SLPP strength, a blend of the old and the new - Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Chairman | Sunday Observer

SLPP strength, a blend of the old and the new - Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Chairman

Prof. G.L.Peiris

Chairman of SLPP and former Minister Prof. G.L.Peiris said, the SLPP led coalition is as confident of a two-thirds majority today as they were seven months ago. “Approximately, 6.9 million voted for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential election in November. This is a completion of that mandate, to implement his policy,” Prof.Peiris said adding that it was crucial to appoint a Parliament which is in tune with his vision for development.

“A two-thirds majority is also needed to convey to the international community, the degree of support the Government enjoys to deal with the international pressure to fulfil obligations made contrary to the national well-being and which is grossly unfair by the Security Forces of the country. These are matters to be rectified,” he said.

Prof.Peiris is not contesting the forthcoming election but his name is included in the SLPP national list.

Excerpts:

Q: A few months ago, the SLPP could have swept the election to victory easily but now the opposition has space to narrate their story. Are you confident of getting the much needed two-thirds in the forthcoming parliamentary election?

On the contrary, people’s confidence in the President has improved rather than diminished. He has had seven months to perform. He was elected on a very clear program, all the details of this program were spelt out in great detail in a variety of fora, to different segments of society.

During the past seven months he had the opportunity to deliver on the program, and the whole country acknowledges the success achieved in controlling the Covid-19 situation under his leadership.

We have contained the number of Covid-19 deaths to 11 and the infections are in the region of 2,000 whereas more developed countries with greater resources at their disposal, were struggling with the pandemic. This is a tribute to the political leadership as well as to the very productive collaboration and coordination among the health personnel, security personnel and its intelligence arms.

So the confidence of people who see him as a true implementer has been greatly enhanced.

Approximately, 6.9 million voted for him at the Presidential election in November. This is a completion of that mandate, and to implement his policy, a Parliament in line with this policy is needed.

Q: The Samagi Jana Balawegaya is marketing that Sajith as the PM under President Gotabaya is a fine combination to develop the country?

People have had very bitter experiences of conflicts between the executive and the legislature during the Yahapalana period. The President and the Prime Minister were going in different directions and the people of the country had to bear the brunt of it.

There is strong determination among voters to avoid such a situation, and to elect a Parliament that will be an instrument for the implementation of the President’s policies.

We are as confident of a two-thirds majority today as we were seven months ago.

Q: One of the allegations against the SLPP is that although it promised to field 100 candidates from among the professionals, the same old faces are running for Parliament this time as well. Your comments?

It has to be a mix of the old and the new. You need young blood certainly, but you also need maturity and experience.

The strength of the SLPP list is that there is a mix of people. So it is not at all true that the SLPP has not fulfilled the promises. The continuity is important as much as needing young blood in Parliament.

Q: We see quarantine regulations being breached in the campaign trail by almost all candidates. Why is it necessary to hold election rallies putting people’s health at risk, at least for the parties whose win is a certainty than a prophecy?

Rallies are necessary for a variety of reasons, - mainly to bring the numbers of the candidates to the attention of the electorate. That is a very important factor.

The typical candidate cannot use electronic or print media to make their number known, because it is hugely expensive and well beyond the resources at the command of most candidates. One of the deficiencies of the present system is that candidates have great difficulty in making the number known - the vote is cast for the number not for the candidate’s name. Besides, in our culture rallies are part of the election process. I have attended many rallies, so every effort has been made to observe social distancing in many areas. We are confident the virus is not going spread because of the election.

Every precaution is being taken in keeping with the directions issued by the Health authorities.

We have given clear directions to all our organisers that it is of utmost importance to abide by the guidelines which had been issued.

Q: Why is it necessary that the President commands a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Some claim too much power is a recipe for corruption?

There are several reasons. One is because of constitutional reforms which are very urgent. Are these independent commissions really independent? The 19-A took away the power that was vested in a President elected by all the people in the country and gave to a Constitutional Council (CC).

The idea was that the CC would be entirely independent and be above politics. But those aspirations have not been fulfilled.

There is a huge gulf between the aspirations and the reality. You have members of the CC publicly declaring that a two-thirds majority should not be given to a particular party. And there is a member at the National Election Commission, asking people not to vote for a certain political party. The evidence is very clear that they are hugely politicised.

