It’s time for MR to declare Maithri as presidential candidate - Mahinda Samarasinghe | Sunday Observer

It’s time for MR to declare Maithri as presidential candidate - Mahinda Samarasinghe

SLFP spokesperson and Kalutara district Parliamentarian Mahinda Samarasinghe in an interview with the Sunday Observer says it’s time the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa declares President Sirisena’s candidacy for the upcoming Presidential race.

“The Rajapaksa brothers and the different SLPP groups are sending confusing signals to the voters which is not going to work if they are serious about defeating the UNP candidate,” he stressed, and added that if the marriage between the SLFP and SLPP does not result in President Sirisena’s candidacy he will have to take a serious political decision.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q. President Maithripala Sirisena has asked local organisers to get ready for the Provincial Council (PC) election, but it’s common knowledge that the government must amend the law first to hold the Provincial Council election?

A.Yes, an amendment to the law is needed to hold the PC election under the old system. The Minister in charge has to bring in a Cabinet paper first. Then the legal draftsman will prepare the Bill and party leaders will have to schedule an early date for the amendment to be taken up, it will not take a long time. Despite hearsay I don’t see any political party wanting to delay the PC election.

It is very clear, constitutionally that the PC election comes first. It’s the President’s prerogative to hold the Presidential election before the due date. President has said there is no hurry, he has said the PC elections must be held first and the Presidential election will be held on the due date, which means on January 8 a new President will be in office. The Election Commissioner must call for elections at least by the end of October.

Q. As you said there has to be a Presidential election towards the end of this year, has the confusion over the SLFP candidate been resolved?

A.There is unanimity over the SLFP candidate that it will be President Maithripaa Sirisena. He has been very successful in the past four years despite the difficult marriage of the two ideologies.

He has not compromised the national interests of the country. He gave priority to domestic issues, and reached out and built bridges with the international community while sacrificing his own powers.

We believe he is the right person to lead the country for another five years.

Having said that, he has not put himself forward, I believe the time is right for him to make the announcement. A presidential campaign must start at least a year ahead but now we have only nine months.

We need to refresh people’s memory of the fact that he is not an extremist, that he is a democrat and he has done his utmost to ensure the rights of the minorities. All those things have to be communicated, so the people will start thinking and compare him with the other candidates. The people of Sri Lanka have a very short memory.

Q. Isn’t there a possibility to hold the Presidential election before the PC election?

A. The President has said there is no hurry, he has said the PC elections must be held first and the presidential election will be held on the due date, on January 8 next year, a new president will be in office. For that at least by end of October the Election Commissioner must call for elections.

Obviously, the Rajapaksas have already started their campaign.

President Sirisena needs to be supported by a major party. The SLFP, as you know is divided, we still hold the balance of power with a fifteen percent vote base nationally. Without this fifteen percent no one can form a government. But he has to be backed by a major party to get the 50 percent plus one to be reelected. May be that is what he’s waiting for.

May be he is still thinking whether he should be as the Presidential candidate. I am being very realistic here. There was hope that the SLPP would endorse him as the common candidate.

Q. But the SLPP has expressed divergent views on their own presidential candidate?

A.Yes. Both Gotabaya Rajapksa and Chamal Rajapaksa have said that they were ready to contest. I don’t know where Basil Rajapaksa stands. And you have back benchers in the SLPP having press conferences and saying that they will field their own candidate who has support of the grassroots. Then people such as Welgama and Roshan Ranasinghe openly criticise President Sirisena.

Then there is a Provincial Council Alliance publicly airing similar sentiments, that their candidate will not be President Sirisena.

The signals are not good and up to now former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has not said anything. I feel if that trend is not arrested by former President Rajapaksa himself, this sentiment will grow and reach the grassroots level. That will be detrimental to President Sirisena.

Q. Is there a possibility for you to fall back to the UNF fold at the next election?

A.After the October 26 power switch, it does not seem realistic for us to merge with the UNP or the UNF unless some serious damage control is put in place. If at all it has to be done quickly. If you look at all the possible candidates, the best combination to win would be the SLPP and the SLFP coming together. Ideologically we are compatible. At the last local government election, the SLPP secured 39% of the votes. The SLFP and the UPFA together got 15%.

If one of the Rajapaksa brothers are put forward by the SLPP, then we will break all world records, by being the only country where we have two brothers as the President and the PM of the country. It’s not the personalities, I am fighting for principles. It is unrealistic to expect that the voters will buy something like that. We might as well abolish Parliament and have a monarchy in that case.

