Exclusive: SLFP considering alliance with joint opposition
By Maheesha Mudugamuwa
Efforts to unite different factions of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) are gaining momentum. In an Interview with The Sunday Morning, SLFP General Secretary Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa said that the party had resolved to consider an alliance with the Joint Opposition (JO) and will renew negotiations with all political parties in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) for a package that will benefit all parties.
Piyadasa explained that the party was working towards rebuilding so that it can effectively contest the 2020 presidential election, and forthcoming provincial council elections.
He further said that there will be no retribution against the other camp and called on them to come and join their colleagues in moving the party forward. Piyadasa said he didn’t have a heavy heart against the Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s faction adding that Rajapaksa’s contribution as the former president of the party was welcome as the party needs all its members.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: The SLFP has been rife with internal conflicts and breakaways from party ranks. How prepared is the party to face an election? Is the party confident of recording a victory at the election?
A: Yes. There were issues within the party since 1950s, but the party overcame all these issues and never went into total political oblivion. The conflicts sometimes involved personalities such as C.P. de Silva, Maithripala Senanayake, Chandrika Bandaranaike, Vijaya Kumaratunga, T.B. Ilangaratne, Hector Kobbekaduwa, and Anura Bandaranaike, and on all these occasions the party took decisive action to deal with them; some of them formed political parties to challenge the SLFP, but the dominance of the party remained intact.
SLFP ruled the country for the past 20 years, and even though there were serious corruption allegations against the previous government led by Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the UNP was not able to contest a single election alone after 2005. They always face elections as common fronts. In 2010, the UNP backed General Sarath Fonseka, and in 2015 they backed SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena.
In 2015, when President Sirisena won the presidential election, Rajapaksa handed over the party leadership to President Sirisena. Then the SLFP faced the general election under the leadership of President Sirisena. He also gives the nominations for Former President to contest for the general election. SLFP or UNP couldn’t secure majority seats in parliament and as a result the SLFP-UNP unity government was formed.
And, yes. We are very confident of winning the forthcoming provincial council elections. Because, we, as a party, have fulfilled the promises made. There are several issues, such as Central Bank Bond Scam, but SLFP has nothing to do with them. All those issues are because of the wrong decisions made by the UNP. Therefore SLFP will definitely win next elections.
Q: The percentage of votes polled by the party at the local government elections in February was unimpressive. Do you think it will be repeated when the provincial council elections are held?
A: Definitely. The party’s reorganisation work continues, while transformations, youth organisations, women’s organisations, and professional associations are proceeding and we are getting our training programs on the ground. So the party is ready.
The local government election was a different scenario. Our contestants had to compete with Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. That situation has now changed and people want to elect their own representatives.
Q: There have been statements made by politicians that the new mixed electoral system created complications at the local government polls. Do you feel such complications would affect the provincial council elections if such a system is put in place?
A: The mixed electoral system introduced for the previous local government election should also be applied to the provincial council and parliamentary elections. We already proposed this to the Operations Committee on Constitutional Reforms, to apply this mix electoral system to the parliamentary elections.
Q: A delay in holding the provincial council elections could be viewed by minority communities as an effort to scuttle a form of power devolution put in place under the 13th amendment. How would you respond to such a sentiment?
A: Yes. The delimitation report was rejected by the parliament, but the elections will not be delayed because now the speaker has appointed a five member committee headed by the Prime Minister to review the delimitation report. The committee will submit a report to the President within two months. If that report recommends that the delimitation report can be accepted, there is no need to have a two-thirds majority. Once the report is submitted, we will be able to hold the election within two months. That means provincial council elections will definitely be held before next April.
Q: Will the SLFP contest a future general and presidential election as a coalition?
A: SLFP will contest under the UPFA banner together with all the parties who are willing to merge with us.
Q:There are efforts by some in the SLFP to join with the joint opposition in order to contest as a united front at elections. How do you respond to this?
A: We are very open, and any party can come and join us. It is applied to the Joint Opposition as well. Also, the 16 SLFP MPs that left the government are still with the party. No one has taken the membership of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Not even Former President Rajapaksa.
Several parties have already informed that they are willing to merge with us. Therefore the SLFP is very confident that it will win the forthcoming PC elections under the leadership of President Sirisena .
Q:Are you happy with the conduct of the Yahapalana Government in the past three years?
A: There are issues, especially some economic issues, but there are some positive developments too. We were able to avert a resolution being mooted against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). This would have had disastrous consequences on the country.
If a resolution of that nature was adopted, we would have been labelled as perpetrators of war crimes, who even bombed schools and hospitals. Then, we would have faced economic sanctions from Europe, at the least. Then, it would have caused a huge problem to our apparel, rubber, pepper, and cinnamon markets.
Secondly, the Government was able to enact the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The Presidential powers were pruned, and vested with the Independent Commissions. These are gains for the country.