The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) took a decision to extend its fullest support to end the present crises and form an all-party government without accepting ministerial portfolios. However, the Party’s Senior Vice Chairmen Nimal Siripala de Silva and Mahinda Amaraweera had already accepted Cabinet ministerial portfolios, defying the SLFP decision.
The party said it is mulling taking disciplinary action against those who rebelled against the party’s decision. Despite this, Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said several SLFP MPs will take oaths as State Ministers soon. He was of the view that the SLFP will not institute any disciplinary action against those who joined the Government.
“No disciplinary action has been initiated against SLFP Parliamentarians who accepted Ministerial portfolios,” he said. Amaraweera said they will make a statement after other SLFP Parliamentarians take oaths as State Ministers.
In this backdrop, Ceylon Today interviewed SLFP General Secretary, former Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara to inquire about their future course of action.
Jayasekara said the present government was haphazardly formed by “bribing” various MPs from political parties on the whims and fancies of the Rajapaksas, against the “genuine intention” of forming an all-party government.
By Gagani Weerakoon
Following are excerpts of the interview:
With people protesting against the Government, the Cabinet resigned and now another government has been formed. What is SLFP’s view on the new administration?
A: In view of the economic crisis, the SLFP and 11 parties suggested to form an all-party government in which members of all political parties should either take up ministerial portfolios or be a part of the National Council. Party Leaders should join the National Council and the major decision-making mechanisms will be developed through this Council.
A new Prime Minister would also be appointed through discussions held by the National Council together with a limited Cabinet. If there is a Cabinet only for essential matters with a maximum of 15 members it would be sufficient.
This was a temporary solution for over a year to overcome the economic crisis and then the public would be able to vote for whom they prefer.
However, now there is an unfortunate situation. Instead of a proper plan, the President and MP Basil Rajapaksa have launched a headhunt where MPs were taken from political parties to form a Cabinet of their choice. Having appointed a Cabinet comprising different party representatives is not in any manner one comprised of all parties as suggested.
Are you suggesting that former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa is the mastermind behind such change?
A: Yes… Rajapaksas, especially Basil Rajapaksa is known for splitting political parties by offering various perks and privileges.
Two MPs holding vital positions in the SLFP have taken up ministerial portfolios. Earlier, when MP Shantha Bandara accepted a portfolio, your party immediately announced disciplinary action against him. What is the SLFP going to do about these two senior members?
A: They have contravened the party decision and approval as we held party discussions on the manner in which the party would work with this Government. They have disregarded the party opinion and the Central Committee will discuss what measures should be taken in this regard.
You, along with a few other SLFP members, had a meeting with the Prime Minster just a few days before the new Cabinet appointments. What was discussed at this meeting?
A: We had received information of an attempt to split the party and take some members to join the Government. So at this meeting, we told clearly not to do so as we, as a party, are ready to extend support. We also communicated that if there is a need to appoint Ministers from the SLFP, for the PM to discuss with the Chairman of our party.
We did not merely want Ministerial portfolios for a few, but rather wanted to know if any SLFP MP is appointed to any Ministerial portfolio. We wanted to know how many will represent the SLFP and what their responsibilities will be, and any such decision should be discussed with the 12 MPs.
However, due to the greed for Ministerial portfolios, certain MPs without the approval of the party have held discussions destroying the genuine intention of helping the country overcome the crisis.
This Government was put together hurriedly and haphazardly and is by no means an all-party government, where they have only focused on ministerial portfolios. There is no need for ministerial portfolios if all parties joined and worked together and this is only another traditional Government and not the non-traditional Government that people of this country asked for.
There was an invitation to form an all-party government, but political parties were only interested in bargaining and engaged in a tug-of-war. With no end in sight, some members of political parties decided to form a government in a bid to end this impasse. Now, those accepted portfolios are being criticised. Isn’t this pure political hypocrisy?
A: This accusation is directed at the SJB. It was their leadership who was not willing to be a party to end the crises and therefore, some SJB MPs had to defy their leader’s decision. We as the SLFP and as the collective of independent MPs from the beginning said we will definitely support the Government in resolving the crises, but it should be done in a proper way and not by haphazardly setting up by picking people in an ad-hoc manner.
Three names were suggested by the 11 parties for the position of Prime Minister. Was Ranil Wickremesinghe on that list?
A: No. His name was not on that list.
Then, what are the names suggested?
A: We suggested Nimal Siripala de Silva, Dullas Alahapperuma, and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe for the position of Prime Minister.
I am asking you once again. Did SLFP MPs take up Ministerial portfolios in the best interests of the country or for their personal gain?
A: Yes, clearly they took up ministerial portfolios for their personal gain and not in the best interests of the country. Even after the Central Working Committee decided that support will be given to the Government to set up an all-party government, these individuals have gone against such decision and taken decisions for their personal gain.
Were you invited to take up any ministerial portfolio?
A: No. We were only of the view that if anyone in the party is being given a ministerial portfolio, for it to be submitted to the Central Working Committee.
From what you said and from the present political context, it is clear that the SLPP still has a big say in political decision-making and MP Basil Rajapaksa still calls the shots. It is in such a backdrop that the 21st Amendment is to be brought. Do you believe that the 21st Amendment could see the light as it is?
A: Despite all these concerns and facts, the 21st Amendment should be brought promptly and we would completely support this amendment and discussions are being held in this regard.
Will you vote in favour of the 21st Amendment?
A: Yes. Once it is tabled in Parliament we can see what is good and what needs to be amended. However, the 20th Amendment should be abolished and the 19th Amendment should be re-enacted.
In your view, what caused this economic crisis? Some argue this was not only due to the wrong decisions taken over the past two years?
A: There have been several persistent issues contributing to the economic crisis, but this has been aggravated due to Covid-19. So, this was not only due to bad decisions in the last two years, but things got aggravated and were blown out of proportion due to not taking the right decisions at the right time.
What are the SLFP’s short and long-term proposals to overcome the present crises?
A: Primarily, there should be debt restructuring, even though it is already late, and for measures to be adopted temporarily to provide essential food and rebuild the economy which would cost US$ 4 billion.
This should be followed by export development and strengthening the tourism industry, while increasing foreign remittances and increasing investment opportunities.
Will the SLFP support the Government with their future decisions?
A: We will extend our fullest support and shed political differences to overcome the present crises.
Has there been any influence from the SLFP on the investigations into the Easter Sunday Attacks?
A: There has not been any influence on the investigations into the Easter Sunday Attacks by the SLFP in any manner and while a Commission was appointed to conduct investigations into the attack, SLFP Chairman Maithripala Sirisena appeared before the Commission as the former President and thereby there has not been any attempt to hinder investigations.