New party will strengthen the govt. – SB Dissanayake
With a new political party in the making and the country heading for Local Government elections, Sunday Observer sat face to face with the Minister of Social Empowerment and Welfare S.B. Dissanayake and former Minister Kumar Welgama to talk about the future of SLFP and the government and the upcoming elections, in the light of the new political party that will be initiated by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Q: What impact do you think the Mahinda Rajapaksa breakaway faction have at the upcoming Local Government elections?
SB: They have claimed that 1401 out of 1,447 Local Government members took part in the meeting in Negambo. After the last Local Government election, there are 2,297 SLFP members selected and in addition to that, 394 members crossed over from other parties. So, we are looking at a total of 2,691 members and approximately 3,500 if you are counting all the contestants who lost the elections as well.
When we inquired about it, we found there have been around 750 Local Government members at the meeting, including some of the current, and previous members and lost candidates. Not even 20 percent of the MPs were there. So, they started off with a defeat. We have started looking into each of these members individually, who attended the meeting in Negambo.
Q: Does this break-away mean the end of SLFP, or its downhill slide? How would this affect the party?
SB:During the last 30 years, many people left the SLFP including me and Anura Bandaranaike. Even Mahinda Rajapaksa left the SLFP for a brief period. But all of them returned to the Party again. At one point 14 out of 19 of the members of the SLFP Central Committee left the party. Though the party was weakened, it resurrected. This new party will be a blow to the SLFP on a short term. But in the long run, the party will prevail. If Mahinda Rajapaksa really loves the Party, members and supporters of the party and loves the country, what he should do is to support the President carry out his duties as the Chairman of SLFP. The main loss of this fraction will be for the Party because Mahinda Rajapaksa is still a strong figure in the SLFP.
Q: Newspapers have quoted Basil as saying the emergence of a new party is inevitable. Your response?
SB: That’s exactly what some people said when Anura Bandaranaike left SLFP, when Ilangaratne and Vijaya Kumaratunga left the SLFP. JR Jayawardena almost took over the party, but ultimately, the party prevailed.
Q: Minister Faizer Musthapha said there is a large number of petitions against the recommendations of the delimitation committee report. How does the government try to balance the committee recommendations and the public opinions?
SB: Election will be held as approved in the Parliament, and a merging of the two systems, proportional representation and ward-based system, will be implemented. But that does not mean we have forgotten that the UNP and us both made an election promise to abolish preferential voting system. We are not going back on our word. That’s why a committee has been appointed to look into complaints.
Q: Do you think by April, when the gazette is supposed to be issued on the LG elections, these complaints would be dealt with, by the government?
SB: I don’t think the election can be gazette by April and held by June. Realistically, I would say it could be postponed till August. There is a commission looking in to the complaints filed against recommendations of the delimitation report and most of the complaints regarding the electoral boundaries are valid and need to be solved.
But the commission doesn’t have the power to make all the necessary changes. The commission has the power to change the name and border of an electorate but nothing more. Members of the commission talked to us, SLFP, as well and we agree that there are some electorates need to be rearranged, especially because originally they have been set out based on the caste of the people living in the area. So, some electorates needs dividing and some needs merging.
Q: The mixed electoral system for LG elections can be challenging and confusing. How would this be mitigated?
SB: It is a confusing procedure and may cause some unforeseen issues. Appointing candidates for each electorate and then dealing with two different systems can cause problems. We are not denying that.
Q: How long do you think it will take to educate the people on a mixed system of first past the post and PR?
SB: People do not have to worry about it at all. They will be informed of their electorate and the candidates contesting from their area. All they have to do is to cast their vote, as usual. The rest will be sorted and they do not have to worry about it.
Q: Should the SLFP faction in government, or the government, be worried about the new party to be set up by the former President?
SB: The government will be stronger. There is a strong group of MPs from the SLFP who have joined Mahinda Rajapaksa in his attempts to start a new political party. Directly or indirectly, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his supporters have gained enough power to start a new political party. But what they do not anticipate is that they are going to lose another set of MPs in their attempts to start a new political party and these MPs are going to join President Maithreepala Sirisena, thus strengthening the government.