After nepotism led to defeat in 2015 : In 2019, Mahinda’s choices are Gota, Basil or Chamal again, says Duminda | Sunday Observer

After nepotism led to defeat in 2015 : In 2019, Mahinda’s choices are Gota, Basil or Chamal again, says Duminda

SLFP strongman Duminda Dissanayake, who was divested of his title as General Secretary of the party last week, has come in for strong criticism from sections of the pro-Rajapaksa Joint Opposition and the 16 SLFP Ministers who recently quit the Unity Government. Dissanayake, a Member of Parliament from Anuradhapura and current Minister for Irrigation, Water Resources and Disaster Management was one of five top members of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government who quit in November 2014 to campaign with the Common Opposition. In a candid interview with the Sunday Observer, Dissanayake who is not known to favour re-unification with the Rajapaksa faction of his party, said it was remarkable that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa whose nepotism cost him the election in 2015, is talking about fielding one of his brothers again at the next presidential election. Acknowledging that there were still wide chasms between the two SLFP factions, Dissanayake said that at least for the moment, in his opinion, some of these differences were intractable.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: What is the real reason for the reshuffle of office bearers in the SLFP? Why do you think you were removed as General Secretary? the It seems that the new office bearers are politicians who favour re-unification with the Rajapaksa faction. As someone who left the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government to join the Opposition campaign in 2014, how does that make you feel?

A: The move is to re-structure the party to face future challenges.

The former SLFP office bearers such as MPs C.B. Ratnayake and Pavithra Wanniarachchi worked for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna at the LG election. In a new re-structuring process at least the office bearers should be our loyalists.

Accordingly the new re-structuring is aimed at overall change in our electoral, district and other affiliated organisations.

Q: Is it possible for the Sirisena faction of the party to reconcile in a meaningful way with the Rajapaksa faction? Has anything changed since all of you left the Rajapaksa Government three years ago?

A: I must say categorically that I have no issues with personalities. My issue is with policy. Three years ago, Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in elections and his family being in politics had a role to play in that defeat. But even now, when former President Rajapaksa talks about who their next presidential candidate is, the choices are Gotabaya, Chamal and Basil. Basically again, he is talking about a Rajapaksa family member to run affairs of the party and the country. He is not willing to field someone outside his family as a Presidential Candidate. These are the issues facing us at this moment.

Q: If the re-unification of the SLFP happens and Mahinda Rajapaksa takes some control of the party, do you think he will forgive you for leaving to back the Common Candidate and thereby precipitating his downfall as President?

A: Well, we saw what happened in Parliament last Tuesday when a secret ballot was called to elect the Deputy Speaker. When the SLFP’s 16 member group MP Dr. Sudharshini Fernandopulle was nominated to the Deputy Speaker post, MPs Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chamal Rajapaksa and Namal Rajapaksa were not present in Parliament. When the secret vote was taken, some of the Joint Opposition MPs deliberately ignored it and they were in the Parliament canteen. If former President Rajapaksa and his camp don’t accept even these 16 SLFP MPs, it is crystal clear that they will never accept us. I think even at the election of the Deputy Speaker, the JO expressed their opposition to the SLFP’s 16 member group and rejected their candidate. I was also absent at the voting and that was entirely based on a personal decision. Being in the National Government as well as in the Cabinet as two coalition partners, the SLFP and the UNP put forward two candidates to the post of Deputy Speaker without nominating one candidate. This was a big issue and I didn’t want to be part of it. After Mahinda Amaraweera and I as party General Secretaries categorically stated that our Party Leader Maithripala Sirisena will be the next Presidential candidate, some of those 16 SLFP MPs who quit the Government say Gotabaya , Basil or Chamal Rajapaksa will be their Presidential Candidate.

Q: According to the political grapevine, you vehemently opposed joining forces with the Rajapaksa camp even directly taking this issue up with the President. Is there any truth in that?

