Following are excerpts of an interview paper ‘Sunday Lankadeepa’ did with President Maithripala Sirisena. Here the president aired his views on the controversial treasury bond issue, the 66th Anniversary of the SLFP and criticisms levelled against the Unity Government by the opposition.
The 66th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party is to be held on September 3 under your leadership. How is the party preparing for the event?
The SLFP will celebrate its 66th anniversary on September 3 at Campbell Park, Borella. After I took over the leadership of the party in January 2015 my first public rally was held on May Day of the same year at the Hyde Park ground. We celebrated the 44th Anniversary in Polonnaruwa. People from all parts of the country attended the anniversary meting.
There were about 15,000 people. Even Mahinda Rajapaksa participated at the anniversary meeting held under my leadership. We were all on the same stage on this occasion. Next we held the May Day rally last year (2016) in Galle. At the May Day rally held at Hyde Park there were about 10,000 participants. I don’t think this May Day rally was a success. At that time some party leaders had a wrong impression of me.
But the 64th anniversary held in Polonnaruwa was a success and the 2016 May Day rally in Galle was also very successful as there were about 60,000 people at the rally. For the first time in the history of the SLFPA there were also a large number of Tamil and Muslim people from North and East at such a rally. The 65th anniversary held in Kurunegala was also a successful rally.
Our May Day rally this year was held in Kandy. People flocked to Gatambe in a procession and emerged from four main roads in Kandy despite the rain prevailed at the time.
Arrangements are now being made for the 66th anniversary to be held. Several committees were formed to make arrangements for the convenience of the large crowds that are expected.
We hope to introduce the future Political Programme of the party at the event. We invite all parties to participate at this occasion. With all these arrangements our 66th anniversary will be very successful.
What is the theme for this year’s anniversary?
‘A pure and clean national political campaign for the future of the country’ is the theme of the 66th anniversary of the SLFP. Posters, banners and all other items on display will carry this theme. What we mean by the theme is to have a programme that covers many areas. At present people are displeased with the activities of political parties and politicians.
Government power changes from one party to anther, but corruption, fraud and irregularities continue to be associated with all Governments. These bad practices have taken deep root especially during the last ten years. There are politicians and officials involved in these malpractices, only some of them aren’t. Most Government officials are good, but the number of corrupt officials in the political field is
At present, politicians, from the Local Government level up to the parliament, are driven by personal objectives. There is a tendency among them to deviate from the political vision. The lust for money and posts and the involvement in wrong deeds have contributed to the loss of their credibility. On January 08 (2015) people brought me to power defeating the corrupt and dictatorial rule then existed. However, the people’s allegations and criticisms levelled against the present Government indicate that their perceptions regarding corrupt politicians haven’t changed.
These circumstances have led us to think of a pure and clean national political campaign. I quit from where I was and formed a new Government with the hope of not only consolidating democracy, but also with the vision of establishing a country devoid of corruption and fraud. But people are still suspicious of our Government and seem to have lost confidence in us.
At this juncture we in the SLFP call upon everybody to join us and get involved in a pure political campaign.
There are no arguments about freedom and a democratic environment prevails in the country. But the people still remain displeased with matters relating to corruption, frauds, waste and inefficiency. They believe the promises made regarding these issues haven’t been fulfilled yet.
The prevailing unsatisfactory situation stresses the need for a pure and clean political campaign. A programme initiated through such a campaign must have a correct vision, so that people don’t have to merely depend on political parties and the individuals in them. The SLFP has planned to initiate such a national campaign. It invites all political parties and individuals interested to join the SLFP and travel on a new path where its vision is accepted by all people.
“I never got separated from the party. Nor did I cause separation. After the party was handed over to me, I wanted to organize it and take this defeated party forward. “
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa says after two and half years he is still the Chairman of the SLFP.Who is the real leader of SLFP?
I was invited to accept the leadership of the SLFP. Mahinda Rajapaksa asked me directly whether I would accept the party leadership at the official residence of then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. There were 50-60 SLFP parliamentarians present at the time. Then I expressed my willingness to accept the post. I was also asked whether I wanted to appoint new office bearers. I said I wanted new office bearers. It’s only after this discussion that the Central Committee invited me to accept the leadership of the SLFP.
Later after I had arrived at the Foundation Institute from the official residence at the Wijerama Road, both the Executive Committee and the Central Committee of the party had met and adopted a move to elect me as the Chairman of the party.
After I became the Chairman of the party, we convened the central All island Executive Committee. We convened the Central Committee and we also amended the Constitution of the party making provisions to appoint all the former Presidents and Prime Ministers- Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chandrika Bandaranaike, D.M. Jayarathna and Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka- as patrons of the party. Before that the party didn’t have patrons. Amid all these activities we held the 64th anniversary of the SLFP in Polonnaruwa. Mahinda Rajapaksa also participated at this occasion giving the impression that there weren’t any issues. I don’t understand why he is speaking in a different way today.
