By Zahrah Imtiaz
President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to break silence and announce his stance on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has invigorated one campaign while deflating the other. The UPFA campaign now finds itself stranded without the Executive’s support and looks to the former President for direction. The UNP alliance in the meantime believes that the move to get Rajapaksa to head the election campaign has sealed their victory.
Ceylon Today interviewed former UPFA MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara and former UNP MP Ashok Abeysinghe to get their reactions to the President’s speech.
Following are excerpts:
Mahinda will lose again
?President Maithripala Sirisena’s speech on Tuesday (14) evening showed that he no longer supported the UPFA campaign. How has this affected your campaign? You are contesting from the Kurunegala District which has become the hotspot for this time’s election with the former President contesting from there?
A: The UNP’s chances of winning the Kurunegala District were good even before President Sirisena’s speech. We defeated the former President while he was in power, with all his money, State machinery and thugs who wreaked havoc in the country. The people of Kururnegala are waiting now to defeat him second time around now. We will ensure that if he was ever to get into Parliament, he (Mahinda Rajapaksa) would remain as nothing more than just another Member of Parliament.
?Along with the former President, nominations were also given to people such as Johnston Fernando, T.B. Ekanayake and Salinda Dissanayake, who were known to have caused much terror in the last election. How is the situation on the ground now?
A: Whoever stands for elections, the people are against crooks and thugs. This time around too they will use all the money they have earned through their corrupt deals to buy votes, but I don’t think it would work this time. The people are much smarter now and they are aware of the tricks played.
Since morning (15) my office is being flooded with SLFPers who wanted to work for the UNP. Many say that with the President’s speech yesterday (14), Johnston Fernando and his supporters are greatly disappointed. They say that Johnston’s camp cannot even find people to work for them anymore.
?When you compare the nomination lists between the UPFA and the UNP in the Kurunegala District, the UPFA list appears to be stronger than that of the UNP?
A: What is the definition of strong? You are only strong as long as the people like you and they vote for you. All these big names on the UPFA list have various allegations of ethanol and fraud to their names. So the people now know their real characters and will not vote for them. On the side of the UNP, we have 14 organizers for the district, four Members of Parliament and former ministers. The people know our track record and they will vote for those who worked for them.
?How many seats do you expect the UPFA and the UNP to win at the upcoming election?
A: According to the current preferential voting system, the UPFA will anyway get five seats in Parliament though we expect to win the district. With the five they gain, they will have to choose who comes into Parliament. Mahinda Rajapaksa would obviously be one of the five. With Rajapaksa choosing to contest from Kurunegala, it has created much worry and distress among the SLFPers here. They are worried that the former President would cut into their vote base. Thus, if the UNP is to win 10 seats, the JVP I think would at least manage to get one and this would further cut into the SLFP quota. They have quite a problem on their hands.
?The UPFA has appointed former President Rajapaksa as the Chairman of the elections operations committee. How will this impact the campaign trail for both?
A: He will lose again. He lost the last time he led the party. So why is he doing it again? Why are they letting him do it?
?Do you think that the infighting in the SLFP so close to the election will benefit the UNP?
A: When a party loses, such problems do come up. Even our party went through the same crisis when we were in the opposition. With President Maithripala Sirisena’s speech yesterday (14), more problems have been caused. I am sure they are beating each other within the Central Committee now.
The UNP alliance will win this election with a great majority and we will be in power for a long time. Even with elections in between, we will run the government for the next 25 years. We will improve the economy, health, infrastructure, education and all sectors of the country. The people will then vote for us to stay in government.
Will not affect us at all
?The President on Tuesday (14) evening made it very clear that he would not support your campaign or Mahinda Rajapaksa. How will this affect your campaign?
A: It will not affect us at all. It has actually helped us and benefitted our campaign. He (President Sirisena) has finally bared his fangs and showed us his true, colours. The confusion has ended thus we are thankful to the President.
?The President also said that he would never make Mahinda Rajapaksa Prime Minister. In such a scenario what is the point in the former President continuing to campaign, just to be an MP in Parliament?
A: He is not the decision maker. The people of this country will make that decision. The Constitution has always allowed the person with the majority to become Prime Minister. No President has ever appointed a Prime Minister like that.
?Does the Constitution not state that the President is allowed to appoint a Prime Minister he believes holds the confidence of the majority in Parliament?
A: He cannot appoint according to his beliefs, he cannot be fanciful. We will counter him with facts and figures after the election.
?Now that the President has said he would remain neutral at the election, who will lead your campaign? He is the Chairman of the UPFA and the SLFP and thus was the leader of the campaign, wasn’t he?
A: By leaving the campaign, he has abdicated his position in effect. No chairman can be neutral. This is a complete contradiction.
?The President is still the chairman of the UPFA, he has not resigned?
A: That is why I said that he has abdicated. He has sent us a letter appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa as the head of the campaign.
?The President said Mahinda Rajapaksa would lose the election and that the result would not be different from what was seen on 8 January?
A: That is his prediction, not necessarily the truth. We just have to wait and see.
?What are your chances of winning a seat in Parliament?
A: I have no problem. I am certain that I would get into Parliament.
?Given this recent turn of events, it seems that the President has asked the people to support those who supported Yahapalanaya – vis-à-vis the UNP alliance?
A: Yes, definitely. That has sealed the fate. All political doubts have been cleared. He (President Sirisena) supports the UNP