President Maithripala Sirisena spoke to the Rivira Group on several issues including matters pertaining to the division within the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the importance of solving the National question.
Q : Is the SLFP ready to celebrate the 66th anniversary which is coming soon?
Yes. Everything is ready. It will be held on September 03 at 2 p.m. at the Campbell park in Borella. I became the Party’s Chairman in 2016 January. The first meeting with the people the Party had when I became the Chairman was the May Day at the Hyde park in 2015. During that same year, the Party’s 64th anniversary was held in September in Polonnaruwa.
People came. It was successful. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa too came for it. He came and we sat on one stage. In 2016, the May Day celebration was held in Galle. It was very successful. Large crowds came.
A massive crowd came for the 65th anniversary held in Kurunegala. It was extremely successful. For that, Tamils and Muslims from the North and the East participated greatly. That year’s May Day rally was held in Kandy. That too was very successful.
A large crowd came amidst the heavy rain. The four main routes of the Kandy town were filled with people. Various committees have been appointed within the Party to organize the work of the 66th anniversary.
Q : What are the special proposals that are expected to be approved at the 66th anniversary?
Several proposals will be passed at the anniversary this time around. Also on the day, the Party’s future plan will be announced and declared. We also plan to announce and declare the Party’s future political programme. We also invite all the political parties representing the Parliament to participate.
Q : What is the theme of the anniversary?
This time the theme is ‘a clean and pure national political campaign and movement for the nation’s future’.
Q : What is meant by a clean and pure political campaign and movement?
Today, the people are not happy with the political parties in the country and those who engage in politics. Governments change and switch. Yet, fraud, corruption and irregularities have taken root over the past decade.
This is there from the politician to the State officer. However, this does not include all. There are good ones too. When we take the country’s political sector, it is in a very bad place. Today, from those who come forward for the Local Government election and to the Parliament, the majority are used to a way of politics far removed from political philosophies and are used to one that is directed towards achieving personal aims and goals.
It is rife with earning money, expecting posts, and engaging in various wrongdoings using power. In this context, today, the people’s trust in the politicians has been broken.
Q : There are major allegations against the present Government too.
True. On 2015 January 8, the people elected me into power to defeat the corrupt family oriented rule which became a dictatorship and to usher in a free, democratic rule. The people voted me in because they had hoped that yahapalanaya (good governance) sans corruption and fraud would be developed.
Yet, when one looks at the allegations and criticisms levelled against the incumbent Government, it is evident that a lack of trust regarding the vast majority of the politicians has arisen among the people in the country.
Q : What do you think should be done to come out of this situation?
I see the requirement of a totally clean and pure way of national politics. I came out of where I was and formed a Government to establish freedom and democracy within the country and primarily to bring about a governance and State rule that is free of and from corruption and fraud. Today, a doubt and mistrust has arisen among the people regarding that.
Today, a situation has arisen where the hope that the people entertained with regard to a clean and pure political campaign and movement and a governance and rule without corruption and fraud is getting destroyed. Therefore, as the SLFP we invite all to a clean and pure political campaign and movement.
Q : What do you think that the people were able to win after 2015 January 8?
There is no debate whatsoever about the freedom and democracy that the country has gained. There is no allegation by anyone regarding that. Today, everyone enjoys the said freedom and democracy that has been won.
Yet, people are not happy with the expectations placed in relation to addressing corruption, fraud, inefficiency and waste. Therefore, more than political parties or personalities, what the country requires is a clean and pure political campaign and movement with an extremely clear policy and philosophy. As a new plan, our Party hopes to bring about this situation. Here it is immaterial as to what political party it is. We invite everyone in all the political parties who love a clear, clean and pure political campaign and movement to go on this new journey with a new plan. Within this, we plan to move forward in a manner which creates trustworthiness in us among the people.
Q : Many accept that you have a desire to create a governance and State rule sans corruption and fraud. Yet this does not materialize. Where is the barrier?
The hindrances are not with the parties but with individuals. This society has become corrupt. Many of those who come into politics come with the intention of earning money and becoming wealthy using political power. Politics became corrupt because of the preferential vote system. Political characters became unclean as a result.
The image of the politicians completely fell because of the preferential vote system. When a politician engaged in clean politics, the people regarded him or her, yet, with the preferential vote system, the politician somehow obtained a few votes and came to the Parliament or the Provincial Councils. The same is the case with the pradeshiya sabhas.
It was during the past 25 years that the country’s politics became extremely corrupt. Therefore, today, one should not look at the party. If there is a group who loves the country and the people, they must get together and for the sake of the country move towards one aim and goal. It is towards achieving this that the SLFP will act in the future.
Q : Is it you who is saying that a SLFP Government will be formed in 2020?
That is why in order to strengthen the SLFP that we are asking everyone to join. Is it correct if those in the SLFP form new parties and leave the SLFP? Also, nothing worked for those who left and formed new parties. In forming new parties, the benefit is obtained by another group.
Everyone who loves this country including the SLFP must think, if we are to go towards the said target, where should we be. Countries have become developed because of their politicians’ honest commitment and dedication. A country cannot be developed within personal agendas. A Government is not required on behalf of the politicians but on behalf of the country. The majority of those in politics want to form a Government for the politicians.
Q : Are you not the SLFP Chairperson who has faced the most challenges?
