No Discussions In The SLFP To Form A New Party – Duminda Dissanayake
By Ashanthi Warunasuriya
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: What is your opinion about the attempts being made by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to split the SLFP in order to form a new party?
A: So far no one has posed us such a challenge. Apart from reports published by several media entities, there are no talks about dividing the party inside the party. Especially opposition MPs of the SLFP have also taken part in our Executive Committee meeting. There are several opinions inside the party about its policies. However, what must be done is getting these numerous opinions on to a common stage in order to ensure the SLFP victory in the forthcoming elections. Other than highlighting that objective, no SLFP member who represents the Opposition has made any statement about forming a new party.
Q: But MP Mahinda Rajapaksa has publicly stated that a new political party is going to be formed.
A: During his speech, Mahinda Rajapaksa, when asked about a new party, has said that no hasty decision be made. There are various news reports going viral at present. But as the SLFP General Secretary, I cannot comment on every media report in this regard. As far as I know, Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot form a new party by abandoning the SLFP. He always claims that he is proud that he is a SLFPer, and that he is proud to have been the only person who had not left the party. So, I don’t think a person who had never abandoned the party is capable of splitting the party and start a new political front.
Q: However, isn’t it true that the former President has secured the support of many in the party including the members of local and provincial councils?
A: All these people are not representing the party and its well established policies. Instead, they are following a person called Mahinda Rajapaksa. During the past 12 years, we had a close relationship with Mahinda Rajapaksa. We dined and worked together. We had a good relationship with him because he was the chairman of the party. Because he is a person who has been elected as the President of the country twice and then rejected by the people in the third round, I don’t think anybody would be willing to rally round him to make another attempt this time. Although many have friendly ties with him, it does not mean that they are going to form a new party. If such a new political party is formed, then these SLFP MPs will have to obtain the membership of the new party. Then their SLFP membership is automatically nullified, and so are their MP posts. For another general election to take place, there are many years. When looking at all these facts, we cannot understand what these local and provincial politicians are doing. If they violate the party disciplines in a serious manner, then the party can suspend their memberships and their posts. We could make reappointments at any time. Who among them are willing to lose their seats? If no government can be formed and if no presidency can be obtained, then the only thing that can be achieved is defeat in the oncoming Local Council Election. So there is no sense in forming another party.
Q: So what is exactly Mahinda Rajapaksa is trying to do?
A: I cannot say what it is. But whenever he had faced with a challenge, Mahinda Rajapaksa employed shrewd tactics to rally the people round him. For an example, in several sessions of the Geneva Human Rights Council, whenever questions were raised against him, he used provincial council elections as a means of showing that the people were with him. But there are instances where he had failed. The best example is the defeat he suffered on January 8 which cost him his presidency. By trying to test his luck, he lost the two remaining years of his office.
Q: Was the recently held SLFP top brass meeting intended at reorganising the party?
A: Over 15 political parties have expressed their willingness to join hands with the SLFP. Discussions have already been made with eight parties. We are conducting talks further to form a broad alliance to face the Local Council Elections.
Q: Recently there was a major dispute in parliament as the joint opposition once again called for independence to be a separate opposition group. If the joint opposition becomes an independent party, would it affect the membership of the SLFP MPs representing the joint opposition?
A: This is a decision that the Speaker must take. He has so far recognised only six political parties contested in the recently held general election. The decision to form a national government was taken by the SLFP Central Committee. But everyone is free either to work along with the government or to sit in the opposition. The SLFP has taken no decision to stay independent. Even in the SLFP Executive Committee, the SLFP members have not said anything about the need of a separate party. Some MPs have asked the party to bring all opinions on to one stage. But since we have given the members the freedom to express their opinion, we cannot judge those statements. However, one person can only represent one party, not two or more.
Q: Is the struggle to reunite Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Maithripala Sirisena still going on?
A: Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena are already united. The former is the patron of the party and the latter is the party chairman. They both were seen together at the party convention held in Polonnaruwa. What more is left to do to rebuild their friendship?
Q: During his recent visit to Sri Lanka, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had said it was good to seek international assistance. But the President had insisted on a domestic mechanism. So what exactly is the policy of the government on the war crimes probe?
A: We cannot violate the Constitution. The President has confirmed it. So we must uphold it. Anyone can express his views, but finally, we can only operate inside the existing legal framework. The President has clearly stated that the war heroes are not going to be made guilty of what had happened during the war. We will always defend the war heroes who brought us peace. But while protecting the war heroes, we must also uphold the country’s laws. Even Sarath Fonseka was punished under the ordinary law of the country.
Q: Recently many SLFP ministers have complained that they are not being treated well even though they are members of the government. Aren’t these signs of a crisis inside the party? What is the party’s future path with all these contradictory claims?
A: There are two main views in the SLFP at present. We are not going to deny that situation. But the people in this country gave their mandate for the two parties to unite and build this country. So though there are two views, we must look together into the future. What is going to be the future of a newly formed party? Although it was said that under a national government, the political hatred is going to cease, still at the grassroots level, it is clearly visible. We are used to hammering the government when we are in opposition. Today the opportunity has been given to anyone despite party political differences to come forward and contribute to the country’s development. By forming other parties, it takes at least five years to regain power. What is the benefit in resorting to that act? Mahinda Rajapaksa is a popular leader; that is true. But there is no political future by pushing him further. A party needs a future. In 2001, when Chandrika Kumaratunga was President and Ranil Wickeremesinghe was Prime Minister, 66 SLFPers were either murdered or imprisoned. But now there is a national government. Today, party views are not important. Instead of serving the member, the government is serving the people. Everyone should keep that in mind.