ĎMahinda forerunner as PM' - ANURA YAPA
By Nabeela Hussain July 23, 2015
Contesting alongside former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) general secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa stated that even though there were no moves to remove President Maithripala Sirisena as the head of the SLFP and UPFA, they were not ready for a leader other than Mahinda Rajapaksa. In an interview to the daily mirror, Anura Yapa said the party would establish a more democratic and cleaner government if re-elected.
Q: What would the SLFPís slogans be for this election and what would you do for your constituency once you are elected?
A: We want to have a stronger government to fulfill the aspirations of the masses and we believe in a clean, transparent system. We intend to have a number of programmes for the youth and the elderly. People feel they need to have a democratic system of government, they hate the old system and they want a new system and we will have to evolve.
Q: By evolve what do you mean?
A: By introducing the 19th amendment, we have strengthened the new commissions, so we fully supported it.
Q: When you say you supported the 19th amendment, there was also the 18th amendment that was introduced by your government?
A: I agree that the 18th amendment was something that was a little backward. It has been rejected by the people. We are moving forward by introducing the 19th amendment and what we intended was that we too wanted to move towards new directions, more openness, transparency and more involvement of the people in the government.
Q: The original 19th amendment had more non-political appointments in the committees, but this was changedÖ
A:We will have to move to that situation gradually, we canít change the system overnight. The party leaders decided that the majority of them should be from the Parliament. Like in the American system, the committees consist of the members of congress and the others can participate before the camera and it can be criticized by the press.
Weíll have to gradually move into that situation. I donít think we can move into that overnight. There would be a clash between the legislators and the non legislators. It is not a prudent idea for us, it is better if we have a system that they can be represented in a numerical manner which is not interpreted as they are the majority of the whole body.
Q: You want a cleaner, transparent system. What about the present government?
A: I think certain incidents tarnish the image of their cleanliness and their transparency. You canít just preach about an uncorrupt government, you have to achieve it.
Q: Do you think under the Mahinda Rajapaksa government the institutions had more independence?
A: Actually you have to understand that during his regime, we were in a transformation, we were after a 30 year war which everyone has forgotten about. Until 2009, we had the difficulty of doing things for the country, we had to focus entirely on the conflict.
After 2009, the post-conflict era, we had to look into the infrastructure of the country. You cant expect everything within a short period. His first tenure revolved around conflict, the second one was involved in reconciliation, rehabilitation and rebuilding. I think he has credibly done that though many criticize him. Personally I think he has handled the post-conflict era brilliantly.
I must say that it is unfair to criticize in this way. He has done a lot for this country. Now he is coming into another stage, free of terrorism in which people wanted the building of certain institutions. Our GDP and per capita have increased, it was below 1,500 and now it is 3,600. I disagree with those who criticize him for being too authoritative.
Q: What about allegations that data was manipulated since 2011?
A: I donít agree. The changing of data is extremely difficult and I donít agree with it.
During his time the rural masses got a new lease of life. Now we have 2.8 million motor cycles, nearly 1 million trishaws and half a million utility vehicles. The peopleís purchasing power has increased, so this is untrue. They would have to give us credible evidence if Iím to believe these allegations.
Q: When you speak of the rural masses, does it mean that most of your campaigns would be centred on the rural masses?
A:We are popular in the rural areas, we have done a lot for them and a lot for the urban masses too. We are really harping on them, yes, rather than the urban masses, but we have good change in the thinking of the urban masses too during the last six months.
We have started making houses for them but suddenly you hear that everything has stopped. The cleaner city concept has been completely disregarded by this government and if you take other development projects, they have been stopped or slowed down. They are not good managers, this is what we have seen during the six months. They arenít going to give the same development speed that we have been able to achieve, so I think even the urban people are dissatisfied.
Q: Since the government came into power there have been investigations into corruption. Do you think it has reduced the popularity of the SLFP?
A:These investigations are done arbitrarily. The creation of the FCID was criticized and the handling of it by Temple Trees.
In Sri Lanka after the fall of each government corruption is the biggest issue that comes up and I think they have not been able to prove it properly this time. If they have done this, then yes, investigate and file cases. They say everyone is corrupt and they have levelled various charges against everyone but they have not been able to prove them. In a democratic country if you charge someone you have to investigate it. Here they give publicity to it rather than investigate it, itís a political stunt.
The law takes its own course, we must allow the law to take its course instead of manipulating it. Here they tarnish the image of people rather than investigate it. This is not a democratic system, it is an autocratic system like in the Stalinist era. This government has fascist tendencies, they are not democratic, and they want to blame someone.
Our government has done a lot for this country and if we were corrupt we couldnít have achieved half of what we did so far. We have worked tirelessly for the last six years and achieved more than what was expected. The present government doesnít have the support of other countries, their foreign policy is bad.
Q: How did things change in the SLFP after January?
A: There is an ideological difference between the present and former Presidents. However, both are SLFPers. Even though the current President was not elected by a different group of voters, he was not elected by the SLFPers. We have moved him back and made him the President.
There were two groups of people, for Mahinda Rajapakse and Maithripala Sirisena. Some wanted Mahinda Rajapakse back, the others didnít. That was the ideological difference we had.
The seniors came together, for the first time in the history of the SLFP to bridge the gap, rather than allow the party to split in two.
Q: What were the measures you took?
A: In a crisis situation, the first thing you look into is the grassroots level, the members in the village and the periphery. Most parties donít do that, they just expel and create their own cult. We must give credit to the present President as he has not done so. We must understand that what is important is to listen to the masses and bringing back Rajapaksa to contest the elections and run an effective campaign. I think we have achieved that.