A: I had no objection. I also maintain the same view held by President Maithripala Sirisena. Who really rejected family bandyism. Is it Maithripala Sirisena or Duminda Dissanayake? I still repeat it. There is one thing highlighted by the President at the press conference held at New Town Hall, Colombo on November 21, 2014 soon after he quit Rajapaksa Government. We have not forgotten what the President said. It seems what the President said has not yet been done. I continuously maintain the same view. Even at the Commemorative Ceremony of Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, the President stressed the need to mete out justice to rugby player Wasim Thajudeen.What the President said was that those who allegedly killed Thajudeen should be brought to book. One thing is pretty certain - that is that the culprits need to be punished. We still believe that steps should be taken against fraud and corruption. We have to admit the fact that justice was not dispensed properly on fraud, corruption and robbing of public property. The child who stole a few mangoes is sent to jail while the grandees are at large due to so called ‘lack of sufficient evidence or investigations are still pending’. If you are not a crook, you should not fear to appear before the law. Some are safe with anticipatory bail being obtained. It is a problem for us when the law applies to Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Siripala differently.

Q: You are one of those who left the Rajapaksa Government. In your opinion what are the key differences between the SLFP led by Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena?

A: The present SLFP leader, President Maithripala Sirisena is a democratic leader. He granted permission to over 50 SLFP MPs to sit in the Opposition. He didn’t think they would form a separate party called Pohottuwa. Otherwise, he would have never allowed them to sit in Opposition. Even though Mahinda Rajapaksa continued to be a member of the SLFP, President Sirisena also allowed him to represent the Opposition. He never told the former President to leave the party. Those in the JO have never understood President Sirisena’s simplicity or democratic credentials. Did President Sirisena allow the 16 members of the SLFP to sit in the Oposition so that they could pronounce Gotabhaya, Basil or Chamal their next presidential candidate? Addressing the SLFP May Day rally, the President clearly said his personal journey was yet to be completed. That means once again he would contest as the SLFP Presidential Candidate. However, some of those even after discussing with the President come out to say their Presidential candidate is Gotabaya Rajapaksa. After vehemently criticising the Government, some SLFP MPs in the Opposition say that they are with the President. They have to realise the President is the Head of the Government. So in these circumstances, we are at a loss to understand where they stand.

Q: Is re-unification the only option for the SLFP? When President Sirisena first took over Chairmanship of the Party, he spoke of the SLFP re-inventing itself and evolving away from the ultra nationalist positions the party developed during the previous regime. Doesn’t the President feel that way any longer?

A: It is not the question of uniting the two factions but to ‘draw the line’ between them correctly. If I am a SLFPer, I should firmly be a SLFPer. If somebody is in Pohottuwa, he should firmly stick to that. But there is no middle way between SLFP and Pohottuwa. So this line should be clearly drawn. Look at the way the SLFP 16 Member Group is treated by the JO. If the JO genuinely wants to unite or re-unify two SLFP factions, an ideal opportunity would have been when the Deputy Speaker was elected. But the JO clearly showed that they are strictly committed to their own mission and nothing more.

Not just two factions, but many more can join hands with us without damaging the party’s basic structure. There are certain issues the President raised pertaining to the SLFP when he assumed office in 2015 and as the Common Presidential Candidate in 2014. Therefore, it is incumbent on factions to unite within the framework of the party with no harm to its fabric, as stressed by the President.

Q: Could you explain as to why a complete outsider of non-political character is appointed as General Secretary?

A: It has both advantages as well as disadvantages. If a politician holds the post of General Secretary, he can use his political power as well.

When we have planned to make party reforms within a short period of time, a person of non-political character holding this portfolio is an advantage for us because he can do his job very well.

Q: With mere patchwork and dissensions within the SLFP, what are the prospects of a SLFP candidate winning the next Presidential Election?

A: If the two SLFP factions join hands, it is well and good. That is what we have been suggesting all along and this is why former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed to the Advisory Board of the SLFP.

It shows we are open and it is up to him to decide if he wants to take it or not. But this much is clear – the two SLFP factions joining hands doesn’t mean it is uniting to resurrect Rajapaksa ideology or its family bandyism.