The Sunday Leader

Next Three Years Crucial – Duminda Dissanayake

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

  • Through this National Government we hope to bring both opposing parties to a midway point and work together
  • We are the ones who oppose the elections being held according to the proportionate voting system
  • The JO never expected to get the Galle Face Green for their May Day rally and now that the government has not opposed it they are worried that they will not be able to attract the large crowds

Duminda Dissanayake was a pioneer member of the group that initiated the formation of a National Government and the January 8 and August 17 change. However, while there are many challenges that the National Government is currently facing with regard to decision making, given the policy differences of both parties, namely the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Dissanayake is of the view that these are just minor obstacles that can be overcome and will in no way hamper the governance of the consensus government. He believes that the next three years is crucial and it should be dedicated to achieving the aspirations of the people. Being appointed the Agriculture Minister and also entrusted with the challenging position as the SLFP General Secretary, Dissanayake, in an interview with The Sunday Leader, responded to our queries regarding the many challenges the national government is facing and the many problems faced by the people.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q. Why has the Unity Government run into difficulty?

A. There is no crisis within the National Government. However, it is inevitable that certain differences of opinion and conflicting ideas are bound to arise, especially when two opposing parties join together to form a consensus government. There are certain disparities where the policies and ideologies of the two parties are concerned. These two parties were poles apart for many years. Through this National Government we hope to bring both opposing parties to a midway point and work together. However, this is always not that easy and we need to discuss certain issues and compromise if both parties are to work together for the greater good of the country. However, although certain issues or difference of opinions may crop up, this in no way will affect the future of the National Government.


Q.            But, according to the UNP, it is because of the SLFP faction that the process of formulating a new Constitution is being hampered. Is this true?

A.  Constitutional amendment, changing the electoral system and devolution of power are all promises that were given to the people during the election campaign. Therefore, it is the responsibility of both parties to fulfill these pledges. As far as the Constitutional amendments are concerned I don’t know who is saying they cannot do it because of us. But that is not true.


Q. The UNP alleges that the formulation of the constitution is being delayed due to the lack of urgency of the SLFP. Your response?

A.  That could be someone’s personal opinion, but as far as we are concerned, we have made our stand clear. One of the main factors of the proposed constitutional amendment is the changing of electoral laws. The whole of the SLFP will vote in favour of the Constitutional amendments provided the main factor of changing the electoral system is fulfilled through the promise of bringing in the 20th Amendment to the constitution. This clearly manifests the desire of the SLFP to bring in amendments to the constitution.

With regard to holding of the provincial council and local government elections, so far it is only the SLFP that wants the elections to be held under the new electoral system. Hence it is clearly evident that it is only us who truly wants these changes brought it through the constitutional amendments.

The next factor is the reducing of the powers of the Executive Presidency. During the 100-day government itself, the President voluntarily reduced some of the powers vested in the Executive Presidency. As far as the elections are concerned too both Local Government and Provincial Council elections should both be held concurrently.

We are the ones who oppose the elections being held according to the proportionate voting system. The parliamentary elections should be held according to the past the post system and the Provincial Council elections should be held according to the new electoral system and the Local Government should be held according to the above.

Hence it is a blatant lie that we are opposed to amend the Constitution.

Then if we look at the power devolution factor, we must take all possible measures to dispel any mistrust or doubt in the minds of the Tamil people if reconciliation is to be achieved. Currently what is happening is that it is the Northern administrators that are opposing the government’s efforts. It is these persons’ actions that are hampering the power devolution efforts.


Q. Then what about the difference of opinion of the two parties with regard to the referendum?

A. This is where we said that we need to go in for a system that does not require a referendum. Even the smaller parties are bound to encounter problems where the new electoral system is concerned. There is great disparity even in common issues. When the delimitation report is just about to be released it is wrong for them to now claim that there are disparities. They should have brought up these concerns much earlier. Under these circumstances, how can we go in for a referendum when we cannot even find solutions for the minor concerns of some within the government?

Even in certain issues that both parties don’t agree on, there is no point if it is not beneficial to the people. Some even talk about the referendum without proper understanding.

First we must draft the Constitution, approve it and come to some form of consensus and then decide if we need to go for a referendum or if we can achieve our purpose without one or what clauses can be amended without a referendum.

However, what is happening now is that without first drafting a Constitution or without even proper consensus between the two parties, some are just harping on a referendum.
What the UNP is always claiming is that this is a government that was established by them. They accuse us of only trying to restore the SLFP and not attempting to resurrect the country from its current state. This is not a matter of which party contributed the most. We first need to protect the country from the challenges it is facing. Moreover, the majority of votes were received in favour of the President, not any party.


Q. Yes, but then the UNP also claims that even the President was brought in by them?

A.  No, the UNP cannot take the credit for that singlehandedly, because if not for the support of the SLFP voter base this feat would not have been possible. Although we put forward the President as the common candidate, so far we have not changed out party not the colour of our party. The President stood as the common candidate as the SLFP General Secretary. Even at the election, none of the two parties had the majority in order to form a government and that is why the two parties decided to come together and form a national government. Now how can anyone claim that this is a UNP government or SLFP government?

