we disagree only on policy matters- SLFP Gen. Secy, Duminda Dissanayake | Sunday Observer

we disagree only on policy matters- SLFP Gen. Secy, Duminda Dissanayake

The combination of two main political parties, the SLFP and the UNP has paved the way for a new political culture in the country based on trust, unity and understanding, so that issues that crop up are only for policy matters, said SLFP General Secretary and Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said, those who are trying to join former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s camp should think twice whether such a move would have a political future. If former President Rajapaksa is so concerned about and loves the party, he should tell them that he gave the party leadership to President Maithripala Sirisena so that all should get together to strengthen the SLFP to win the next Local Government, Provincial Council, General and Presidential Elections and form a true SLFP Government.

Excerpts:

Q. Several SLFP Ministers, including Minister Susil Premajayantha have harshly criticized the Government, especially on the Hambantota Port deal. Is there any action being contemplated against the Minister for possibly breaching Cabinet responsibility, which affects the unity of the consensual Government?

A. Collective responsibility of the Cabinet is not something new to Ministers because they have held Cabinet portfolios under several Governments. As Ministers, we can maintain any point of view before decisions are taken by the Cabinet. But, after the Cabinet takes a decision, a Minister as an individual cannot criticize it to become a hero or to hoodwink the public to say he is correct. It is not collective responsibility of the Cabinet. When former Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe could not substantiate the points he raised in the Cabinet, he should have resigned from his portfolio before making criticism in public. While holding his portfolio with all perks, it is not ethical to make such statements. That is why even Minister Dr.Sarath Amunugama said, we can express our views or criticize before a decision is taken by the Cabinet, but not after a Cabinet decision has been taken. However, I believe, this is a good precedent because we could see ourselves, as to how we worked in previous Governments. If any contradictory statement is made by Susil Premajayantha or even Duminda Dissanayake flouting collective responsibility of the Cabinet, that is wrong. We may have our personal ideologies, but during our period in the Government, we should protect the collective responsibility of the Government.

Q. The Mahinda Rajapaksa camp is trying to enlist Ministers and MPs to their rank with a view to toppling the Government. What is the SLFP doing to prevent this?

A. If somebody wishes to join the former President’s camp, he should do so after making a good political analysis. According to the 19th Amendment, Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot become the President once again. In our history, there are lots of breakaway factions from major political parties including the SLFP. We have seen what happened to Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake after they quit the UNP and formed a new party under the eagle symbol. After the demise of Lalith Athulathmudali, the entire party collapsed and all the breakaway groups rejoined the UNP. The SLFP has also faced similar instances. Even former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga along with her husband Vijaya Kumaratunga quit the SLFP and formed the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party. But we see the outcome when such breakaway parties go for elections. In 1994, former President Kumaratunga rejoined the SLFP and formed a Government. Those attempting to enlist members may express various views to strengthen their camp. But those trying to join the camp of the former President Rajapaksa should think twice about their political future. In politics, we should protect our supporters rather than promote personal agendas. A great injustice has been done to SLFP supporters due to former President Rajapaksa trying to maintain his own SLFP faction. If he is concerned about the party, he should tell them that he gave the party leadership to President Maithripala Sirisena so that all should get together to strengthen the SLFP to win the next LG, PC, General and Presidential elections and form an SLFP Government.

President Maithripala Sirisena is in the National Unity Government along with 96 SLFP MPs and 106 UNP MPs. On this basis, we could demand an equal share. The SLFP faction with former President Rajapaksa has not been able to do anything for supporters. If the former President loved his party, he should bring back all SLFP factions into one camp to win the next election. After continuously suffering defeat at two elections, today, the SLFP is in the Government, thanks to Maithripala Sirisena who became President and SLFP Chairman. After his electoral defeat, former President Rajapaksa offered the party leadership to President Sirisena. The SLFP suffered defeat at the August 17 General Elections, too. Then the tradition is for the UNP which secured 106 seats to form a Government by finding seven more MPs. However, the President laid the path for a new political culture to enable the two main political parties to work in unison. As a result, the defeated SLFPers could become partners of the Government.

Q. The SLFP has decided to take stern action against members who are actively promoting the Sri Lanka Podujana Party. How will this affect the attempts to unify the two factions of the SLFP?

