Senior politician S. B. Dissanayake’s chequered political career is dotted with success and failure. Endowed with the unique talent of being able to wriggle out of temporary setbacks, he has made his place in politics secure. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister of Rural Economic Affairs called for a clear majority for the SLFP-led UPFA coalition at the upcoming General Election to form a stable Government under President Maithripala Sirisena.
Q: What is the exact situation regarding SLFP nomination for former President Mahinda Rajapaksa? Will he be the UPFA prime ministerial candidate?
A: President Sirisena, at a UPFA party leaders meeting on Thursday (2) agreed to accommodate former President Rajapaksa on the UPFA list. However, the President did not agree to nominate his predecessor as the UPFA prime ministerial candidate or allow him to lead the UPFA election campaign, as that would adversely impact on the independent votes obtained by President Sirisena at the Presidential Election.
A compromise was reached: To give nominations to Mahinda Rajapaksa from a district. UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha has issued a media communique in this connection.
Q: Prospective candidates are being interviewed now. What do you look for in candidates?
A: We would look into their commitment for the party, educational qualifications, popularity and whether they have been found guilty of any wrongdoings.
Q: It has been said that nominations will be denied to drug dealers, ethanol dealers, rapists and so on. But there is strong suspicion that the UPFA will eventually accommodate shady characters whose names have been strongly linked to these offences.
A: President Sirisena has reiterated that such persons will be denied nominations. Though the nomination boards will conduct interviews of candidates, the President can accept or reject such nominations.
Q: Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s popular catchword ‘motherland’ has resurfaced already. Will this embrace or alienate minority votes, crucial for victory?
A: That was an effective slogan put forward by former President because we all love our motherland. But this slogan should not be used to promote racism. The SLFP is steadily moving forward under the new leader. He is not a racist or a religious extremist. He is a leader who wants to see that all communities live in peace and harmony. I think the former President will join President Sirisena in achieving this goal.
Q: With allegations of plundering national wealth, abuse of authority, breakdown in rule of law, interference with judiciary, autocratic rule and alienating minorities, can the SLFP-led UPFA garner sufficient votes to form a government?
A: President Sirisena is the incumbent SLFP chairman. None of these charges have been levelled against him. People gave him a mandate to rectify errors. During the former government, we unnecessarily weakened our bilateral ties with India and Europe while creating problems with the United Nations.
Now all those mistakes have been rectified. The President is promoting peace and reconciliation to the Northern people. Now ‘Maithri’ vision is being implemented. Party supporters will endorse this vision and act accordingly.
Q: Do you think allegations of fraud against former UPFA ministers, legislators and top officials have a bearing on the average Sri Lankan voter who is focused on the next meal and bare necessities?
A: If such allegations are true, they should be investigated. To me, these allegations appear to be politically motivated. Those are deliberate attempts by the UNP to attack the SLFP-led UPFA and create a fear-psychosis among public officials, through the FCID and the Bribery Commission. During this short time, severe charges have been levelled against the UNP, including the controversial Treasury bond issue. It is the responsibility of President Sirisena to form a clean administration by eliminating all corrupt elements.
Q: You have claimed that if former President Rajapaksa contests from the UPFA as the prime ministerial candidate, the party will face a huge defeat. What made you say this?
A: Former President’s decision to contest from the UPFA ticket is a great strength to the party. Majority of the SLFP grass root level supporters are in favour of him. It would be easy for us to carry out our election campaign, with him.
In addition to the votes obtained by the SLFP at the last Presidential Election, President Maithripala Sirisena has obtained 1.2 million independent votes. We should attract those votes. Steps should be taken to increase our minority vote base.
The decision taken to give nominations to the former President would help to attract minority votes. This will help take forward the ‘Maithri’ vision.
Q: Have you planned your propaganda activities? Do you have a new manifesto?
A: We are now drafting a manifesto. The only fear was about a possible split in the SLFP. Now we don’t have such fears as both factions have reached a compromise. We could secure a significant victory in collaboration with leftist, progressive and other parties.
Q: In the event of a UPFA victory, will you still opt for a National Ggovernment with the UNP?
A: We haven’t discussed it yet. We have no satisfaction whatsoever of what the UNP has done during this short period in office.
A serious doubt has been created about transparency and accountability due to the Central Bank issue. It is best to obtain a clear majority and form a stable government.
Q: You are said to be the author of a book on ‘saving the SLFP’. What made you do that?
A: Yes, I wrote that book. As politicians, we should properly understand what happened to us at the previous election. Otherwise, we can’t take the next step. I have also written the second volume of this book. It is focused on the proper identification of victory and defeat.
Q: Are you confident of victory?
A: Of course. Now that the two factions are unified and President Sirisena giving it fresh leadership, we are set to win. We hope, former presidents, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa would also support the President’s endeavour.
We will work again with all the parties, including minority political parties, to broaden or base. We should end fraud, waste and malpractices. The President is committed to making these democratic reforms.
Q: Your house in Hanguranketa, referred to as a ‘palace’ was also the subject of investigation at some point. Were you not questioned by the Police and the Inland Revenue Department, after you fell out with President Chandrika Kumaratunga?
A: Yes. I was also taken to the Bribery Commission. Following a bribery probe, I was freed from the allegations. Yet, another case was filed against me. But the Bribery officials who investigated my case said that I was completely cleared. Again, they petitioned the Appeal Court and that too led to the cautioning of the Bribery Commission.
Later, they took up the case to the Supreme Court with the intention of sending me to jail. But their plan didn’t work as I was completely cleared. That is an unforgettable experience in my life.
Q: To many, ‘SB’ is a turn-coat who will always go with the tide’ but turn away when danger lurks. Your comments?
A: I have a vision, principles and targets. At present, our country has entered into the development path and that honour should go to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
He put an end to three decades old war and that credit too should go to him. But, during the same government, severe fraud, waste and malpractices took place. Former President and top government officials should also be held responsible for this.
I don’t admit to the charges levelled against the UPFA by the UNP. Most of those are baseless.
There were some genuine mistakes committed by us.
We should rectify those shortcomings and move towards a new goal.
Actually, I didn’t change my direction. I fell out with President Kumaratunga and quit the party. But I have returned to my party. I am very happy about President Rajapaksa’s decision to strengthen us.