The Special Statement of the President Maithripala Sirisena on the Current Political Situation 14-07-2015 at the President’s Office;
This is the first time I am making a statement to the media since 21st of November. My main objective today is to make a clarification as to the prevailing political situation in the country.
However, in order to do that, I believe it’s pertinent to draw your attention to the election manifesto which paved the path for me to be appointed as the President of this country on the 8th of January.
The democratic revolution that occurred on the 8th of January became a reality within a short spell of 42 days between my leaving the then-government in November last year. It is within this short period of 42 days that the people of this country embraced ideals of democracy, freedom, fundamental rights, human rights and the freedom of media, thereby giving me the opportunity to establish this new government. The election manifesto I brought forth, as all of you clearly remember, was based on a compassionate form of governance. Even prior to the manifesto, there were significant reasons for people selected me as their common candidate.
During the 49 years of my political career, I have served the people as a Member of the Parliament, a Deputy Minister and also a Minister. During those 49 years, I believe that the People had an understanding of me as a person who respects and protects freedom and democracy, and as a person who does not engage in corruption or the abuse of powers. I believe that this understanding is what qualified me to become their common candidate. My character, my personality, the gamut of experience I gained during my political career and the image I have built within the hearts of the People are the reasons why they supported me and stood by me, when I took up the challenge as their common candidate.
When I left the Government on November 21st, with the trust the People placed on my shoulders, as I have clearly stated before, I had not met Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe even once prior to making my decision. I had met Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike only once and even that for less than an hour. And I was able to come into a consensus with 49 organizations, political parties and groups to align with my election manifesto.
Out of those 49 groups, it is only a few whom I knew personally. And my election manifesto and campaign was designed by the representatives of those 49 groups. Those groups included mainly the United National Party, The Democratic Party of General Fonseka, the Muslim Congress, the Muslim National Front, even the Tamil National Alliance and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna that supported immensely without a formal agreement.
With their collective support we managed to record a tremendous victory at the election. Just after the victory, 09th of January, I took oaths as the President of this country and took on my shoulders the responsibility of implementing the pledges and agreements I made to the people in my election manifesto.
Few hours after I swore in as the President, I appointed Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister. There were only two agreements I ever signed before the Presidential election. One was the agreement made between the 49 different groups that supported my campaign, on the contents of the election manifesto. Second was to appoint Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister. I stood by my word and appointed the Prime Minister as agreed.
What was the situation in the parliament when I made him the Prime Minister? Out of the 225 total seats in the parliament, only 47 belonged to the UNP. I appointed a person who had only a minority 47/225 support in the parliament.
Today, many people who helped me to get into power, including my well-wishers, criticize me for accepting the Chairmanship of SLFP. However, my preference was to take oaths as the President on the 09th and dissolve the Parliament immediately on the 10th. I thought that was the most convenient option.
But the organizations and parties who carried out my campaign, who jointly formulated my manifesto decided otherwise. They believed that we should implement the 100 day Programme without dissolving the Parliament. You all know that the 100 day programme was not an easy task. It had promises to change the country’s constitution, to abolish or dilute the powers of the executive presidency and transfer those powers to the parliament, to transfer some of those powers to other institutions, to the independent commissions, to the cabinet of ministers.
The question I have to ask from my friends who criticize me for taking up the SLFP leadership is, how could I bring about these important changes like the 19th amendment, dilution of executive presidency if not for the support of the majority SLFP and UPFA in the parliament? I clearly could not do it with a minority government alone.
When I took office as the president, I came with both my arms open. I was, I am and I will be ready to completely abolish or cut down the executive powers of the presidency. That’s my commitment for the freedom and democracy of the common man of my country.
I undertook the leadership of SLFP on the 19th of January. I did not take it by force and I did not ask for it. Many senior leaders of SLFP invited me to take over the leadership. They suggested that I meet Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. As you know there was a 10-15 minute long discussion at the Speaker’s House. When I was asked to take over the leadership I expressed my willingness for that. The following day the Central Committee and the Executive Committee met and I was given the leadership.