The post of Chairman and Secretary can’t be acquired forcibly. Not only in major parties like UNP and SLFP, even in parties where there is less representation it isn’t possible to use force regarding such matters.
Don’t you think that you are the one who has faced the biggest challenges as the party Chairman during the history of the SLFP?
The late Prime minister Bandaranaike had to face stronger challenges during his time. The challenges he faced were bigger when he was in power when compared to when he wasn’t in power.To my knowledge there is no other party leader in the present Government who has faced the kind of mental pressure Bandaranaike faced.There were incidents of boycott by cabinet ministers.
During the two and half year period of this Government there were numerous protests and strikes. The opposition parties created all the trouble possible to stifle this Government. It wasn’t the UNP, the LTTE or any other political force which was responsible for his killing. A faction of the SLFP was behind his killing.I think that I am the party Leader who has faced the biggest challenges after Bandaranaike. I am not so surprised about it.
There are people who attack me through websites and face books. These attacks are based on my poverty and family background. If I went to Oxford or Cambridge Universities and belonged to an elite family, I wouldn’t have been attacked like this. When we look at politics, class is associated with it. When we observe politics, nationally or internationally, there is a struggle between those who have and those who don’t have. My presence is a problem or a challenge to the elite class in this country.
We hope to introduce the future Political Programme of the party at the event
A pure and clean national political campaign for the future of the country’ is the theme of the 66th anniversary of the SLFP
Fraud and irregularities continue to be associated with all Governments
There are no arguments about freedom and democratic environment prevailing in the country
To my knowledge there is no other party leader in the present Government who has faced the kind of mental pressure Bandaranaike faced
This group is associated with nepotism, a thing which the public rejected in the past
Mahinda Rajapaksa asked me directly whether I would accept the party leadership at the official residence of then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa
A section of the SLFP has joined the former President. You are making an attempt to establish democracy while being in the party. The SLFP supporters think that they should get together and move forward. Wasn’t there a discussion regarding a programme that would be launched within the party after the 66th Anniversary?
I never got separated from the party. Nor did I cause separation. After the party was handed over to me, I wanted to organize it and take this defeated party forward. Then for whose need was a new party formed? The new party wasn’t formed for the benefit of SLFP supporters. This new party wasn’t formed for the benefit of the supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa who have clean track records. This party was formed by a group of people who don’t know the history of the SLFP and haven’t worked with the SLFP. This group also hasn’t identified the principles of the SLFP.
This is the background these people have. What is the guarantee this group can give regarding the programme it has for the development of the country? This group is associated with nepotism, a thing which the public rejected in the past. Mahinda Rajapaksa attends all meetings of this party. He is seen on the stages where banners display the vision of this party. He also expresses views to the media. He says that he is still the Chairman of the SLRP after doing so. This goes to prove that how complicated their programme is.
Those who belong to this group are still in the SLFP. They haven’t left the party. Are you not prepared to get them to join you?
I have told them all the time to join together. I haven’t rejected anybody. I haven’t asked anybody to leave.
Their argument is that they should go on this journey with
Have we chased Mahinda Rajapaksa out of SLFP? Not at all. We haven’t separated them and sent out of the party. They have formed a separate party and separate meetings are being held. Separate May Day rallies are held. Have we asked them not to attend our rallies? There is no such problem.
It seems that you wish to establish a Government without corruption and fraud. But that hasn’t been done. What is the stumbling block in the way?
The party hasn’t encountered a barrier. Barriers have been encountered by the people. The society has become corrupt. Corruption has taken place because people want to make money through politics. The political system became impure due to the preferential system.
I repeat this everyday. Political characters became impure due to the preferential system. With the introduction of the preferential system, the political image of this country was shattered. When politicians worked with the people in an honest manner they were held in very high esteem. But with the use of the preferential voting system, they have got used to collecting votes from somewhere and entering Parliament. Now they enter the Pradeshiya Saba and the Provincial Council.
This is what has happened during the past 30 years. There has been a decline in the field of politics. The reason for that decline isn’t the political parties, but politicians tarnishing their images. I am of the opinion that it isn’t the party that is important. What matters is whether a group that loves the public exists. If such a group can be found we should go forward with a collective programme on behalf of the country. The SLFP is going to work with that objective in mind.
“Have we chased Mahinda Rajapaksa out of SLFP? Not at all. They have formed a separate party and separate meetings are being held. Separate May Day rallies are held. Have we asked them not to attend our rallies?”
A group of SLFP supporters say that they should leave the Government after the first two years of the agreement between the SLFP and the UNP come to an end. What is your opinion?
