SJB has no issue with Ruwan becoming UNP leader - Tissa Attanayake | Sunday Observer

SJB has no issue with Ruwan becoming UNP leader - Tissa Attanayake

13 September, 2020
Tissa Attanayake
Tissa Attanayake

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya National Organiser and one time UNP firebrand Tissa Attanayake said they call upon the UNP leadership to open a path to bring these two parties together heeding the call of the party supporters.

Adding that, ‘the UNP leaders are still oblivious to the reality’, Attanayake said they were ready to speak to a moderate leader who will succeed Ranil Wickremesinghe and salvage the great old party.

Q: The media reported that talks on a possible tie up between the UNP and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) ended without success. Are these efforts still on going ?

A. There were no official talks between the SJB and the UNP to that effect but there were opinions expressed that these two parties must get together. Especially, UNP supporters and those who worked for SJB’s recent election campaign were enthusiastic about this prospect. Public opinion is that we must merge, but I don’t see a positive response from the UNP. It seems that the UNP leaders are yet to learn the bitter lesson although the voters spelt it out loud and clear at the last two elections.

If they realise the predicament they are currently in the talks would have been initiated from that end.

To have a broad alliance against the Government we must get the UNP supporters at the grassroots level back in our fold. We believe that, to come together, there are two options.

The people’s blessings are with Sajith Premadasa, so he should be made the UNP leader. The other option would be to appoint a moderate leader to the UNP and let the two political forces reach a compromise and move forward.

But going by the developments so far, I don’t think the UNP is still ready to reach a compromise, they have a very rigid attitude. According to information, the UNP is not going to appoint a new leader till January. Besides, about eight members have come forward to be the next leader and are trying to outperform the other.

We urge the UNP leadership to open a path to bring these two parties together, since that is the call of the people.

Q: If Ranil Wickremesinghe is the only hurdle to bring the two forces together, would you be open to discuss with the new UNP leadership ?

A. It is not clear yet as to who would be the next leader. Only the rumours and media reports are there. As indicated by the Ranil Wickremesinghe camp, a new leader will not be appointed within the next four months.

If there is a new leader, and if it is a person to whom we can relate to politically, we can consider that prospect - to begin a dialogue to join forces and work together.

Q: There is a rumour that MP Ruwan Wijewardena is going to succeed as the new Leader, that this is the wish of the present leader. If MP Wijewardene mounts to the top position of the green party are you willing to talk to him?

A. We don’t have any issues with him. Of course, we are not certain if he has the maturity and experience to steer this noble party just yet but we are optimistic about him than of the other members who have joined the leadership fray. He has no allegations of engaging in ‘dirty political-deals’.

But to lead a political party one must earn his place through sacrifice, skill and popularity. We are not sure if he matches this description. Besides Ranil Wickremesinghe must realise that this is not exactly the people’s wish. Can he (Wijewardena) restore the past glory of the party ?

In 1946, D.S.Senanayake established this party, and it has survived 74 long years.

This party was led by outstanding leaders. However, during the past 26 years, the party has crumbled under Ranil Wikremesinghe. Therefore, a vibrant leadership is the need of the hour. I’m not trying to undermine anyone but this is the reality.

Q: Ranil Wickremasinghe has not been charged with family bandyism. But now there is this allegation that he is favouring Ruwan Wijewardene as the next leader.

A. That is a puzzle even to us. From D.S. Senanayake, John Kotelawela, Dudley Senanayake, JRJ, R. Premadasa, D.B. Wijetunga and Ranil Wickremasinghe, none of these leaders was forced upon the party, the needs of the moment created them. Therefore, there can’t be puppet leaders.

The people’s wish to appoint Sajith Premadasa as the next leader was neglected, he became the presidential candidate due to the huge outcry by outspoken members and party loyalists. Later,they had to walk out of the UNP and contest the General Election. The UNP leaders are still oblivious to the reality.

Our re-merger will also give meaning to the 250,000 party loyalists who voted for the UNP on August 5.

