“UNP has not fallen out with the President”: Kiriella

Wednesday, 24 June 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Minister Lakshman Kiriella denies the United Party has fallen out with the President and stresses “Sirisena will dissolve Parliament soon”.

Kiriella claims that neither the SLFP nor the UPFA wanted electoral reforms but due to the fear of losing the election the two parties were now pressurising the President to go ahead with it. “They had a two-thirds majority, they could have done anything they wanted. But the SLFP didn’t have any stand on electoral reforms for 13 years. They thought of electoral reforms after they lost the presidential election.”

Following are excerpts:


Q: When there is a hue and cry in the country for an election why does the Government keep delaying it? 

As you may have seen on television, Parliament has become unworkable. This Parliament was elected when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President, but now there is a new President. This country needs a new Parliament. This is simple common sense. Yes, this country needs an election. A new President needs a new Parliament. This is what we have been saying.


Q: Who is delaying the election, President Sirisena or the SLFP?

We gave a promise that an election will be held after the 100-day program. When we met the President, he said the SLFP supported us to bring the 19th Amendment. He tried to support the SLFP’s call for the 20th Amendment. He said that he is duty-bound to support it as much as possible. At the same time he said if there is no agreement on it by all parties, he has to think otherwise. There has to be agreement from all parties on the clauses of the 20th Amendment. 



Q: What are your remarks about the 20th Amendment? 

The United National Party’s stand had been consistent. From 2002 we have been saying this. The Dinesh Gunawardane Electoral Committee was appointed by Ranil Wickremesinghe when he was Prime Minister in 2002. 

We are the people who wanted electoral reforms in 2002. To that committee we have said that the UNP stand is 125 members and a mixed system. We are against increasing the number of MPs. The Indian Parliament has only 545 MPs for a 1,300 million population. We are against increasing the number of MPs to 225. But if all parties agree to increase the amount, we are willing to discuss increasing the number. We have told this to President Sirisena’s subcommittee on electoral reforms. 


Q: Does that mean UNP has agreed on the number the Government has suggested?

No, we are not saying that we are accepting what the Government has given. What we are saying is that if all parties agree, the UNP is willing to discuss the increase. This is what we have been saying from 2002. It was the SLFP which didn’t have any stand on electoral reforms. 

Dinesh Gunawardane was the Chairman of the Election Subcommittee. You can ask Gunawardane. They had a two-thirds majority, they could have done anything they wanted. But the SLFP didn’t have any stand on electoral reforms for 13 years. This committee has been sitting from 2002 to 2015 but neither the SLFP nor the UPFA uttered a word about electoral reforms. They never wanted electoral reforms. They thought of electoral reforms after they lost the presidential election. 

The SLFP knows that they are going to lose the election. They think if they increase the number they can have more members. This is the only reason they shout about electoral reforms. If they were genuine, when they were in power with a two-thirds majority they could have done it. They were totally opposed to any kind of reforms. On the other hand, the party suggested the two ballot formula before. It has suddenly come from nowhere. 



Q: What do you think their motive is? 

That you need to ask them. We didn’t bring that so we cannot comment. Without discussing this at the Election Reforms Commission, suddenly within the last month they have brought this two ballot formula. This is another ‘preferential vote system’. We are totally against it. 

When the minority parties were in Government with Mahinda Rajapaksa from 2005, they never talked about electoral reforms because they were scared. They were scared to open their mouths. Only now they are opening their mouths because we have created freedom for everyone to voice their opinion. 

First there was a Cabinet paper saying 255 MPs. Then another Cabinet paper said 225. Another Cabinet paper said 237 MPs. The question I am asking is, is it only the MPs who have a right to decide the number of Parliamentarians? Aren’t there other people in the country like professionals, intellectuals and civil society? Don’t they have the right to have their say? This is why we say an Electoral Commission has to be appointed, we need to get the views of a cross section of society, including the MPs, and decide. It is immoral for only MPs to decide on this matter. 


Q: Is the UNP toothless in this Government? 

We are not hiding the fact that we are a minority, but one cannot say we are toothless. Despite being a minority Government, we managed to pass the 19th Amendment. That was our Prime Minister’s strategy. We pushed the Opposition up against a wall. They had no alternative but to support it. If they opposed it, they wouldn’t have been able to go to their voters. It was President Sirisena’s and Prime Minister’s strategy that worked. 

Q: Has the UNP fallen out with the President? 

Certainly not. We met him last week. He was very cordial. He knows it was the UNP who brought him to power. There is no problem at all with the President. He understands our line. He will dissolve Parliament soon. Unless the election is held and new a government is formed, there won’t be investment, there won’t be stability. There is sense of uncertainty all over. This country needs an election.

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