don’t endorse or feel that any foreign country or any international organization should influence internal activities/matters of our country. But keeping our neighbours close and being in good terms with them is always beneficial to us as a country. At critical points during the war, Congress Government of India helped us without hesitation amidst the aggressive opposition from Tamil Nadu. However, when it came to settle down Tamil Nadu state problem, I feel that we did not help the Indian government the way we should have. I believe, as a government, we need to tread carefully when it comes to liaising with China, Bangladesh and India because these are countries which have conflicts and problems among them.


Q: In your opinion should the Government continue with the development projects launched by the former Government? Is there any project that we should continue? If so, why?

A: Yes…We must continue all the good work that the former government started. Just like we teach our children to build on our good habits and discontinue our bad, we need to look at the good sides of the former government and continue them while discontinuing bad. I identified that projects like Colombo Harbour City, Marine Security are very important to our country but they need to be strictly regulated for the benefit of the country.

3 Comments for “MR, Ranil Both Didn’t Practise Party Democracy As Leaders – S.B. Dissanayake”


  2. Dr M.L.Najimudeen

    Minister S.B.Dissnayakaee has given a very good interview will full of facts without fear and favour. I admire his views

    • Rita

      I agree with Dr. Najimudeen and I would suggest him to be ideal candidate for PREMIERSHIP from SLFP if President Maithripals could consider for he is moderate, impartial and having leadership qualities.

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