Newly-appointed General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Anura Priyadarshana Yapa says the party should focus on the
victory of President Rajapaksa without fighting with each other.
Denying accusations about Rajapaksa family rule, the Minister stresses they have never experienced any of the President’s brothers interfering with others’ work.
Yapa also claims that Maithripala Sirisena has failed to fulfill his duties as the General Secretary of the party and therefore he has a bigger task of establishing a close rapport with the members.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: How shaken is the SLFP following recent crossovers and changes?
A: The SLFP has faced this type of desertions even in the past. We are not shaken at all. We are confident as ever.
Q: But strong SLFPers like Janaka Bandara Tennakoon openly admitted there are internal problems in the SLFP.
A: That is not because of the party that is because of the proportional representation system. The PR system was not created by us; it was designed by the United National Party. As a political party there may be small differences but they are mostly personal issues.
After I became the General Secretary of the SLFP, I spoke to various groups in the party. If there are differences we will unite them all. I spoke to Janaka Bandara Tennakoon. He is a very good friend of ours and a strong member of the party. He got a little emotional when he talked about his father. That is natural.
Q: Janaka Bandara Tennakoon also said the presidential election which initially had a clear 1-0 victory now has ‘some competition’. Is it true?
A: That may be his personal view. As a party we are not holding that view. As a party we are united as ever. We are fighting a presidential election. Our party leader is contesting. We all are working hard for his victory. This is not a parliamentary election where you have to fight among ourselves. We have to focus on one person and that person is our leader Mahinda Rajapaksa. As members of the SLFPs we have no issues. We are all focused in one direction. That is the victory of the president.
Q: Has these developments slowed down your presidential campaign?
A: We have seen very few parliamentarians and a small number of provincial council and pradeshiya sabha members crossed over. This is a very small margin. It has not had any impact on our party organisations.
In almost all the places in the country our party is intact. Even in Polonnaruwa, only a pradeshiya sabha chairman and a deputy chairman have crossed over. In Polonnaruwa, the majority of the office bearers and those who are holding positions are intact and they are working. Frankly these crossovers have not affected us badly. We are not affected at all.
We are a very well organised party. We have grassroots organisations everywhere including the North and the East. We also have representatives in different positions; pradeshiya sabha members, provincial council members, chairmen of pradeshiya sabhas we well as members of Parliament. As a party we have the largest number of members elected to Parliament. We have done a certain amount of work with regard to the election campaign.
Q: Is it is the unanimous decision of the SLFP that President Mahinda Rajapaksa should contest for a third term?
A: Yes absolutely. When the Central Committee of the party decided that Mahinda Rajapaksa should contest the upcoming presidential election even Mr. Maithripala Sirisena was there. We unanimously decided and Mr. Sirisena gave a letter to the UPFA Central Committee saying that the SLFP nominates His Excellency as our next presidential candidate.
The next day Mr. Sirisena left the party and announced he was the common candidate. There is no division in our party. We are all united. Not only the SLFP but all the other parties in this coalition are united than ever.
Q: What do you think about your new appointment?
A: Politics is a challenging job. I have been entrusted this job by the leader of the party and the Central Committee members. They have unanimously appointed me. I have been a party member for the last 35 years. Personally this appointment is a great source of pride for me. But I have seen that former General Secretary Mr. Maithripala Sirisena has not been able to discuss issues with our members. Now they are flocking in numbers to meet and discuss various issues. I will devote my time to talk to them. I will give an answer to everyone who comes to me.
Q: Are you saying Mr. Sirisena has not fulfilled his duties as the General Secretary of the SLFP?
A: I don’t think he has fulfilled his duties as expected by the large membership. After I assumed office, members complained about the time he spent on these types of operations. But I will address all these issues. I may not be able to solve all the issues since we are gearing up for a presidential election. But once the election is over I will dedicate my time to talk to the members and have a more personal rapport with them.
Q: Did you not realise Mr. Sirisena’s failures while he was in the party?
A: The party membership had faith in him.
Q: There is confusion over Mr. Sirisena’s expulsion and your appointment as the party’s General Secretary.
A: We have a party constitution. According to the party constitution, the General Secretary is appointed by the Central Committee. If a General Secretary or a member leaves the party and joins any other political party, the Central Committee and the Executive Committee can expel him and appoint any person to that vacant position. We have done that. We have acted according to our constitution.
