By Shaahidah Riza and Umesh Moramudali
The 100 days allocated to deliver the promises made by the government to the people has lapsed. Whilst a few targets were met, certain key factors including electoral reforms are yet to see the light of the day. In the same light, a few political parties have changed colours, and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), of which President Maithripala Sirisena was the General Secretary, is also facing an imminent split due to two factions that formed within the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by the SLFP of which one faction are Maithri loyalists and the other, Mahinda loyalists. Western Province Councillor and Leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) Udaya Gammanpila, a key member of the latter group, spoke at length to Ceylon Today on matters pertaining to former President Rajapaksa’s future in Sri Lankan politics.
Following are excerpts:
Prior to the presidential election you broke away from the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and formed the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU). Now what is your position in the UPFA
A: Actually we were forced to launch the PHU as the JHU has deviated from the main objective of setting up the party. We had to form the PHU in order to protect Buddhism and the unitary status of the country. The JHU, instead of working towards those two major objectives joined separatists such as R. Sampanthan and federalist Chandrika.
With regard to the UPFA, President Sirisena was appointed as the chairman of the UPFA without our consent. According to the party constitution the leader of the SLFP automatically becomes the chairman of the party. We never accepted the leadership of President Sirisena. I have never participated in any talks with him after he became the party leader. The President has no legitimate right to give orders to us.
The former President was defeated in the presidential election. So why is he so special now
A: We predicted that the current government would not keep its word. The economy is collapsing. The pro-separatist agenda is taking root. The people need Mahinda Rajapaksa back.
You said 5.8 million people voted against President Sirisena, but that does not mean that 5.8 million voted for Rajapaksa because most people voted for the UPFA
A: That is completely wrong. A presidential election is a battle between two candidates. That is why the second biggest party, the UNP decided to field SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena, who is not a party leader at all, to contest the elections. It is clear that more than 99 per cent of the SLFP is not with the party. But the people are with Mahinda. They say that our colour is Mahinda, symbol is Mahinda and party is Mahinda. This shows why they want Mahinda back. That’s why President Rajapaksa recently remarked that the SLFP doesn’t mean the hand symbol, colour blue or the headquarters at Darley Road. He said the SLFP is all about its principles and people who believe in them. These people are with Mahinda Rajapaksa.
However, Mahinda Rajapaksa was unable to secure minority votes in the presidential election. It is difficult for Rajapaksa to get the minority support, isn’t it
A: I do admit that minority support was not with Mahinda Rajapaksa. President Sirisena secured most of the minority votes in the presidential election. Despite that fact, we believe that Rajapaksa can emerge as the winner of the upcoming parliamentary election. Coalition partners of the UPFA are still with the party, while the UNP would not have the support of their coalition partners in the parliamentary election. Therefore, 5.8 million votes are intact.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) that supported Sirisena in the presidential election would contest separately in the parliamentary elections. The TNA alone has nearly 700,000 votes and the JVP can easily get about 500,000 votes. In addition, the Democratic Party led by Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and the JHU too would contest alone and not with the UNP. Altogether there will be a reduction of nearly 1.5 million votes from the 6.2 million votes Sirisena received at the presidential election.
On top of that the government has consistently failed. The economy has collapsed and the share market is not performing well and national security is in danger. Hence, most people who voted for Sirisena would not vote for the UNP. When we take all these factors into consideration Mahinda Rajapaksa would be the clear winner in the upcoming parliamentary election.
However, it seems that President Sirisena would not allow Rajapaksa to contest from the UPFA ticket. What would be the alternative
A: The symbol does not matter. For example, most of the voters did not know Sirisena’s party in the presidential election. He announced his symbol one month before the election and won the election. One month was sufficient to spread the message across the country. If Sirisena could do that it would be a simple thing for Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is the most popular political figure in the country. Rajapaksa can contest from any party and secure victory, because people are with him.