The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by SLFP has 2/3 in Parliament. Accordingly, the President of SLFP is also the President of UPFA. Consequently, I became the leader of the UPFA which has 2/3 strength in Parliament with its 142 members. Therefore, the 100 days programme was successful. We were able to pass the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in Parliament. As the UNP claims we were able to provide benefits to people, salary increase to public servants, reduce prices of fuel, gas and food because I undertook the leadership of the SLFP and UPFA and led both parties to fulfill the task of the this election manifesto.
If Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa would have become the party President, he wouldn’t have allowed passing the amendment to the 19th constitution. The budget of Finance Minister was passed in the Parliament unanimously. If Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa would have been appointed as the President of the party he wouldn’t have allowed to pass the budget which provides benefits to people, salary increase to public servants and reduce fuel and gas prices.
The success of the 100- day programme which is now being appreciated, was produced with the leadership of the United National Party (UNP) in collaboration with 49 organizations and parties that contributed to my victory. The credit for implementation of the programme goes to all the Members of Parliament who supported it.
Two hundred and fifteen, out of 225 members in the Parliament voted for the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Some people are now calling me a villain and traitor. This clearly shows the blossoming of democracy established in this country after January 8. Not any state leader or president of this country after the establishment of Executive Presidency in 1978, was attacked in the way I have been attacked during past two weeks.
I do not have to remind what happened to the journalists, how the media was curtailed and how the free media was buried in some eras. You know what happened in this country especially after the establishment of the Executive. Today you enjoy the benefits of a democracy. When Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was making a transformation in this country in 1956 by establishing people’s government, establishing democracy, ensuring labor rights and enforcing progressive policies, he to face 459 worker strikes during his tenure of three and half years.
Even the cabinet of Mr. Bandaranaike was boycotted. Meetings of the Ministers were also boycotted. When the strikes were continuously happening the then former Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawela said “Banda untied the dogs I had tied. Now they are biting Banda”.
Some political analysts and critics called me a villain and a traitor while I am the one who gave the leadership to the transformation in this country, and also the one who clearly established democracy and worked for that with responsibility. I ask them to taste the fruits of democracy but not to destroy the democratic society created by the January 8th transformation.
If they used those words and carried out such attacks before January 8, you know what would have happened to them. Everybody can guess it with what happened in this country at that time. That is the reality. The ruling system of that period was a monarchy. How your media organizations were advised before January 8? “You can attack Ministers as much as you want, but do not attack any member of the Rajapaksa family”.
There were no assassinations, blood shedding or conflicts during past six months. This country is now peaceful and free. Appointing a Prime Minister who command the support of only 47 members out of 225 members in Parliament, this political establishment was administered. It passed the 19th amendment to the constitution and passed the budget unanimously. I wanted to do the required changes in the country.
Due to these incidents, issues were arisen within the SLFP and UPFA. Though Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa offered me the leadership of the party, he started pulling my leg after two weeks. I made a huge effort to build the SLFP as a party without a family favoritism by freeing the party from the people engaged in corruption and fraud, as well as the opportunists, robbers of state property and people who abused power.
On one hand I had to lead the government by appointing a Prime Minister who has 47 members in Parliament. On the other hand I had to change constitution as well. For all these, the majority of votes in Parliament were required.
The leaders of UPFA held meetings against me, stating the numbers of the Members of Parliament who participated in the meetings. Whom did they challenge? They did not challenge UNP. Everybody knew that they challenged me.
Some people ask me why I did not take disciplinary action against them. Why I didn’t give charge sheets to them? Central committee unanimously agreed with the concept of the national government.
The Parliament team took consensual decisions without any disagreements. When they were taking such decisions, the party, country and political rivals questioned why I do not take disciplinary action against them. Why I did not remove them from the organization. Why don’t I remove them from memberships of the Parliament after disciplinary inquiries? But how should I do it? We have to maintain the Parliament with a Prime Minister who has 47 members in Parliament. How can we pass bills in the parliament? And how can we amend the constitutions? How to pass budget proposals? How to establish independent commissions?