Mr. Sirisena knows about it but he pretends that he doesn’t know. That is why he claims he is still the SLFP General Secretary. He is no longer a representative of the SLFP.
Q: Do you conduct an inquiry before expelling a member of the party?
A: That will be decided by the party’s Central Committee. What I can tell you now is that Mr. Sirisena’s membership has been suspended. Mr. Sirisena has been removed from the SLFP.
Q: What is the section or the clause in SLFP Constitution which describes this procedure?
A: I don’t want to say that. It is the constitution which says that “any member who ceases to be a member of another political party and joins another political party or any political group” will be expelled. Mr. Sirisena no longer represents the SLFP.
Q: How would you describe former president Chandrika Kumaratunga’s decision to re-enter active politics?
A: Though she has been appointed as the president of the SLFP and the president of the country, in 1984 she formed a different political party. She left the political party when her mother was the president of that party. Left with her husband and formed another political party. Later she resigned from that political party and formed another party. Then she left the country and stayed overseas for a long time. She got back to politics in 1993 when we organised the party and she became the president.
After the 2005 presidential election she had no election with the party. Now she claims to be a great lover of the party. My simple argument is that what she is now trying to do is destroy the party. Her motive is not to safeguard the party. If someone wants to protect the party he or she should remain in the party and air their views. We have a democratic set up within the party where members can air their grievances or issues. When you go out of the party and criticise the party or party leadership we are not serving the party; we are only serving the party leadership. They are traitors to the party.
Q: Former Minister Navin Dissanayake, who crossed over last week, says he was offered Rs. 100 million to remain in the Government. Is it true?
A: This is a lie. He was a Cabinet minister in the Government and should be thankful to the Government for making him a Cabinet minister. He was my deputy minister once and I treated him very well. To offer Rs. 100 million to a person like him itself is a joke. What is the use?
Q: Are you denying the allegations made by Mr. Dissanayake?
A: I totally deny his allegations. This is an absolute lie.
Q: This is a serious allegation and definitely leaves a bad impression on the Government. Why aren’t you taking action against Mr. Dissanayake for making such false accusations?
A: It is too premature to say. But let me clarify something; we have not offered any money to any member not to leave the Government. But we believe it is unethical to cross over. He should not have come out with that ugly story against a party that has given so much of protection to him. He has betrayed the people who have elected him; he was elected by SLFPers.
Q: There are allegations that Minister Mervyn’s Silva’s son was held in police custody to prevent the former joining the Opposition. Your comments?
A: There is no truth in that. We have not held Minister Silva’s son in custody to keep him within the Government. Please remember that police work is different to political work. I have to say Minister Silva is a credible person. He accepted the court verdict in a gentlemanly manner. He still remains to be a member of the party and he is a Cabinet Minister. In fact, Minister Silva has not said anything in this regard. These are just rumours.
Q: Is it true that more SLFP members are expected to join Maithripala Sirisena over the next few weeks?
A: These are rumours. No one is crossing over. The party is intact. The party is more united than ever. Our only goal is to win the upcoming presidential election.
Q: There is heavy criticism against the large number of cut-outs and posters of President Rajapaksa put up in all parts of the country. Your comments?
A: This is a campaign method. In fact we cannot paste posters after we hand over nominations. We have to do it now. We as a party have a large number of organisers in all parts of the country. In support of the President they have put these cut-outs and pasted posters. We have not done any wrong to the environment. All other parties paste posters even the JVP does that. All the cut-outs and posters are put in the correct places. We have not forced anyone to put up posters.
Q: The most common and serious allegation against President Mahinda Rajapaksa is that of ‘family rule’. It is no secret that a large number of SLFP members are disheartened by this situation. As the newly-appointed General Secretary how do you rectify this?
A: I don’t understand these allegations. It is a created story. This has been created by opposition parties. They did the same thing to the Bandaranaike family in 1977. Now they are trying to do the same to the Rajapaksa family. This is a common political game. But our party is a democratic party. We discuss issues democratically. We settle issues democratically. We have not seen any of the president’s brothers interfering with others people’s work. Once work is given to them they do that but they never interfere with the work of others. If we SLFPers are not complaining why are others complaining? Why is the Opposition complaining? Why are the people who left us complaining? These are political rhetoric.