Q. What are the sentiments of SLFP members on the SLFP-SLPP tie up?

A. I think President Sirisena should be the common Presidential candidate and the SLFP can endorse former President Rajapaksa as the Prime Ministerial candidate. If they get together, not only will they win the presidential election, they can form the next government.

It is in the best interests of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also. One of the reasons why former President Rajapaksa lost power at the last presidential election, despite all what he had done to the country was because there were accusations over ‘family bandism’.

People voted for democratic governance. Even the SLFPers either did not vote or voted for the swan.

Lessons can be learnt from the last election. I think it’s time for the former President to intervene and put a stop to the adverse comments expressed by his members.

Q. Has this message been conveyed to the SLPP leadership?

A. President Sirisena had stuck his neck out, his personal reputation was at risk for his actions on October 26. He even went to the extent of UPFA to issue a letter to say that those who rallied round SLPP were still UPFA members of parliament. There was absolutely no antagonism.

President Sirisena has a good chance of winning the election, so I am endorsing that he should be proposed, whether former President Rajapaksa will do that or will be allowed to do that by certain SLPPers is a big question. But given his strong character, if former President takes a decision I think he can see it through.

Q. But there has been apprehension by some SLFP members to a possible SLPP tie up, they are worried that the SLPP would swallow the old party?

A. We are not going to join the SLPP, there will be an alliance to win the election. It has to be on equal footing.

SLFP is the mother party , we cannot forget that. SLPP is a party formed recently, riding on the popularity of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It’s a personality led party not an ideologically based one like the SLFP.

People have allowed the SLFP to govern most number of years after independence. That means the people have accepted its policies.

SLPP was formed as a result of an anti government wave, and we have seen such parties like the UNF of Lalith-Gamini fade out.

Q. Has there been fresh attempts by former SLFP members to return to the party ?

A. There have been MPs coming back, out of the 16 five had already come back. The others also attend the central committee meetings.

Q. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga seems to have become public enemy No.1 for SLFP leadership ?

A.I don’t know what role she has been playing in the background. But she has made a public announcement recently that we should not join forces with those have been rejected by the people. That is her personal opinion, I don’t know her involvement beyond that. But there are SLFPers both at the local and provincial level and parliament who believes that we should contest as the SLFP.

This is mainly because of the SLPP’s decision to canvass for preferences for their candidates.

That is the feedback we get from the districts, they have already started the campaign.Obviously we will be at a disadvantage if that happens.

If we do that, we may not be able to form a government of our own but we will still get sufficient numbers of MPs elected as well as on the national list to hold the balance of power. And for the formation of government in the future that balance of power will be crucial, that is one school of thinking.

My own personal view point is that the minimum requirement for me to even consider joining an alliance with the SLPP, would be for the President Sirisena to be endorsed as the next common Presidential candidate.

If not I would find it very difficult to join in an alliance with the SLPP, because I will not have any protection. I have been faithful to the president. After October 26, I never had discussions with the UNP to cross over.

At the outset we were supportive of a pre October 26 situation continuing, but we fell in line with the President when he supported the change.

Besides I don’t expect former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to give me preference in a situation where we contest as an alliance.

At the last parliamentary election my defeat was engineered. Despite my loyalty to Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2015 Presidential election, signals were sent to grassroots that if I am elected to parliament I will help Ranil Wickremasinghe to be the PM. I lost the election but in the 2010 election, I came second in the list with over 98,000 votes.

If President Sirisena is there I have confidence of his backing and my victory.If that is removed then I must be free to take a political decision. I firmly believe that if we contest as the SLFP alone, I can win the Kalutara district. I am the Kalutara district SLFP leader. There will not be a competition for preferences. But if we become an alliance, they will cut me to pieces.

Q.What would be your political move? Is it to join the UNP?

A.That is something to be decided at that time. I am not contemplating on switching parties. The more honourable decision for me would be to bow out of politics ending my long stint as an MP and twenty years as a Minister.

Q. If the SLFP decides to team up with the SLPP, will it not make way for former President Chandrika Kumaratunga to hijack power within the party, there are disgruntled MPs who wish that the marriage would be a flop ?

A. She is also a politically matured lady, she will not attempt to do that. Like everyone, she is also entitled to her point of view and the people will decide if she is right or wrong.

Q. President Sirisena’s brother had been making bold statements on the electronic media that he is ready to take up any challenge to serve the country. One may get the feeling that there is an attempt to groom him for the presidential race?

A.No, he is a successful businessman. When you have made enough money by doing legitimate business, the urge is to contribute to the welfare of the country.

He may be ready to do more social work, that may be his message, or he might decide to contest in the Polonnaruwa district, who knows. There may be a political agenda but I am not aware of that.