Q: Internal intelligence before the parliamentary election, must have surely pointed at this monumental defeat. Why didn’t the UNP leadership realise the need to change strategies before the General Election?

A. We did warn the UNP about this fact. But they were blinded by the arrogance of a few individuals who misled the leader. Actually, the projections for the SJB too were lowered at the election. We expected 75 seats for the SJB. Our calculations for the UNP were four seats.

There were several reasons for this. First of all people realised that the UNP was working against the SJB and helping the Government camp. They tried to cancel our nominations. Even after the election, they attempted to annul our parliamentary seats.

Q: What is your stance on 20-A?

A. The SJB is rejecting the 20-A in toto because 19-A was passed with the consent of the entire Parliament minus one MP - Sarath Weerasekera. The objective was to give a human facet to the Executive President. It was a historic vote in the House where the Government parties and the opposition joined hands to enact this important piece of legislation.

It is true that it has certain flaws. We acknowledge that these flaws need correcting. For instance the functions of the independent commissions, the role of the commission members, the process of appointment - there are various allegations that these are flawed. What we must do is to remove technical glitches and strengthen these democratic institutions. and not repeal them altogether.

Therefore, we will support a 19+. The Government has twisted the people’s mandate. The mandate was to strengthen democracy through Parliament. The argument that the President should retain the Defence Portfolio is also without basis. During Ranil Wickremesinghe’s rule in 2001 the Defence Minister was Tilak Marapana.

The President is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, he has the authority to declare war and he is the Head of the Cabinet. The Head of the Security Council is also the President. The Minister has only an administrative role and will attend to transfers and promotions.

Q: What will be your reaction to the 20-A ?

A. We have already expressed our strongest protest against the move to abolish 19-A. We will definitely petition the Supreme Court within the next 14 days seeking a ruling against the enactment of the 20-A.

Secondly, in Parliament, the SJB will work against the 20-A being enacted, we will do our best to block it. We will also ensure a strong voice among civil society and like minded groups.

The civil society movement began at the Ven.Maduluwawe Sobhitha thera statue in Kotte, last week.

The SJB will also launch a public lecture series to educate the masses on the dangers of the 20-A.

Q: There are rumours that Rishad Bathiudeen’s party and the SLMC MPs were contemplating supporting the Government on the 20-A. This means the deprivation of a further six seats to the SJB.

A. We have no clear idea about this. The Government has been criticising Rishad and Hakeem. I would like to ask, how ethical is it for them to obtain the support of these MPs to get the 20-A passed in Parliament and consolidate their power.

The Government needs two thirds, that is 151 votes to get the 20-A Amendment passed. In a backdrop even the government ministers expressing opposition to the amendment, I don’t think a few votes will do the trick for them.

Q: Some say the 19-A was a piece of legislation to empower Ranil Wickremesinghe who was the Prime Minister at the time from a different party than that of the President. Was it to balance power between the PM and the President and not for any noble cause as claimed?

A. At the time of introducing the 19-A there was a huge social discourse that the excessive powers of the President must be pruned. Everyone in Parliament supported this view and all voted for it except one MP. Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1994 and Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005 were voted in on a mandate to abolish the Executive Presidency. Ven. Sobhitha Thera’s ‘Just Society Movement’ also supported the election of Maithripala Sirisena on this pledge.

This Amendment was made in response to a people’s call. The President and the PM were in the same camp when they got elected, they did not represent different political objectives or different opinions. So, that argument is not valid. The intention was to prune the dictatorial powers of the President.

Q: How would you define your role in Parliament as the main opposition ?

A. The SJB will fulfill the role of the opposition which is to vigorously fight for and represent the rights and the wishes of the masses. We will not be a traditional opposition, we will be very constructive in our role.

As a first step we have already completed naming members to Ministerial advisory committees. Our numbers in Parliament will not matter, we will make all efforts to be a robust opposition.

I remember at one time the opposition in the Parliament had only 18 MPs. But as a single unit the SJB has 54 MPs, this is in addition to the JVP and ITAK members whom we would not hesitate to work with in an hour of need. Sajith Premadasa as the Opposition Leader has to work with them to play an effective role.