Q: Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in January. Do you see UPFA and SLFP without him? Is that your sole identity? You brought him back to contest the elections?
A: Actually, we are still not ready.
Q: Still not ready for what?
A: Still not ready for another person.
Q: Still not ready for a new leader?
A: You have to understand that in our party Mahinda Rajapaksa is the most popular person. So to bring the party back into power, we need his support and the ideas of his supporters have to be fulfilled. Rather than talking unnecessarily we thought it prudent to bring him back to the forefront.
Q: So you didnít even consider anyone else?
A: That can happen at anytime, at present the majority wanted him to be brought back. We have done that, with the blessings of the present President and the leader. There is a difference of ideas between the two, no doubt about it, but we have made them understand that it was important to listen to the supporters of the party rather than discuss the difference of opinions.
Q: When it comes to nomination, who looks into it in the SLFP?
A: We have a very democratic system. We have nomination committees.
Q: What about Mahinda Rajapakse, did he apply?
A:He didnít apply. He intended to contest. We donít usually do that but he was the ex-President and the former party leader. We wonít ask him to send the papers and come for the nominations. When he informed of his desire to contest Ö.
Q: So he wanted to contest not you who wanted him back?
A:A large section of the SLFP wanted him to come forward and we had to listen to it. These were collective decisions, not individual decisions. Unlike any other parties we are modern and democratic. The party leader is not given the sole authority and neither does he use it.
Q: Some were not given nominations from the individuals?
A: That was a collective decision, the party discussed it and decided that four individuals should not be given nominations, not because they are bad but because of the situation that had arisen at the moment. The press and other have criticized them and certain issues have been brought up that we should address. We believe that it should be decided by the Courts. Once it is done we will take them back as that is our policy.
Q: There were several conditions for giving the former President nominations. What happened there?
A:No, there were no conditions. When you contest an election you canít impose any conditions. Say Iím contesting from Kurunegala. There were no conditions that were wrong. We told him he could contest from any district and he decided on Kurunegala.
A: I donít know. He must be very popular here, he has done a lot for this district. He has enormous support here, that must be the reason.
Q: If he is contesting here wonít that affect your preferential votes?
A: No we are not worried about it. We are certain that most of the voters who will vote for us will give the first preference to him, so second and third will be reserved for us. So we have no worries. I have never worried. I have always been comfortable in my district and I have been elected by them with a certain number of votes so I am not worried.
Q: Who are the Prime Ministerial Candidates of the SLFP?
A: We have not decided but our forerunner is Mahinda Rajapaksa, no doubt about it. But that will be decided once we are elected to Parliament and if we have a majority. The majority of the members elected from our group will decide who the Prime Minister is, at present it is Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Q: What is the function of the Chairman of the elections operations committee?
A: He will head the campaign committee but the party President can give ideas.
Q: The Central Committee (CC) meeting that was stoppedÖ
A: That was completely misinterpreted.
Q: Did the President know about the meeting?
A: Yes. After the speech of the President, many central committee members wanted a meeting to discuss the matter as we are in the midst of a campaign. We also have several members who have crossed over, we would have to take action against them.
Q: What happened?
A: I informed the President over the phone of the meeting, I wanted it to be at 5 p.m but he wanted it to be at 8 p.m. Then he sent me a letter requesting the meeting be cancelled and be held on another day. I immediately did that, informed the members and confirmed the cancellation through a letter. I probably signed the letter around 1.30 pm.
There was a call from the party office saying an enjoining order was delivered restraining us from holding a meeting without the President. We have never discussed the need to hold a meeting without the President. We donít have ulterior motives, we just wanted to discuss several matters along with the campaigning.
We will only meet with him, only with the party leader. We have no intention of meeting. We will plan it once he has given us his consent.
Q: How did the SLFP react to the Presidentís speech?
A: We have to discuss it within the party, so we will not say anything until it is discussed within the party.
Q: Are there plans to remove the President as the Head of the SLFP and the UPFA?
A: It is not true at all. There was no move within the party to oust him.
This was false information which has been spread.As the general secretary I can categorically say there was no such move and that we will not do such a thing.
There was no such discussion.The members were a bit agitated about his speech but the seniors have discussed the matter and they thought he should be consulted and then come back to the media. We as a party are not divided. We are together and are united.
Q: What about the resignation of the three Deputy Ministers? Does that not say they are not happy with the Presidentís speech?
A: They have stated their reasons for that. They may have thought that holding of portfolios and contesting the elections under a different party will weigh negatively on their campaign. Any sane candidate would do that.
Once the 100 days is over and the Parliament has been dissolved, there is no reason to remain in the cabinet. The SLFP and the UNP are two different political parties. The rationale is that to remain would have a negative effect on them and they wouldíve thought that it was best for them to resign.
Q: Is the party taking any action against Solangarachchi for the enjoining order?
A:That has to be discussed by the Central Committee. My view is that he was misled. There was no need for such action. We have called for an explanation.
Q: Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (Karuna), who is a SLFP Vice President, was taken off your national list?
A:Actually, we have reserved a slot for him to contest from Batticaloa. Those who have served under the national list once cannot be re-appointed a second time under the national list in the SLFP. We asked him to contest from Batticaloa district and he declined, that was the reason.
The decision of the party is that everyone must contest and come back to Parliament.
Q: Would he remain as the Vice President? Has he given in his resignation?
A: He will remain as the Vice-President and has not given in his resignation.