Duminda breaks his silence | Sunday Observer

Duminda breaks his silence

Duminda Dissanayake
Duminda Dissanayake

All eyes were on Duminda Dissanayake during the recent political turmoil that resulted in the installation of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister for 51 days. Dissanayake stepped out of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Cabinet in November 2014, backing his party General Secretary as Presidential Candidate for the ‘common opposition’. During the crisis, Dissanayake kept a low profile, only emerging briefly to be sworn into the 51-day disputed “cabinet” of ministers and going back into the shadows soon after. He was absent during the tumultuous sessions of Parliament in November 2018, when ‘Prime Minister’ Rajapaksa lost five consecutive floor tests in the Chamber, including two motions of no confidence passed against his purported Government.

In a no-holds barred interview with the Sunday Observer this week, which marks three months since Sri Lankan politics was turned on its head on October 26, 2018, the SLFP heavyweight insists that President Maithripala Sirisena must be the next SLFP presidential hopeful, even if the SLFP and the SLPP join hands. If President Maithripala Sirisena could offer the premiership to his erstwhile political rival who contested against him at the last Presidential Election, it should not be a problem at all for the SLPP group to support the incumbent President as the next Presidential Candidate.

Q. There is a rumour that you and some other SLFP MPs are trying to cross over to the UNP probably as a result of recent political events. Is there any truth in this speculation?

A. There is no truth in it. We have not taken any such decision. As the former coalition partner of the Government, we proposed that the SLFP should remain in the Government. We believe as SLFPers, we should remain in the party. Since inception, we said that if we want to align with anybody, we should do so only as a party. Otherwise, we should act alone by preserving our party identity.

As a party, if the SLFP deals with the Government, there is no issue and if the SLFP is in the Opposition that is also not a problem for us. I am a person who quit the then Rajapaksa Government giving up my ministerial portfolio and all other perks. Therefore, I have no interest in holding a ministerial portfolio or being in the Government. But I have not given up my idea of effecting a change and doing the right thing. I will not make the mistakes made by seniors. That is why I personally supported the Yahapalana Government. I firmly believed, joining hands with two major parties would pave the way to take many valuable decisions for the future of the country. Even today I believe the same.

Q. Why do you think the SLFP-UNP coalition became unsuccessful?

A. Both political parties tried to tread their own political paths. They attempted to achieve their political aims separately. That was the key reason for the failure of the UPFA-UNP coalition.

Q. It is said that the President acted to dissolve Parliament on the wrong advice given by certain members of the UPFA. What is your comment on this?

A. The court ruling was very clear that the decision taken by us was wrong. It was proved in the eyes of the people that whoever gave advice to the President was not right.

Q. There is speculation that the SLFP and SLPP will form an alliance to contest the Provincial Council and other future elections. Is this true?

A. The SLFP always contested elections under various alliances formed. We have the ability to join hands with any political party which is willing to accept and go ahead with the SLFP’s political ideology. For example, in the past, the SLFP formed an alliance with the JVP and even formed a coalition Government. In the recent past, the SLFP and the UNP which have completely different political ideologies joined hands and formed a Government. Therefore, in the future too, the SLFP is in a position to align with any political party.

Q. In the backdrop of many political analysts holding the view that a Presidential Election should be held before the Provincial Council Elections, has the SLFP-SLPP decided on a Presidential Candidate for the upcoming Presidential Election?

A. I don’t know whether the two parties have joined hands and selected a Candidate. Even before October 26 when Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed Prime Minister, I told the country that President Maithripala Sirisena should be the SLFP’s next Presidential Candidate. I maintain the same view even today, as an SLFPer.

Q. There is a group in the SLFP which holds the view that regardless of any coalition with the SLPP, the Presidential Candidate of the SLFP led parties should be the incumbent President. What is your view on this?

A. From the beginning, I maintained this view and as SLFPers we are of that view. I am happy that even newcomers support this view now. At the beginning, MP Mahinda Amaraweera and I, both, maintained this view and we were the first to express it to the country.

Q. Are there any problems or difficulties for the SLFP and SLPP to get together? How can you resolve these problems?

A. I don’t think there is any opposition from anybody for the SLFP and the SLPP joining hands. But, there will be debates and arguments. The SLFP is one of the oldest parties in the country. The SLPP is a newly formed party but all those in it are SLFPers. Therefore, debates and arguments will arise until consensus is reached between the two parties. We hope there won’t be any obstacle for the two parties to join hands. But we categorically state that if this happens, Maithripala Sirisena should be our next Presidential Candidate.

If President Maithripala Sirisena could offer the premiership to his political rival who contested against him, it shouldn’t be a problem for the SLPP group to support the incumbent President as the next Presidential Candidate.

The President had the courage to appoint the person who contested against him as the Prime Minister, which many party men hailed. The former President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, if he was the President he wouldn’t have done that. I think there is no reason for the SLPP to oppose to reelect the person who made a big sacrifice on behalf of the party and the country, as President. I think the SLPP would accept this, and if not, it is a problem.

Q. There is a controversy over the proposed new Constitution that it would lead to federalism and Buddhism losing its foremost place. What is your observation on this issue?

A. As SLFPers we are of the view that the unitary state and foremost place for Buddhism should be preserved. There are arguments these days about the word ‘unitary’ – but who really knows what that is, or what the word ‘Federal’ means? The main thing is, the country should not be divided into Provinces leading to a separate state. If the Constitution ensures that no Province shall be separated or merged with another, and cannot deal with any country without the approval of the Central Government, I wouldn’t mind whether the word ‘unitary’ is there or not. See what happened to the 19th Amendment.

Some people found fault with its phrasing. Instead of arguing on certain words, if we can clearly say that the fundamentals of the unitary character have been ensured by certain clauses, it is irrelevant what the words, ‘unitary’ or ‘federal’ mean. Ours is a Buddhist country and nobody challenges it. All other religious leaders concede to this.

When drafting a Constitution, it should be kept in mind that this country is based on Buddhist norms and traditions while giving due recognition to other religions. This need not be specifically written in the Constitution. What the country needs is not for us to bandy with words, but make straightforward decisions. It is unfortunate that people criticize the proposed Constitution.

Our future has been blackened because of the unfortunate decisions of our senior politicians. Even today, the same senior politicians are dragging this issue, which will ruin the country’s future. Instead of creating a fear psychosis, any concerns about the new Constitution should be clarified through consultations on the draft.

Both, the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions were drafted to suit the requirements of the day. A new Constitution which provides solutions to the country’s problems is what we need. We don’t need to copy the words used in the 1948, 1972 or 1978 Constitutions.

Q. Investigations into killings, disappearances and assaults on journalists such as Lasantha Wickrematunge, Prageeth Ekneligoda, Upali Tennakoon, Keith Noyahr and rugby player Wasim Thajudeen are yet to be completed. Why have these investigations taken so long?

A. This is a problem for me too. When Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated and Maithripala Sirisena elected President, we made certain commitments to end waste and corruption and to put an end to the culture of killings in the country. The names of those killed or assaulted were auctioned on political stages during that campaign. It was Lasantha’s name that was sold the most on those stages, and we were demanding that the culprits be brought to book. It was one of the reasons why the current Government was elected.

Even though we formed a Government and elected a President, there has been no justice for Lasantha.

We have failed to get justice for the victims though we used their names freely during the campaign.

It is not about who is responsible for these horrible acts, but justice must be meted out to the victims. If anyone of influence has prevented this from happening, that is completely wrong. We know Prageeth Ekneligoda’s family is in difficulty, financially. We capitalized on that disappearance but no legal remedy has been offered so far. At least we must lend a helping hand to the dependents.