No. Former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike faced more challenges than I have. He faced them not when he did not have power but when he had power. It is almost as if there is no other State leader who has faced such severe mental strain. There were more protests and strikes then, than is the case today.
It was not by another political force that he was assassinated. It was those like Somarama who were involved with the SLFP. It was by way of a force that arose from among the ranks of the SLFP that Bandaranaike was killed. Therefore, today the majority say that it is I who is the leader who has faced the most challenges since Bandaranaike.
Q : Why is that?
I am someone who came up from a small place. Today, on websites, I am attacked on the basis of my poverty and family background. If I too went to Oxford or Cambridge and came from a wealthy elite family they would not attack me so much. For a certain elite class, my advent and ascent is a big problem and challenge.
Q : Today the SLFP is divided into the Maithri faction and the Mahinda faction. Is there no journey to take together?
At no point did I separate or divide it. When I was handed over the Party I wanted to strengthen the defeated Party and take it towards future victories. On whose agenda was new parties formed. This is my question. I very clearly say that this Party was not formed as per the desires of the true SLFP members.
Those SLFP members with a clear vision and are clean and pure and who are with Rajapaksa do not want such a party. It is a group who have no history with the SLFP and are not from the SLFP and do not know anything about this party, who have formed this new party. What is the philosophy of this party that has been formed? Do they have a plan to build the country?
What this party has is the family bandyism that the people rejected. Today, Rajapaksa is going for meetings of this party. He sits in front of the banners of the party and is seen at press conferences and media briefings. While doing so, he states that he is still the SLFP Chairman. There is much confusion there.
Q : Should the SLFP seniors in that faction be brought together?
So what I say is that they should join. Have I said no? I have never told anyone to leave.
Q : What they raise is that this journey should be taken along with and together with Rajapaksa?
So have I kicked Rajapaksa out? No. None of them have been kicked out. Yet, they themselves have formed separate parties and are holding separate meetings and separate May Day rallies. Have we told them not to attend our ones? Yet, they are the ones creating the divide.
Q : The SLFP Ministers allege that within the consensus Government all the decisions are being taken by the United National Party and that the SLFP has no room.
I can speak at length with a list with regard to what the SLFP has done from within the Government in these two years. There are many aspects including the investments that came, the proposals put forward and the changes done including those made with regard to the banks. It was because the SLFP was in the Government that we were able to change things that were contrary to the Party’s policies, according to the way we wanted.
Q : Many SLFP members who held electorate and seat organizer posts were removed and new ones were appointed instead.
Now where are those who state thus? Why are they running to other parties? Why are they hiding behind the flags of other parties? If they work for other parties while holding electorate and seat organizer posts in the SLFP and not doing the work of the said posts, we will appoint those who can do the work of the SLFP. What is wrong with that?
Q : Are not there those who have their feet on both sides?
There are those like that on both sides. Those on the other side too talk to me. They are involved with me too. There are many.
Q : After December 31 this year, will the SLFP stay in the Government or leave?
That will be decided along with how it should be done and what should be done, by the party’s central working committee.
Q : You mentioned earlier that you are ready to create the clean and pure political campaign and movement that the country requires. When will this materialize?
That is why I initially said that I will invite everyone for the said programme at the SLFP’s 66th anniversary. That should not be done in the future or tomorrow but today itself. Now see what the allegations the common folk make against politicians when one speaks to and with them. We all know that what we require is a group of politicians free from such.
Q : Will you provide the leadership for that?
Yes, I am ready. That is why I said what I said. Now look, today, no one who has had allegations leveled against him or her can easily exonerate themselves from such. Take the countries around us. Politics in India too had become extremely corrupt.
The Government that was there in India crumbled and a new one came because of graft and fraud. Now Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is continuing a very good programme. Why cannot we do something like that?
Q : The people brought about the change on 2015 January 8 because of graft and fraud. It was stated that thieves would be caught and punished. Yet, allegations are being leveled that such has not been done.
The law will be enforced. These things will take place in the Courts. More than all of this including the law and the judiciary, one’s conscience knows who one is and what one did.
They must ask their conscience whether they are right or wrong. The other thing is that those in the Government who have taken over the duties and responsibilities in this regard must do their jobs. It is immaterial whether the wrongdoer is in the Governing party or the Opposition.
Q : You frequently talk of reconciliation. Where is the target in relation to building reconciliation within the country?
One can talk about the Northern issue in a manner that reverberates across political stages and in a manner which makes the people’s blood boil. Yet, there are no solutions to the said problem. Even if a new Government is formed tomorrow, they cannot move further without a solution to the Northern issue and the problem of devolving power. There will not be any political survival. That is the actual situation.
There is no point in talking while keeping elections and votes in mind. When one thinks about the future of the country, instead of thinking about power, one must think about this problem seriously and in depth.
Q : If you receive an invitation to become the Presidential candidate in 2020 will you accept such?
Those who speak today about the candidacy at the next Presidential Election are not in any way talking on behalf of the country. They talk of common candidates. However, the present day problem is not that. To solve the problems that the country is faced with today, everyone must get together and work.
If there are those who plan to gain the country’s leadership in the future they must be committed and dedicated to providing a solution to today’s problem. I do not think about the next Presidential Election but about how the present day problem can be solved. It is to that position that all in the country should unite towards.