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Nomination Board to decide on MR's candidacy for general election - Opposition Leader

In a Q & A with the Sunday Observer Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala De Silva discussed the SLFPs plans for the forthcoming general election including the possibility of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa contesting the polls under the UPFA ticket.

While explaining the SLFP's decision on a national government after the election, he said his party will support moves to scrap dictatorial powers of the Executive Presidency under the new Government's 100- day plan, provided it retains certain powers to uphold the unitary state of Sri Lanka.

Q: Will the SLFP contest the forthcoming parliamentary election alone or under the UPFA with coalition partners?

I think most probably it will be under the UPFA. Because we in the SLFP believe that we must get all the progressive forces together to defeat the UNP. The JVP, TNA and Sarath Fonseka's party will contest on their own. When you look at the electoral map in Sri Lanka, we think it is advantageous for us to contest together.

It is the perception of the SLFP that all progressive forces should be together and not be divided, so we are endeavoring to ensure that all these forces are with us.

Q: The parties that crossed over to the common opposition, like the JHU and the Liberal Party may return to your fold before the general election?

They are most welcome to join our ranks. I don't think the JHU can be with the UNP. They have no future with the right wing UNP. We don't want to isolate anyone. We want to have a strong government, our party members are clamouring for a strong government. We have to see that their wishes are fulfilled.

Q: There is talk about continuing a national government with the UNP and SLFP joining forces, even after the up coming parliamentary election. If the SLFP secures the majority in Parliament, will this national government concept be taken forward?

This is a matter which has to be decided at party level. But I don't think it will happen that way. If we can get the majority, what is the need to go for a national government. Who will go for a national government if they have a parliamentary majority.

Q: You mean even the UNP will not go for a national government if they win the election with a landslide?

Even the UNP will not invite us to form a national government if that happens. Let's see how the people of this country react to the situation and take a decision.

Q: Do you think the UPFA can defeat the mini budget in Parliament?

We can defeat the mini budget, on the 7th. There is no question about it. But we will not do that.

We gave a solemn undertaking to President Maithripala Sirisena, the leader of our party, that his government's mini budget will be passed.

You can see that we will vote for the budget but we will critically comment on the proposals. The lapses, shortcomings will be exposed. President Sirisena was expressively specific that we have been given the freedom to criticize matters of his government and the budget.

Q: It seems the people as well as some senior SLFPers were frustrated over the conduct of the former President as evident by the election outcome, as a senior and mature politician did you not see this coming? Could not the seniors have asked for reforms to rectify the flaws before going for an election?

The situation is this, I am strong party supporter, whatever defects a leader has, I don't see it as a defect of the party. I have worked with many leaders, there were shortcomings with all leaders, not just one.

In Sinhala, 'muna ekka tharaha wela nahaya kapa gannawa' (cutting off your nose to spite the face). I did not want to do that. I always abide by party decisions.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was unanimously chosen by the central committee of the SLFP as the presidential candidate. It was endorsed by the UPFA, so we have to work for him. We cannot argue about his shortcomings or that his brother and son have shortcomings. Once you are committed to a party you cannot give excuses. One has to maintain party discipline, especially under the current presidential system this has to be strictly maintained, otherwise you know the consequences.

That is why we too want to get rid of certain parts of the Executive Presidency which is dictatorial.

Q: That was going to be my next question. What is your party's stand on the Executive Presidency?

The consensus is clear. We don't want to retain the executive presidency in the form created by J.R. Jayewardena. But there must be wide discussion and we have to ensure that the unitary character of the country must be preserved.

At the same time there should not room for division of the country or for a federal government to emerge. It is the presidential powers, that control most of these issues. Therefore we have to keep those powers intact to ensure that the unitary state of the country is untouched and devise a mechanism to take off dictatorial powers.

Q: You said you have to stand by the party decision, despite the flaws. However, because of this resolution we saw a strong government collapsing overnight. Do you still believe what the party seniors did was right?

The problem is the political system. You have to understand the political system in Sri Lanka - the Executive Presidency. Under a parliamentary democracy this would not have happened.

One has to be mindful of the system that we are working in, you are a part of that system, certain decision processes are done in a particular way under that system.

That is why we want to get rid of certain powers of the Executive Presidency for the future.

There is no use talking about the past. Let's face the future with a new dimension.

Q: There is talk about a revised electoral process. Do you think the forthcoming election should be held after putting in place electoral reforms?

I don't think so, if they are going to dissolve Parliament on April 24, there is no time for electoral reforms.

In my electorate Badulla, we have only 54,000 voters, in Kaduwela there are 170,000 voters and in Mahinyangana there are 120,000 voters. Is it fair to have one representative in parliament for 54,000 voters in the Badulla electorate and also only one for 170,000 voters in Kaduwela? There must be clear demarcation of boundaries. That is not to say the electorates must be equally divided but there must be some equitable number of voters for each and every electorate if you are to promulgate past-the-post system.

The other thing is, the plight of the minorities. For example in the Badulla electorate the majority are Sinhalese, the minority can never send their representative to Parliament, that way we have to carve out some electorates for the minorities, so that there will be fair representation for them in Parliament. What about the smaller political parties? How are they going to survive? It is a complex issue that needs careful review before we go for electoral reforms.

Q: Are you satisfied with the new Government's manifestation of good governance so far?

It is only 14 days since the Government came to power.

You cannot assess the performance of a Government in a fortnight. That embraces many areas.

But of course I must say, when I look at the post election violence, especially in Minister John Amaratunga's electorate, in Wattala, what has happened at the Pradeshiya Sabha is a clear manifestation as to how good governance norms have failed.

I see the arrest of Tissa Attanayake too as a political move. We will fight it in courts.

Q: I heard former Chief Government Whip and MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena speaking of a different political force. Does that mean the composition of the UPFA could change in the forthcoming election?

You should ask Mr.Dinesh Gunawardena about the different political force he's envisaging. If that is a strong political force, if we are convinced this force can defeat the UNP, certainly we will be there.

But we cannot join a weak political force. We believe the strongest political force opposed to the UNP is the SLFP.

That is where all other political forces should join, if we are to gain victory against the UNP. But if you want to keep the UNP in power, the other political forces can go their own way, that will keep the UNP in power but not the SLFP or the progressive forces in this country.

Q: Will the former president contest the next General election under the UPFA?

That is up to him. How can I say whether or not he will contest. The other thing is elections are not yet declared, nominations have not been called, no nomination boards have been appointed.

Once the nomination boards are appointed and if he says he wants to contest the election under the SLFP, the nomination board and the party will decide on that. It is quite premature to give a decision at this stage. There will be a lot of people who want to come, may be the JHU will want to contest with us.

Even some of the UNP members will want to side with us. That will be decided at the right time. There is no hurry.

Q: If the former Army Commander wants to contest under the UPFA ticket?

Yes. Even that can be considered.

Q: The Opposition is envisaging a No Confidence Motion against Home Affairs and Fisheries Minister John Amaratunga. When will it be presented?

It will be presented soon.

(It was presented in Parliament on Saturday. At the time of the intrerview there was no specific date mentioned).

Q: Do you think the present Government will last a 100 days?

It all depends. If Ranil Wickremasinghe wants to dissolve Parliament and if he gets the consent of President Maithripala Sirisena, he can even dissolve it earlier. If the President wants to dissolve it earlier, he can do that.

Constitutionally he has the sole power and authority in taking such a decision and acting on it. But we in the SLFP can go for a forced dissolution of Parliament at any time because we have the controlling majority in the House.

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