To successfully implement the 100 Day program as well as to fulfill the responsibilities I have to deliver to the people of this country, I had to ignore all the negative aspects that existed. I was very flexible. To my knowledge, any previous Head of State in our country was not as flexible as I was when members of his or her own party behaved like this. I have been flexible to fulfill the pledge and election promises given to the people. That was to curtail the powers of the Executive Presidency. I have given the support to pass the budget in Parliament.
Today, we are facing a General Election. The political stability, responsibility of the economy and the management of this country lies in the new government for the next five years.
Currently, there are three main allegations against me for giving nominations to Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest under the UPFA. One of the allegations is that it was wrong on my part to accept the presidency of SLFP. I have answered that question. The next accusation is that it was wrong for me to meet Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. Finally, they say that giving the candidacy to Mahinda Rajapaksa for the next general election is a huge fault.
As all of you know, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa met with me three times. The first meeting was at the official residence of the Speaker of the Parliament to hand over the presidency of SLFP. The second meeting was held at the president’s office in the Parliament with the representatives of both the groups. Those representatives from Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s side first told that they will contest the next general election and they have four demands.
The first demand was to appoint Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister after the election and to name him as the Prime Ministerial candidate. Next was to oppose some proposals presented in the Parliament. I vehemently rejected the request to give Prime Minister Portfolio to Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, at that meeting held in the Parliament. I also refused to give the Prime Minister candidacy to him. Then the representatives from his side asked me why I opposed to all the requests at that time I replied that I need to safeguard January 8 victory.
The next thing I said was that if the Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa contests for the election, he must satisfy three main requirements. One is that I told if the Mahinda Rajapksa contest at the general elections, the UPFA would not be able to get the votes of Tamil and Muslim Communities.
Subsequent to that I said, “the confidence placed in me by the people in this country for reinstating good governance and you would not have a place in that. The new political trend in the world which is against corruption and abuse of entrusted power by the leaders and misplacing the trust placed in them by the people. You have not fulfilled the qualifications for good governance, I said. On the other side, the young generation will not cast their vote for you due to the faults, dishonesty, and corruption done under your regime, especially because of the deeds of the Rajapaksa family dynasty.” So, I said, “don’t push this party to lose at the election by contesting.” That meeting concluded without any result.
This was the situation that prevailed up to the time of nomination process. I must state that each party chooses a Prime Ministerial candidate according to their respective party constitutions. The process of choosing a candidate for the SLFP is only known by those within the party. Those with the UNP know how the UNP chooses a Prime Ministerial Candidate. Each party has its own unique process. In the case of the SLFP and UPFA, we first call for applications. Then a nominations board is appointed. The nominations are approved by the Central Committee. That’s the process and in this process I made it very clear that I have no endorsement of appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa as the candidate.
I informed UPFA leaders Dinesh Gunewardane, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansha’s party, Thissa Vitharana, D.E.W. Gunesekera, the Mahajana Party and Podi Appuhamy’s party, that I do not wish to give Mahinda Rajapaksa the position of Prime Minister, or the team leadership. But the leaders of UPFA were not satisfied with it and went off speaking ill of me after the meeting.
This condition prevailed within the SLFP as well. Due to this I was left with two options.
One was to handover the SLFP to Mahinda Rajapaksa and resign from the party leadership. If I did so, Mahinda would have become the leader of SLFP and UPFA.
I know that although they gave me the Party leadership on January 16th, two weeks later Mahinda Rajapaksa began to regret it. If I resigned from the SLFP Mahinda Rajapaksa would have appointed people of his choice for nominations, he would have controlled the entire nomination process. He may have even completely cut off all the members of the party who supported me. If I had done that you would have seen a clear difference in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s behavior when he handed over nominations.
I am not saying that Mahinda Rajapaksa is powerful at all today. Mahinda Rajapaksa who was defeated on January 8th will be defeated again. But if he did receive the UPFA’s leadership he would have been somewhat powerful. They had it all planned to contest from a separate party. Then those who could not get UPFA nominations would have contested from that party and come to parliament and we could not have stopped that.
