“This 22nd Amendment was first taken up by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.This is not Ranil Wickremesinghe’s amendment, this is Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s amendment, which Wickremesinghe continued with” – Mahindananda Aluthgamage

.
By Marianne David

The 22nd Amendment Bill is former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s amendment and not that of Ranil Wickremesinghe and having formed a government after Gotabaya Rajapaksa left, the Government had to support the Government, asserted Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage, explaining his reasons for supporting the 22nd Amendment Bill.

“If we are in the Government, we have to support the Government. There were arguments and various things, but we stood by the President,” he pointed out, in an interview with The Sunday Morning.

Commenting on the growing dissension within the party over party politics being controlled by SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa and his loyalists, Aluthgamage, while conceding that the party was experiencing issues, revealed that a decision had been reached on establishing democracy in the party.

“We have come to an understanding with Basil Rajapaksa. The party has now decided on democracy for the party. Very soon the convention will be held and new appointments and committees will come in,” he added, emphasising on the importance of giving opportunities to young and talented politicians.

As for the alliance with Wickremesinghe, he said that the decision to support Wickremesinghe had been reached after a lengthy discussion and the realisation that Wickremesinghe was the best person for the job in the face of the economic crisis.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Problems within the party have resulted in splits with the SLPP, with defections of several groups over the past few months. Remaining SLPPers have also shown a clear split over the 22nd Amendment Bill vote. Why did you support the bill?

I supported the bill because we formed a government after Gotabaya Rajapaksa left. We supported Ranil Wickremesinghe to become President. This 22nd Amendment was taken by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is my old President. This is not Ranil Wickremesinghe’s amendment, this is Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s amendment, which Wickremesinghe continued. We helped Wickremesinghe to become president and now we are in the Government.

How can the Government go against the Government? If we are in the Government, we have to support the Government. There were arguments and various things, but we stood by the President. Maybe he is in a different political party and we are in a different party, but we are within the Government, it’s a coalition, so when the President brings an amendment, we have to support the Government. That is why we supported the 22nd Amendment Bill.

Isn’t supporting the bill a violation of the party’s policies since the SLPP supports dual citizenship?

No, the party did not take any decision on that. No decision was taken by the party on the 22nd Amendment Bill. There is no decision in the party.

There is growing dissension within the party over party politics being controlled fully by Basil Rajapaksa and his loyalists. What is your opinion?

There is an issue with the party. A limited group is controlling the party, but we have come to an understanding with Basil Rajapaksa. Before Basil Rajapaksa left for the US, I met him and he wanted me to take on a main role in the party, so I said I would come but there had to be democracy in this party. I said this very clearly and he accepted it and said he was going to do that.

The party has now decided on democracy for the party. Very soon the convention will be held and new appointments and committees will come in. I just told former President Mahinda Rajapaksa that there is a huge request from the party, not only from myself, to bring democracy to the party as well as give a chance to the very efficient people in the party.

There are very talented people in the party but they don’t get opportunities. We told them to bring these people out. We have to bring new names like Ramesh Pathirana, Kanchana Wijesekera, Shehan Semasinghe, Kanaka Herath – there are good, young members and we should bring them up and give them the opportunity. I said this when I spoke at the rally in Nawalapitiya. We have an issue and we have to bring democracy to the party; otherwise people won’t accept us.

How do you view the argument that the SLPP stands for dual citizenship as its National Organiser is a dual citizen?

There is no such decision. We don’t want to talk about dual citizenship. If a dual citizen wants to come into politics, they have to let that go [foreign citizenship] and come and engage in politics.

How do you view the affiliation with the Government of Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose policies the SLPP has continually criticised?

When Gotabaya Rajapaksa left, we were the ruling party in the Government. Even though my President resigned, we had the majority to appoint a new president. We sat with the seniors and we had a long discussion. Actually we gave points to all the candidates – Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Sajith Premadasa, Dullas Alahapperuma, and Ranil Wickremesinghe.

I am a person who has mostly hammered President Wickremesinghe. But in that situation, we were facing a huge economic crisis. We didn’t have fuel and gas; people didn’t have food. There was an economic issue in the country. We had a lengthy discussion on who could handle the economic crisis and we realised that only Wickremesinghe could handle it with his experience and his international contacts. We decided he was the only option we had.

We didn’t think from the political side; we had to decide by thinking about the country. Appointing Ranil Wickremesinghe was a decision we took for the country. If we thought about politics, we would not have been able to appoint him. But in that situation, we did not have any alternative. Wickremesinghe was the only alternative we had.

Courtesy:Sunday Morning