Well. I have to work during my tenure as the President of the country on behalf of the people. I have to carry out my responsibilities. That is why I say that we should go with a clear and pure programme. If we move on with a clear and pure programme regarding work, then the people will support us. If people are going to leave, we have a problem as to where they are going and what they are going to do after that.
As members of the SLFP we can obtain the support of the people if we have a pure and clear programme. I have that belief. If we do this properly then there is no way that the identity of the party or the programme will be destroyed. We should think of the country during all times. Many people are only thinking about their political agendas.
That is why there are differences of opinion. If we have a problem when we work like this as a Government, what is the role of the Opposition? If we want to sort out these political complexities we should move forward with an honest group, whose members are true to their conscience. Then the party won’t encounter a problem regardless of whether its members remain within the party or leave. There are a lot of questions regarding the behavior pattern of many individuals.
The SLFP supporters in the villagers are thinking of when a SLFP Government will be formed. Will you be able to give party supporters the hope that a SLFP Government can be formed by 2020, at the party Anniversary?
That is why I say that everybody should join hands to strengthen the party. If SLFP members are going to form new parties, regardless of what is said and done by others, these new parties haven’t gained an advantage. It’s very clear. An advantage is gained by some other section when it comes to forming new parties. If the others as well as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party are thinking of achieving our objective, they will know what stand they must take.
Do you accept the fact that there are members in both parties who haven’t accepted the concept of a national government?
Yes . People who think like that exist in both parties. This new concept isn’t in the context of a Government, but in the context of the country. It’s a new experience for everybody. It’s essential to have a suitable mentality to realize a difficult goal. If such a mentality isn’t formed, then it is difficult to reach that destination. When a unity Government is formed, it becomes a new experience for politicians, government officers and the citizens of the country.
This experience is very complex. Why did the people defeat the former Rajapaksa Government? From where should they start correcting the factors that led to their defeat? After forming a new party have they corrected those faults? Have they given a guarantee that those mistakes would not be repeated? There is no such guarantee. We should think honestly how to move forward without having narrow political ideas. We don’t need a Government for the sake of politicians, but we need one for the sake of the country. Many people involved in politics want a Government for their benefit.
Some people say the agreement signed between the SLFP and the UNP will end within a few days. Will the agreement end or will it be extended?
Such matters are decided by the Central Committee of the party. The Central Committee has decided that the SLFP should remain with the Government from August 2015 until December 2017. By December the Central Committee will decide what action will be taken by its members. But that decision will be taken by the group of parliamentarians.
There may be various systems that can be followed: e.g. Whether they are in the Government, support the government or whether they remain as independent parliamentarians etc.That doesn’t mean that they are against this Government. This doesn’t mean that all what they do is against the Government. That will be decided according to the existing political situation.
There are many discussions taking place regarding the Attorney Generals’ Department these days. Some parliamentarians allege that this department is partial. They also level allegations against the manner in which questions were raised from some ministers at the Bond commission sessions. One such allegation is the delay in taking action against the Rajapaksas. The people’s confidence in the Government will be breached when statements are being made by the parliamentarians in the Government itself regarding the judiciary and the Attorney Generals’ department.
I don’t like it if somebody is blaming the Attorney Generals’ Department. I see nothing wrong in this department. It should be allowed to perform its duties freely.
Wijayadasa Rajapakshe who has been sacked from the Government says that the reason for removing him of his portfolio is to sweep the bond scam under the carpet. He says that the Hambantota Harbour agreement is a mere document. What are your views
These are opinions of individuals.
What will you do if the Central Committee informs you to contest the next Presidential Elections?
I think anybody who is talking about the next Presidential Elections isn’t talking about the country. They talk about the common candidate and the next Presidential Elections. The problem today isn’t that. The problem today is getting everyone together and trying to solve problems. This is not the time to talk about the next Presidential Elections, but the time to get together and solve of country’s problems.
There was a scene in the social media websites relating to the IGP attacking a general worker. What are the actions taken by you regarding
There are mistakes in the Police Department. These issues should be looked after by the Police Commission. That is why a Police Commission is established.
Ravi Karunanayake resigned from his post due to the bond scam transaction. What is the present situation of the commission and the situation after receiving that statement?
Recommendations have to be provided by the Commission because its activities are over. We take steps to get the things done through the Attorney General after receiving the report. The Opposition said that they were useless when it was formed. They said that the problem would be swept under the carpet by appointing commissions. Almost all opposition members said that this commission was useless. But when it was functioning the people saw a difference in this commission compared to what existed. Due to this commission the suspicion associated with the commissions disappeared. Therefore, they would act accordingly. I believe that we shouldn’t view everything pessimistically. We should look at them optimistically. We have to reach the goal that we bargained for. There is criticism and this is natural.