Chairman of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (Sri Lanka People’s
Front-SLPP/SLPF), Prof. G.L. Peiris spoke to the Weekend Nation regarding the newly formed Party’s roots, present status and future plans.

Q.What is the current status of the Party’s membership drive?
Initially, we are expecting the membership-drive to yield a membership of approximately one million. It is not going to stop there. Already, the membership drive has been a great success. It has been completed in several districts. Last week it took place in three districts including Ampara and Moneragala. The response is overwhelming.

Q.Where will the bulk of the supporters and members come from?
There will be people disenchanted with other parties such as the United National Party (UNP) who will come in, however, the bulk will probably be from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), yet not exclusively. There is no limitation. We are not closing our doors to anybody. There are large numbers of people who are profoundly disenchanted with the government in power including people who voted with a high level of expectation. The erosion of confidence is all too obvious wherever one goes in the country and whoever one speaks to. People expected so much, but what has happened. There is a feeling of disillusion in a strong way and it is strongest among the SLFP membership that feels totally alienated from the SLFP leadership. The SLFP leadership does not appear to them to represent the interests of the SLFP. The official SLFP has today become a mere appendage of the UNP. In terms of the economic policy and the foreign policy, the SLFP had an identity and an outlook and principles of its own. It has all now become completely distorted, submerged in the UNP. One has a leader of the SLFP, who has no hesitation in proclaiming publicly that he was responsible for the defeat of his Party. How then do you expect the SLFP supporter to relate to the party leader? Can the party supporter at the village level look upon him as someone who stands for the interests of his or her party?
The Parliamentary election was held and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave the leadership and it is known and accepted that people got into Parliament because they were seen to be with him. Then, about four days before the election, President Maithripala Sirisena stated that even if the SLFP and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won the election, he would not nominate Rajapaksa as his Prime Minister. Then on the last day of the Court term (a Friday; the election was on a Monday), he sacked the two General Secretaries of the SLFP and the UPFA, as there was no possibility of going to court. When the UPFA had a total majority in Parliament, he then appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe who was heading a minority Party. Then Sirisena entered into a pact with the UNP for two years and subsequently he said that he would extend it to five years to cover the whole span of his entire term.

To everyone, except the blind, it is obvious that the SLFP is being led by the nose by the UNP. The clearest example of this involves the bonds scandal at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL). SLFP Ministers shouted themselves hoarse blaming Wickremesinghe. Today, they say that Wickremesinghe is entirely free from blame.

Q.Will you be challenging the suspension of your membership in the SLFP?
No. My position is that the decision that has been taken is totally wrong because it is incompatible with what they have done in the past with regard to Sirisena, who is the present Chairman of the Party. His membership in the party was suspended. This was because he had contested from another party at the last presidential election against the official candidate of his own party. Sirisena contested with a different party under the swan symbol. The suspension was subsequently withdrawn. My argument is that the same treatment should be meted out to me.

To say that according to the Party constitution, if a member becomes the President of the country, he or she automatically becomes the party leader is completely wrong. What the party constitution says is that it is only if a person contests under the banner of the SLFP. This was not the case with Sirisena. He became the President contesting against the SLFP.
The constitution says nothing about forming another party. Sirisena thus does not come within the purview of the said provisions.

Q.Do you have presidential aspirations?
Certainly not.

Q.Will Rajapaksa be the leader then?
Our expectation and hope is that Rajapaksa will come in, join the party and give leadership to the Party. Yet, as of now, he has not made any definite claims that he would do so.

Q.The Joint Opposition (JO) has made statements which are not necessarily supportive of the Party. What do you make of them?
We have always worked very closely and cordially with the JO. We will continue that. We hope that the party will become a member of the proposed broad alliance.

Q.Yet, the JO has not come out in support of your Party. How will you succeed in your plan?
The Party was only recognized by the Commissioner of Elections a couple of days ago. We need to talk to all of them. Different views have been expressed. The Senkadagala meeting was very successful. At the meeting MPs said that they were very happy about the formation of the party and that they felt that it was a deeply perceived need. We must find a practical way for different MPs to come in and collaborate with us.

Q.What are the party’s policies?
The main features of our domestic policy and foreign policy are basically a reflection of the fundamental values of the SLFP as laid down by the founders. The SLFP today has deviated radically from the policies enunciated by the founders.

Take the foreign policy. We have just become a junior partner in the Western bloc. We are even making statements against attending South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meetings. We are denigrating the Non-Aligned Movement of which the late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike was a very distinguished pioneer. We cannot even raise our voice in support of Palestine in relation to the problem of a mosque in Jerusalem. Simply, in order to please the European Union and gain the Generalized System of Preferences Plus we are prepared to overhaul the personal laws applicable to different groups of the population like the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act. We are giving effect to a policy of increasing substantially the burdens on the poor by increasing indirect taxation like Value Added Tax. There is massive fraud. It is the most corrupt government in the country’s history. None of these taxes would have been necessary had that colossal fraud involving CBSL bonds not taken place.

Q.There is a multi-party system in place at present. How will your Party become the third force?
We are not going to be a third force. Ours is the true SLFP and it will emerge as thus. It is a question of identity. It will be the proper SLFP in terms of its antecedents, roots and fundamental values and in no way is it the third force.

Q.Who are the office bearers of the party? What are the salient points of the party’s constitution?
At the moment, there are only three office bearers including myself, General Secretary of the Party, Attorney-at-Law Sagara Kariyawasam and Media Officer, Sanjeewa Edirimanna. No one else has been appointed. It is our intention to appoint the other office bearers at the Party convention which will be held later.

Q.Which of the Rajapaksa family members will be involved in the Party?
We are not obsessed with personalities. There is no talk of a transition. That is not our concern at all. Our concern is to form a truly representative and democratic Party which will give expression to the views and aspirations of the vast majority of the people of the country who feel basically alienated and isolated at this moment. We want to give them a voice. This is our priority.

Q.Where does the financing for the party come from?
That is a wrong way to set about things. If people are convinced of the need for the Party and they feel that the policies of the Party and the way it is conducting itself is to their liking, then people will support it. We have to engender confidence. That is our job – to stimulate interest in the objectives of the Party. Support has to be earned by way of duty and effective support. We are confident that we are capable of it. It does not require lots and lots of money. One gathers the people in a small gathering at a simple location. One does not expect five star meals. One does not spend money the way government ministers do. It is not necessary. In fact, it would appear very jarring for the people who are trying to come.