A. We will not make any attempt whatsoever to create divisions within the SLFP. We are aware, if the SLFP is defeated at future elections, it would have a serious impact on the party. Who has formed this new political party? Whose picture will be used when newspaper advertisements are published? They are the people who tell villagers to quit the SLFP and join hands with them. So who is going to divide the SLFP? According to the SLFP constitution, we have to take certain decisions in the near future. We waited for the two factions to unite. But the breakaway group thinks it is a weakness on our part. If a few SLFP MPs have resorted to wrongdoings, the entire slot of the MPs in the Joint Opposition cannot be branded as wrongdoers. Therefore, they have the opportunity to join the SLFP. If anyone blatantly violates the party constitution, we would have to take stern action.

Q. There seems to be a belief in the SLFP that it should form a Government of its own in 2020. How do you reconcile this with the view that both parties should continue with the present agreement even after 2020?

A. All main parties, the SLFP, UNP and the JVP contested the August 17 election to form a Government of their own. The intention of the SLFP is to form its own Government in 2020. The other political parties are also of the same view. Certainly, we say we should win the upcoming elections. There is nothing wrong in that. But we can’t predict what would happen based on the election results.

Q. The MoU signed between the SLFP and the UNP ends in December this year. There has been speculation that a section of the SLFP MPs in the Government would leave the Government once the MoU ends. Has the SLFP decided on its action after the MoU lapses?

A. The SLFP has not taken any such decision, yet. The party will summon its Central Committee in December to discuss whether we should be in this Government or quit. The UNP will also decide whether they should further continue with the SLFP or not by taking into consideration the progress made by the National Unity Government during the past two years. After that the two main parties will jointly discuss whether they continue with the agreement or move forward separately. It has also to be decided, in the instance of a separation who would form the Government. According to the division in the SLFP, it needs a large number of MPs to form a Government. But the UNP only needs 7 MPs to form a Government. Therefore, the two main parties would decide on what they do.

Q. You have come under criticism from Ministers such as Dilan Perera for making statements against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. With incidents like this, how do you propose to ensure party unity and victory for the party at forthcoming elections?

A. We work to ensure victory for the SLFP at forthcoming elections. The party unity and joint efforts are essential for this. But I don’t wish to respond to State Minister Dilan Perera’s comments. At present, our party is on a new turn-around. The SLFP agenda is that it should rectify shortcomings and change the party to suit present day needs. Therefore, as the SLFP General Secretary, if I respond to State Minister Dilan Perera’s comments, it would be wrong. I should first maintain discipline before disciplinary action is taken against others. It is up to them to think intelligently what they talk in and outside the party.

Q. Has the National Unity Government realized the aspirations of the people who voted it to power in 2015? What are the key successes you have achieved and what are the promises you have not been able to deliver?

A. I expected that the two major parties would accomplish the task which a single party couldn’t. The necessary environment has been created for this. The National Unity Government has taken many policy decisions for the betterment of the country. We took over the Government at a very critical juncture.

The biggest victory we have achieved is that today, we have been welcomed by the world community, whereas, the previous regime was isolated from mainstream world politics. President Maithripala Sirisena had rare audiences with important world leaders at international fora. The EU embargo on fishing was lifted while GSP Plus facility was restored. The country’s development is now on a sound footing. We have achieved many victories, and more are to be attained such as, changing the electoral system and constitutional reforms. Earlier whenever an SLFP Government was formed, the UNPers were driven home. They had to wait until they formed a UNP Government to achieve their targets. This is a national crime. We should change our mindset and put an end to hate politics.

My father too was in politics. The irony of his life is that he had to be in prison. Am I to follow suit? Should I also tell my progeny too to have confrontations with the UNP and destroy their branch offices and only protect our supporters. Is this the political culture we try to promote? By combining the two main political parties, a new political culture has been created, based on trust, unity and understanding. Now we disagree only on policy matters. 

Q: People are least worried about the ‘tug of war’ between UNP and SLFP factions in the Government while the 2015 mandate was for a new direction. Do you think you could run a Government to satisfy the needs of the people and solve the burning issues of the country?

A. If we don’t realize this goal, none of us will be able to form a Government in 2020. Now the people are intelligent. Most people on former President Rajapaksa’s stage voted for Maithripala Sirisena at the January 8 election. When we quit the Rajapaksa Government, some said it was the biggest mistake we made. People looked at us with sympathy. But we took up the challenge. Today, people don’t bother about political parties or colour. They only want to take the country forward. The country’s youth want jobs to suit their qualifications.

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