Welgama opposes Rajapaksa family monopoly! | Sunday Observer

Welgama opposes Rajapaksa family monopoly!

SLFP stalwart MP Kumara Welgama did not mince his words when he said he is totally against family bandyism in politics. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, MP Welgama said if both the Presidency and Premiership are chaired by the Rajapaksa family members, those next in the seniority line in the party would be deprived of any prospects of reaching the zenith of the party political ladder at least during the next 25 to 30 years. Welgama said he is totally against nominating former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the next Presidential Candidate and added that the candidacy should be given to a person based on party seniority and also one who can particularly attract Tamil and Muslim votes.

Q. Wh are you not refusing to support former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Presidential candidate? What if another Rajapaksa family member contests?

A. I have been saying this for a year. I am of the view that if Mahinda Rajapaksa becomes the Prime Minister, the Presidency should be given to somebody outside his family circle. I am totally against family bandyism. If both portfolios are given to the Rajapaksa family, those next in seniority would be denied opportunities. There is a long list of them such as, Mahinda, Gotabaya, Basil, Chamal, Shasheendra and Namal Rajapaksa.

Therefore, any party senior who holds a ministerial portfolio will not be able to reach the top because of this ‘family party’ for the next 25 or 30 years. There are senior politicians in the Joint Opposition (JO). At present all JO parliamentary activities are carried out by MP Dinesh Gunawardena,while MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara is the senior most in the camp. I am next in line. The candidacy should be given to a person based on seniority, who can attract votes particularly from the Tamil and Muslim communities.

If Gotabaya Rajapaksa is fielded as the Presidential Candidate, we will not be able to secure the minority votes. All UNPers irrespective of differences will support Sajith Premadasa if he is fielded as the UNP Presidential Candidate. We saw how UNPers joined in support of Ranil Wickremesinghe when he was removed from premiership during the 52 day Government. In addition, parties such as the JVP and the TNA have their own vote base. Pohottuwa has only its members, and a majority of them are Buddhists. If the candidacy is given to former Defence Secretary, we would definitely fail to attract minority votes. Sinhala Buddhist votes will also be divided. We should give up family bandyism. Former Presidents J.R.Jayewardene, R. Premadasa and Chandrika Bandaranaike didn’t practise family bandyism. Only Mahinda Rajapaksa who has a long list of family members in politics.

Q. In your view, who is the most suitable candidate in the SLFP?

A. I don’t want to comment on it. I am not in a position to nominate a candidate. There are several seniors in the party who can be fielded.It would be a crime to restrict the candidacy to a particular family and thereby restrict deserving party seniors from coming forward. I didn’t quit the SLFP. When Maithripala Sirisena became President in 2015, he invited us to accept ministerial portfolios and join the Government, but I refused. I told the President that I cannot join hands with him as he was aligning with the UNP. However, during the past few years, I extended my support to form the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) popularly known as Pohottuwa. It was Basil Rajapaksa and I who took the lead to form the SLPP, though I didn’t obtain membership.

The SLFP is a separate political party for which I am prepared to make whatever sacrifices necessary. Mahinda Rajapaksa is a good leader. If he contests the Presidential Election, I will extend my support to him. As a principled politician, I believe, both the presidency and premiership should not be retained within one family. The SLPP or Pohottuwa is a family oriented political party. The Presidential Candidate is also selected from within the family. After the SLPP secured a landslide victory at the last Local Government Election, the Rajapaksa family members gathered and nominated Gotabaya as the SLPP Presidential Candidate.

Q. Do you think the President would win if he contests for a second term?

A.I don’t wish to comment on it because the President is the SLFP Leader. There are two leaders who have been rejected by the people and they won’t get votes. I don’t wish to disclose their names.

Q. Don’t you think when the SLFP and SLPP field two separate candidates, it would divide the SLFP vote base?

A.Yes, it would have some effect on the SLFP vote base. However, the SLFP has not yet taken a decision on their candidate. I am no longer in the SLFP Central Committee. I was removed from it earlier so that I can’t really comment on the SLFP’s candidate until they take a decision. Now I am only an SLFP MP and a party member.

Q. The media reported you were removed from the SLPP’s Badulla District leadership at their District Coordination Committee meeting for being critical of Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is tipped to be their Presidential candidate. What happened?

A.I have not so far obtained SLPP membership. So how can I hold a portfolio without obtaining the party membership? Although I gave my support to form the SLPP, I never obtained membership. At the request of some of the SLPP members, I supported them to form the party. How can I become an SLPP District Leader when I am not a member? Hence, there is no question of my being removed.

Q. What made you visit the SLFP headquarters after a long time?

A. I was invited to participate in the pirith chanting at the party headquarters and accepted the invitation. All SLFP MPs had been invited. I can go to the SLFP headquarters at any time, it is my maha gedara.

Q. You told the media you were also a suitable candidate to contest the Presidency. Will you contest as the Presidential Candidate if the party requests you to do so?

A. It has to be decided by the SLFP Central Committee. I have the necessary qualifications to be the SLFP Presidential Candidate. I have acted as SLFP electoral organiser for 38 years and represented Parliament for 25 years without a break.

Q. Both the SLFP and Joint Opposition have boycotted the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing Easter Sunday attacks. Do you see any justifiable reason for it?

A.A PSC can be set up legally and constitutionally. Our MPs also signed the motion to set up this PSC to probe the Easter Sunday attacks. Therefore, we cannot obstruct PSC proceedings citing various excuses. I cannot agree with the decision taken by the SLFP and JO to boycott the PSC. If SLFP and JO MPs were in the PSC, they would have objected if its members attempted to go beyond their mandate.

Q. The President says the 19th Amendment is a curse to the country and should be abolished. But except one MP, all 224 MPs voted for it in Parliament. What have you to say about this?

A. Political parties decide various things from time to time. As a party we fully supported the decision taken by then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to oppose the Executive Presidency. Former Presidents Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa pledged to abolish the Executive Presidency but none of them fulfilled it. When they were elected Executive President, they didn’t want to abolish it. Our party also asked us to vote for the 19th Amendment so we voted for it. When they say the 19th Amendment is not good for the country logically the 18th Amendment is also not tenable because one person can contest the presidency many times, and is likely to make wrong decisions due to infirmities of age. Two terms are most appropriate for a person to hold the post of Presidency. This is the accepted criteria the world over.