Then is it right to have a situation where, an Inspector General of Police, who is implicated before a Magistrate’s Court cannot be removed by the Government and all you could do is make an acting appointment.

In the National Election Commission the quorum is three. If one person is not present for a meeting, the whole election process can be jeopardised. And also a citizen of a foreign country cannot contest an election but such person can be a member of the Election Commission.

These are obvious anomalies and need two- thirds majority to rectify and also to ensure the security of the people and eradicate extremism which is trying to raise its head again in many fronts.

In addition we need to get to the bottom of the Easter Sunday tragedy and ensure that such calamities will not happen again in the foreseeable future.

A two-thirds majority is also needed to convey to the international community the degree of support the Government enjoys to deal with the international pressure to fulfil obligations made contrary to the national well-being and which are grossly unfair by the Security Forces of the country. These are matters to be rectified.

Q: The Opposition claims that granting a two-thirds majority to the coalition led by the President’s party will take the country towards dictatorship?

The argument based on dictatorship is completely wrong. There is a strong distinction between a strong Government and a dictatorship. We clearly saw the harm inflicted on the people of this country by a lack of governance. The President and the Prime Minister were pulling in different directions, leading to a complete breakdown of governance.

We do not apologise for offering the country a strong Government. That is very much the wish of the overwhelming majority of the people.

Q: The SLPP’s marriage with the SLFP seems to be a difficult one in the face of the manapa poraya. Will this rivalry continue into the post election phase? We have had a bitter experience during the Yahapalana regime due to differences of opinion between the President and the PM.

We don’t regard that as a problem because, these are restricted to and during electioneering. What is at fault is the electoral system.

It is a system that provokes rivalry and competition among members of the same party or alliance, who are in a relentless fight for manapaya - it is a system that brings out the worst in human nature. There is a strong consensus in the country that this system must be changed. This is not something extraordinary.

On the issue of rivalry, the government will be formed on the principle of an agreed program. The constituent parties have agreed to a common program.

Q: What would be the number one priority of the SLPP led government if elected?

One of the principal tasks would be building the economy which had been ravaged by the Yahapalana government. This would have to be done in a post Covid-19 situation, taking into consideration the new challenges.

Foreign exchange flows into the country from a variety of sources. One is tourism, second exports such as garments, etc and third remittances from Sri Lankan expatriate workers. All three sectors have been affected by the pandemic. There has to be innovative thinking, to face this challenge.

Apart from that serious concern should be given to strengthen the security apparatus, and get to the bottom of the Easter Sunday situation. The previous Government tried to cover it all up, and protect the people who were closely linked to the Government. For the first time, through a Presidential Commission, an honest attempt is being made to ascertain the whole truth.

The third priority is to deal with international relations, with particular reference to the Human Rights Council-there has been so much damage inflicted by the previous Government and we have to handle the fallout.

Q: Will the Easter Sunday probe and the Bond scam investigation be another election gimmick?

Not at all. The Presidential Commission had been working extremely hard, working till 2 a.m. and for the first time there is satisfaction with the thoroughness of the inquiry. No one is regarded as someone who cannot be questioned. It is a question of guaranteeing the life and limb of the people of the country.

There is no question of playing politics or protecting people who are perceived to be friends. The attitude of wanting to get at the whole truth without being restrained has been the hallmark of the Commission.

When the report is out we will have a clear picture of the truth, where the money came from, what are the foreign and local elements involved, and appropriate action will be taken thereafter.

Q: Is there a set criteria to appoint the Prime Minister if the SLPP led coalition wins the forthcoming election?

The person who commands the confidence of the majority members in Parliament will be the Prime Minister. There is absolutely no doubt as to who the next PM will be, the next PM will be Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Q: Is the SLPP open for the option to go for a tie up with a third party in an eventuality where you fall short of a two-thirds majority in Parliament ?

We are confident of getting two-thirds at the forthcoming general election because there is huge support from the people to implement President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s program, he received a huge mandate at the November Presidential election. But if there is the need, we will talk to other parties to secure two-thirds, on a case by case basis.

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