The entire UNP are stakeholders in this government, but, due to internal disputes within the SLFP only some of us are within this government. But that does not imply that this is a UNP government based on just their headcount. This is a policy decision that was taken and not a government of any party. This was a decision taken by both parties to form a unity government for the betterment of the country.


Q. By August 17, it will complete two years since the Unity Government came together. What is the plan for the next three years?

A. My view is that we promised the people five years of governance. Hence, I think if we have not been able to achieve any of the promises made to the people during the past two years, we must try at least in the next three years to fulfill these promises made to the people. These are promises given to the people by the President too. Therefore, both parties should get together and see what we have failed to deliver on so far and focus on fulfilling these promises during the next three years.


Q. Well, at what point is these plans at currently?

A. We plan to commence these discussions in the near future.


Q. You claimed that the Joint Opposition May Day rally is no challenge to the SLFP. However, the JO says the people will prove who the real SLFP is. Your view?

A. Last year too they said the same thing and eventually, the majority of the SLFP supporters attended our May Day rally. The main reason that there still are some with the JO, is because of the popularity of  Mahinda Rajapaksa. Having ruled the country for the past ten years and the recognition he has attained over this period, he is still somewhat popular and this group clinging onto him are surviving because of that.

We witnessed the various rallies that they organized and know what a flop these were. Now they are threatening to have the May Day rally at Galle Face and eventually surround Temple Trees. We are not in the least bit affected by these empty threats. These have become nothing but a big joke. In spite of all their empty threats, they cannot topple the government.

The largest crowd that gathered to Galle Face green was when the Pope visited Sri Lanka. The JO never expected to get the Galle Face Green for their May Day rally and now that the government has not opposed it they are worried that they will not be able to attract the large crowds they claim to be able to attract. Hence they are trying all these threats in order to force the government to ban their rally, but we are not worried and we will not try to stop them. Let them try, so that the people can see what a bunch of losers they really are.

As a party, we feel that the government should allocate certain spaces for those who want to stage protests, so that they too can engage in their protests without having to hold protests all over the city, hampering the activities and movement of the rest of the country.

Q. Now that the Sinhala and Hindu New Year is round the corner, why cant you put aside all differences and unite?

A.  We have no animosity with anyone. There is nothing personal. What we are taking of are certain policy factors. The President only left the government but not the party. We are the same and we have not engaged in mudslinging against anyone. However, we will criticize anyone based on certain policy matters. There were certain instances where we had to criticize even Mahinda Rajapaksa for certain decisions he had taken as the party leader. We have nothing against him personally. We are not angry with him, in fact we still are friends on a personal level, but we have disagreements on certain policy matters. We are divided because of our political differences of opinion. We cannot join hands with those who cannot stand firm on certain policies and keep changing their stance from time-to-time. We cannot deliver on promises made to the people based on these changing policies, we must be firm.


Q. The prices of almost everything has risen, including lands, rice prices and price hikes in other commodities as well. In this country there is a culture where a government reduces the prices of a few items in time for the budget in order to gain the approval of the people. Your take?

A.  Although people may want the prices of goods to reduce, in reality we must look at whether prices of these commodities can really be reduced. The government can only have some control over the pricing of certain essential commodities, and that we have done.


Q. Even the issues faced by the vegetable farmers are still unresolved, why?

A. Taking into account the vegetable farmers of the Nuwara Eliya district, the reason that they cannot fetch a good price for their produce is the over cultivation and the flood of vegetables in the market. Only then do they ask us what to do. If they consult us before they engage in cultivation then we can tell them what types of vegetables they should grow. They should engage in vegetable cultivation based on a proper plan and not simply grow what they want and eventually find that there is an excess of the types of vegetables they have grown.


Q. The JVP alleges that the proposed Cabinet reshuffle will only be a change of heads ant not much change will happen?

A.  I too feel that certain issues will not be resolved just by reshuffling Cabinet. If there are issues in certain ministries or areas, then these issues must be addressed and solutions should be sought.
The current ministers have made certain plans in their ministries and have commenced work according to these plans. However, changing these ministries will only hinder the progress made so far as the new minister coming in will need another year or so to settle in and implement his own plans. Then this will eventually affect the overall performance and goals of the Unity Government. The government will then run out of time to achieve the goals we set out to accomplish and look like failures in the eyes of the public.


Q. Do you believe that there will be an election this year?

A. We have urged the government to hold the Provincial and Local Government elections this year. By September this year, the official terms of three of the Provincial Councils and we need to have those elections.

1 Comment for “Next Three Years Crucial – Duminda Dissanayake”

  1. Gobba

    Yes it would be CRUCIAL , for you to continue paying MILLIONS to the building that Sabitha owns, as Rent. You guys are no change to what MR and family were. People now, very much, regret voting scumbags like you all to POWER.

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