By W.K. Prasad Manju
Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva said that he has a list of signatures of over 70 MPs expressing support to him as the Opposition Leader and that it has been handed over to the Secretary of the UPFA, Susil Premajayantha who first directed the request to appoint him as the Opposition Leader.
: You appealed in Parliament not to backstab and said you were ready to give up the position of Opposition Leader. Who is backstabbing?
A: The Central Committee of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Executive Committee and the Parliamentary Group unanimously decided to appoint me as Opposition Leader and John Seneviratne as the Chief Opposition Whip. My name was first proposed as the Leader of Opposition by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He fully supported my appointment. Next President of the SLFP President Maithripala Sirisena also accepted me as the Opposition Leader. While I was performing duties as the Opposition Leader successfully, with the support of all quarters, a section of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) challenged it. That is why I asked them not to backstab. If they don’t like me, they can summon the UPFA Parliamentary Group and come to a decision. They could have also questioned this in the SLFP Parliamentary Group.
: A group of 62 MPs of the UPFA submitted a letter to the Speaker with affidavits demanding MP Dinesh Gunawardane to be appointed as the Opposition Leader. Now the number of MPs has increased to 75, as reports say.
A: Can these affidavits be trusted? I too have a list of signatures of over 70 MPs expressing support to me as the Opposition Leader. It has been handed over to the Secretary of the UPFA Susil Premajayantha who first directed the request to appoint me as the Opposition Leader. According to parliamentary tradition, the leader of the opposition party which has the highest number of MPs is offered the position of Opposition Leader. UPFA is the biggest political party which represents the Opposition and the Secretary of the UPFA has proposed my name as the Leader of the Opposition as per a unanimous decision of the coalition. I have no problem about the majority support. Anywhere in the world, there is no system of appointing the Opposition Leader gathering support of the MPs through letters.
: You stated that about 70 MPs have signed expressing support to you and reportedly, about 75 MPs have expressed support to MP Dinesh Gunawardena. Are there MPs who have signed both documents?
A: I don’t know who supports MP Dinesh Gunawardena as I have not seen that list. I take responsibility for my statement but such a list of signatures is not necessary. The most important factor is appointing a responsible person of the party as the Opposition Leader and keeping trust on him. The MPs who have signed are not babies.
: Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa has said that the situation in the present Parliament is unprecedented in the world and he wants to study it further.
A: There is nothing new. You have formulated such a theory to say this is a new situation.
: Not me but the Speaker himself said he wanted time to study this further.
A: According to parliamentary tradition, it is clear that the leader of the largest opposition group must be appointed to the position of Opposition Leader. This has happened in other countries too. Therefore, I have the right to hold this position. The Speaker may have wanted to study the situation. On the other hand, this is not a position given to me as a person. I was given it as the leader of the Parliamentary Group of the UPFA. If there is a controversy, I am ready to accept any decision taken by the Speaker. Is the position of the Opposition Leader the biggest problem at this moment in this country?
: Can you be satisfied about your role as Opposition Leader?
A: Definitely I am satisfied. I am a senior leader of the SLFP. I have been a Cabinet Minister for several years and I have worked as the leader of the house too. I have heavily criticized the United National Party (UNP) Government also. Therefore, a person who knows my past in the parliamentary history may not accuse me baselessly like this.
: Don’t they question you after a group of SLFP MPs accepting portfolios in the government?
A: There were several SLFP MPs like Rajitha Senarathna, M.K.A.D.S. Gunawardhana, Duminda Dissanayaka et al as ministers of the original government formed under President Maithripala Sirisena. At that moment, there was no problem of appointing me as the Opposition Leader. How can my appointment be questionable only when another group accepted ministerial posts?
: Can you criticize the government freely in a context, a section of the SLFP are in the government?
A: I have done it. I was the first to expose the mishandling of the issue of Treasury Bonds by Central Bank recently, in Parliament. We led the campaign to take the case before Court. I have criticized the actions of the present government in Parliament many times. I have questioned repeatedly about political reprisals and transfer of employees. I will continue to do so. A man who is really asleep can be woken up easily but not a man who is pretending to be sleeping. They know what I have done but they pretend they don’t know.
: Why isn’t the voice against the fraud in the Treasury Bond transaction raised much now?
A: We have not stopped raising the voice. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe promised us to conduct a probe and submit the report quickly to Parliament. I held several press conferences on this matter. We are vigilant until the culprits are brought to book. We will not let the offenders run away. We will debate about the investigation report once it is tabled in Parliament.
: What happened to the no-confidence motion you filed in Parliament against Minister John Amaratunga?
A: We wanted to reprimand Minister John Amarathunga. After this no-confidence motion was filed, President Maithripala Sirisena used his powers to suspend the police transfers. The minister influencing the police service was also prevented. That was the relief we achieved through that no-confidence motion. Some actions we take in Parliament are actually aimed at preventing injustices against the people. We could achieve it through this no-confidence motion.
: But rumours say that the no-confidence motion has vanished.
A: Who says so? The no-confidence motion is in the parliamentary agenda. It can be debated at any suitable moment.
: A financial Act of the government was defeated in the Parliament recently. Government Chief Whip Lakshman Kiriella and Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake said that there was no decision to call for a vote. They alleged the opposition MPs had gone for a vote against the wish of the Opposition Leader.
A: It is totally incorrect. MPs Dinesh Gunawardena, D.E.W. Gunasekera and many other party leaders were at the discussion about the issue. The government wanted to change the agenda within one day. We granted permission for it with the consent of the leaders of the parties. We used the opportunity to criticize the financial policy of the present government. A division was sought by MP Ajith Kumara of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP). The Opposition MPs voted against it. I have never said that we would not go for a vote. We have never asked the government not to call for a vote.
: A group of SLFP MPs have accepted portfolios of the present government. In this context, is the SLFP in the government or is it in the Opposition? Can you be the Opposition Leader?
A: I can briefly say that such situations took place in history but the Opposition Leader position was not affected. For instance, the Opposition Leader position of Ranil Wickremesinghe was not challenged due to the crossover of 17 MPs of the UNP led by Karu Jayasuriya. He retained the position and no one brought that argument. Another MP could have been appointed as Opposition Leader but they did not do so.
: UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha has been vested with powers by the Speaker to resolve the Opposition Leader issue. What can be his decision?
A: He will do according to the law. Ask him.
: A programme is underway to name the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister candidate of the UPFA. Five SLFP MPs who supported it were sacked from the SLFP Central Committee. What is your opinion as the Senior Vice President of the SLFP?
A: There is no need for you to panic. We will resolve the internal problems of the party at the right time. We will not let anyone to take advantage from them. MPs Kumar Welgama and T.B. Ekanayaka discussed these issues with President Maithripala Sirisena.
The leader of the SLFP and UPFA President Maithripala Sirisena has clearly stated that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has the right to contest the general election from any district. What is the problem now? Mahinda Rajapaksa has still not said that he would contest the upcoming general election. Problems are created by outsiders.