People question why I gave nominations to Mahinda Rajapaksa from the UPFA if I didn’t approve of it. I could have broken up a faction of the SLFP and gone around the country. But that isn’t something a President should do. If you look at the history of the governance of this country you may notice that the two-party system is what has sustained it. Smaller parties have sometimes worked parallel, against or moderately with the existing two-party system. Whenever the two-party system was disrupted the country’s democracy and peace faced a crisis. I’m not a foreteller, or an astrologer, but anyone with an understanding of our country’s political history knows this.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is the only President in our history to contest for an election and be defeated. Other President respectfully left office after their two terms. Mahinda Rajapaksa, in that sense was able to break a record as the first defeated President.
We can predict the future of a country only by looking at the past. A country’s culture, discipline explains how it was developed. I’m talking of the event that took place in Sri Lanka’s political history in the past few decades. Having known that, I didn’t want to break a faction of the SLFP and go around the country. All UPFA leaders requested me to give Mahinda Rajapaksa the Prime Minister candidacy. About 99% of the SLFP requested it too. What should be my decision when I’m in this position? I could have removed the SLFP from the UPFA. I explained to you earlier what would have happened if I did so. So I didn’t change my stand. My opposition towards him still hasn’t changed. I asked the Party leader to take a majority decision without splitting the party.
With all these things in mind, I explained to those who showed me their disappointment about how I came to form a government with a Prime Minister with the support of mere 47 MP’s. I explained to them how I opened the doors of good governance. So I must make it very clear to you that my sole interest in the next election results would not be about which party will receive majority votes out of the 225 coming to Parliament, but about making sure the agenda that I promised to the people on January 8th will be taken forward with the support of the parliament. All my decisions have been made with regard to making sure that goal is achieved. That is where I stand. I sacrificed everything one the 21st of November to come on this journey. It’s almost like jumping into the sea with your family from a ship in the middle of the great ocean. I carried this government like the Titanic these past six months. But unlike the Titanic, I didn’t let the government sink. When the government was about to sink, with the no confidence motion on the Prime Minister, I dissolved the Parliament. The underlying hope of the no confidence motion on the Prime Minister, if it was brought forward to the Parliament, was for someone from the UPFA National List to resign and give that position to Mahinda Rajapaksa. When Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to come to Parliament, the plan was to defeat Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe through a no confidence motion and for the Rajapaksa faction to form their own government. I made sure that doesn’t happen. I made it possible to run a government with just 47 Members of Parliament. I kept the promises I made in my election manifesto. I changed the constitution, as I promised, passed bills and gave the benefits of those bills to the people. With all this, I also had to face the crises within the party. I did all this to consolidate the victory of the 8th of January. It was all done with clean hands, and honesty. That’s my determination. That’s my goal. To understand the situation, one should review it very carefully. Criticism is easy. I applaud criticism. I have no problem with those who criticize me. In a country with democracy, criticism is essential. Freedom of press is essential. I stand by that at all times.
In fact, the clause on media in the 19th amendment was removed by me. I have done my duty. And I plan to continue so. I must state very clearly that in the upcoming election I have no association with Mahinda Rajapaksa. The opposition that I declared towards him before January 8th still remains the same. When Mahinda Rajapaksa was the leader of this country, he made it impossible for anyone else to be President during his life time, by removing the limitations on the number of terms in office. That way he could have been President for as long as he was alive. No limitations. Now he wants to take away the opportunities of other senior and qualified members of the party to be Prime Minister. I must say very clearly that I will remain in a neutral position during the upcoming election. I will give all my support to the Elections Commissioner and the armed forces to conduct a genuinely free and fair election.
I hope to spend the next five years following the election performing my duties by keeping the promises I made on January 8th. I’m certain I will receive the people’s approval for doing so at the end of those five years. I know those who criticize me will soon realize this. I will happily face these challenges with my 49 years of experience in politics. Your criticism of me in the past few days reflect the blossoming of democracy in this country and how you are making use of the massive outpour of democracy in this country. I am very happy that I was able to restore the freedom of expression in this country. But I urge you to enjoy that freedom with a sense of responsibility.