Would SLFP members join Rajapaksa in the parliamentary election
A: SLFP MPs would join and that is obvious. When we had the first rally in Nugegoda there were no SLFP MPs attending the rally officially. Dilum Amunugama was the solitary SLFPer who came to the stage in Kandy. Nevertheless, at the Ratnapura rally there were 26 MPs and the number of MPs who took part in the Kurunegala rally rose to 57. You see, the number is increasing and we are expecting 70 SLFP MPs to take part in the rally to be held in Matara on 12 June.
Only those who got ministerial posts are with President Sirisena. What a politician need is the support of the people and Mahinda Rajapaksa has it in ample measure. President Sirisena has the support only in Parliament and at the grassroots level party activists are supporting Rajapaksa.
The trend is good and the Rajapaksa team is gathering strength. Soon after the dissolution of Parliament more than 90 per cent of the SLFP MPs would join hands with Rajapaksa. President Sirisena certainly has the power. But for an election you need the people. The people will give their support to Rajapaksa.
If most MPs join Rajapaksa, there will be a division in the SLFP, isn’t it
A: No. There won’t be any division. Very few people are with President Sirisena. When there is no Maithri faction in the party at grassroots level, how you can call it a division? Almost 99 per cent of the party will support Rajapaksa. Even in the May Day rally, there was no Maithri faction. That means he does not have the people’s support at the grassroots level. He has only the support of a team of parliamentarians.
Will the long-standing SLFP MPs take the risk of ruining their future by joining Rajapaksa faction and going against the party leadership
A: At the moment, more than 60 per cent are with us and it will increase to 90 per cent soon after the dissolution of Parliament. Look at the statements made by SLFP MPs. They defend the former President. The SLFP is a party which opposes the UNP.
Although you were promoting Rajapaksa as the prime ministerial candidate he did not attend any rally. Why is that
A: He will attend the rallies once Parliament is dissolved. Our only hope is Mahinda Rajapaksa. We are duty bound to ensure his safety, without exposing him to any danger.
All the corruption charges are against the former President and his family. Don’t you think that it will work against him
A: Not at all. The senior members of the present government spoke of mega deals during the previous regime at the last presidential election campaign. They wanted only 100 days to punish the top brass of the previous regime. Instead of 100 days they have taken more than 150 days. However, they have failed to prove a single mega deal. Therefore, the people are really angry with the government for fooling them at the presidential election by talking about mega deals. So they do not want to punish the Rajapaksas, rather they would punish the present government for fooling them.
I challenge the government to punish the Rajapaksas if they are guilty of any corruption. They cannot come up with single credible evidence against Rajapaksa. Basil Rajapaksa was accused of taking massive commissions, but he was arrested for alleged Divi Neguma monetary irregularities. However, he had only paid gratuity to Samurdhi Officers out of Divi Neguma funds. Is that a crime? He said that if gratuity was not paid on time, the government will have to pay a penalty. The retired officers will not be able to live without any income.
Basil Rajapaksa has, in fact, obtained Cabinet approval for the payment. Meanwhile, Johnston Fernando was accused of importing a large quantity of ethanol. But the charge against him was making a credit purchase from Corporate Wholesale Establishment (CWE) which was settled later by him. Is it a crime to purchase on credit? Then 1.6 million credit cardholders in the country can be arrested and remanded.
The former President was accused of nepotism. The government said that he had appointed many of his family members who had no qualifications for certain posts. How do you explain it
A: I admit that the former President Rajapaksa appointed incompetent people for certain posts. He admitted that he had made some mistakes during his regime and he vowed not to repeat them.
The President wanted the 20th Amendment to take precedence over the No-Confidence Motion. So why has the No-Confidence Motion been taken up, when the 20th Amendment is still not implemented
A: After the 20th Amendment is gazetted we have to wait for two more weeks for the public to study it. Thereafter, it should be placed in the Order Paper of Parliament. Parliament must wait for one more week to give the people the opportunity to petition against it in the Supreme Court. If the people exercise that right, Parliament must wait for another three weeks to hear the petitions and to communicate its determination. Such a process will take at least more than six weeks. Meanwhile, it makes sense to take up the No-Confidence Motion.