by Shamindra Ferdinando
In spite of serious differences between coalition partner SLFP in respect of political reforms, including the abolition of executive presidency, the UNP strongly believes their marriage of convenience can be extended till 2025.
Dismissing threat by a group of SLFP members loyal to President Maithripala Sirisena to function as an independent group, UNP General Secretary, who is also the Public Enterprise Development Minister Kabir Hashim claimed they had already made plans for such an eventuality.
Minister Hashim said so in response to a media query at Sirikotha.
When the media pointed out that some SLFP members in parliament had repeatedly vowed to form a government of its own in 2020, a smiling Hashim said that some dreamed of having power. He said their effort was to ensure an administration that met the aspirations of the people.
The top UNPer asserted that regardless of what a section of the SLFP wanted, the current arrangement could continue.
Had twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa chosen the correct path following the conclusion of the war in May 2009, the country would have been in a better position today, he said.
Responding to another query, Hashim said that the UNP was in constant touch with President Maithripala Sirisena. Declaring that the UNP-SLFP partnership remained, Hashim said the SLFP too felt the same way.
The UNP General Secretary emphasized that the UNP won last parliamentary polls in Aug 2015 though SLFP factions headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa contested together.
The UNP commands the support of 107 MPs in parliament (one of them contested on the SLMC ticket, whereas of the 95 members elected on the UPFA ticket, President Maithripala Sirisena enjoys the support of 42. The rest backs former President Rajapaksa.
Hashim declined to comment on their next presidential election candidate.
He flayed those SLFPers threatening to leave the government. Reiterating the UNP’s commitment to the ruling coalition, Hashim accused them of being unhappy for want of benefits on par with what they enjoyed during the previous administration.
When the media pointed out that the UNP’s policies differed from that of the SLFP, Hashim said that contrary to such assertions, the then SLFP-led People’s Alliance had embraced what it disdainfully called JR’s bahubootha viyavasthawa in 1994. The SLFP absolutely had no qualms in utilizing the 1978 Constitution to the maximum. Although, the SLFPers propagated strong opinion against the open economy, they faithfully followed the same, Hashim said. In fact, the SLFP, under its former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa introduced the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in Sept 2010 to further strengthen the executive presidency.
Hashim emphasized that the truth was the SLFP pursued open economic policies to the hilt. The UNPer cited the mega Port City project and the Shangri-la project at former Army headquarters premises as examples of SLFP open economic policies.
Responding to another query, Hashim said that the UNP required the SLFP’s support to abolish the executive presidency though it was weakened with the introduction of the 19 Amendment to the Constitution soon after the last presidential poll. Hashim acknowledged that the SLFP had sought to retain the executive presidency though the UNP remained committed to abolish it in accordance with their pledge to the country.
Commenting on war crimes accusations directed at Sri Lanka in the wake of the LTTE’s battlefield defeat, Hashim alleged that the former President exploited such allegations. With the change of government, the coalition had brought an end to the former President’s much touted claim that he faced the electric chair over accountability issues.
Hashim alleged that incumbent Navy Chief Vice Admiral Travis Sinniah had been forced to leave the navy after the conclusion of the war because he refused to carry out directives given by the ‘Royal family.’
The Minister lashed out at the media that it remained silent when the previous government dragged away General Sarath Fonseka and locked him up after January 2010 presidential polls. Minister Hashim explained how the previous government harassed senior military officers over their alleged loyalty to General Fonseka. “Today, you have the freedom to criticize anyone. You got that freedom thanks to the change of government. So mindful of that.”
The UNP Chairman declared that Fonseka’s statement in respect of wartime Security Forces Commander, Vanni the then Maj. Gen Jagath Jayasuriya’s conduct was not the UNP’s stand. The minister said so when the media inquired about Fonseka accommodated on the UNP National List leveling fresh accusations against Jayasuriya and several other unnamed officers.