“If you look at everyone in the Opposition today, they are all thinking about how they can gain power next time.They are trying to figure out where they can contest from during the next election.” -SLFP National Organizer Duminda Dissanayake

By Marianne David

“We will not leave the SLFP for any reason. Even if they remove us, we will not leave. Even if we are beaten and chased away, we will not leave. Doing our duty by the SLFP is our responsibility,” asserted Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) National Organiser MP Duminda Dissanayake, in an interview with The Sunday Morning.

Despite being tipped to join the Government, Dissanayake emphasised that he would not join the United National Party (UNP) for any reason, recalling how in the run-up to the election of the Yahapalana Government, he had always made his party allegiance clear. “Even then, even amid green banners and flags, I always got on stage wearing a blue shirt or a blue sarong. There is no necessity for me to join the UNP,” he noted.

Dissanayake also pointed out that the need of the hour was to do the right thing by the people instead of working for political advantage. “We believe that at this time it is our duty to help restore stability in the country without making decisions from a political point of view,” he added.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

What’s the current status of the SLFP? Where is the party heading?

The SLFP is currently having an internal crisis, which everyone knows. However, a majority of us in the party are currently discussing where we should stand as a party on behalf of the people amid the current crisis in the country.

Politically there may be advantages in opposing; in line with the problems that are cropping up, there are political advantages that parties can exploit. However, the SLFP is a party that has been in government the longest since 1994. Therefore, we have a responsibility towards the people.

If people believed in us and brought us into power and if the people are suffering at this time, if the country has fallen financially, should we take political advantage of this or uplift the country together and engage in politics after stability is restored? We – a majority of SLFP parliamentarians – believe that at this time it is our duty to help restore stability in the country without making decisions from a political point of view.

Ranil Wickremesinghe brought the all-party proposal with Gotabaya Rajapaksa; thereafter the President and the Prime Minister stepped down and only Wickremesinghe was left. Suppose Dullas Alahapperuma was in this position or Anura Kumara Dissanayake – whoever it is, at this time we have to do what is best for the people without playing politics.

A group of SLFP MPs are of the opinion that they need to join the Government to help solve the economic crisis. Some who support Party Leader Maithripala Sirisena believe that they can assist the Government while staying out of it. What is your opinion?

If you look at everyone in the Opposition today, they are all thinking about how they can gain power next time. Those who became independent are creating their own groups. Why are they doing that? If they oppose the Government, they can stand aside. Why do they need to form groups? They are trying to figure out where they can contest from during the next election.

For our group in the SLFP, the concern is not about where we can contest from during the next election, but how we can help the Government lift the country up from the position to which it has fallen.

While Sirisena is the legitimate head of the party, actual legitimacy seems to be with the dissidents’ group. How do you view this?

The SLFP is not only the board and the leader. There are certain people who brought the party to this position. Without them there is no SLFP.

How do you see the party positioning itself during the next election?

We will not leave the SLFP for any reason. Even if they remove us, we will not leave. Even if we are beaten and chased away, we will not leave. Doing our duty by the SLFP is our responsibility.

If you are suspended or sacked, what will you do?

I will still remain with the party. We will all remain with the party and we will do justice by the party and its members.

The SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) as well as the SLFP-led People’s Alliance (PA) are refusing to accept the new appointments that have been made. Will the dissidents take charge of the alliances and build on them out of the SLFP?

There have been some developments in this regard. But wait a bit and see what happens.

Some party members have been suspended with disciplinary action pending. If they are sacked, what will they do and how will they build political alliances?

No matter who is sacked at this time, we will remain with the SLFP because we have taken this decision not for personal reasons but knowing our duty as SLFPers.

In 2015 [defection from the then Government], Maithripala Sirisena and I were temporarily suspended, just like this. But what was the final result? On 8 January [2015] we were both reinstated and Sirisena was made the party chairman.

Right now, instead of fearing party decrees and decisions, we should do the right thing. We believe that by doing the right thing, it is we and not others who are protecting the party.

In the current scenario, the pro-Sirisena faction is likely to form an alliance with the main Opposition and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) while the dissidents seem likely to side with the Government. How will this bode for the SLFP?

If we take our team, besides the SLFP, we will not become members of any other party. If you go to the Government side, it’s the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP); on the other side, Sajith is essentially UNP and Dullas and group are SLPP. It’s the same people who are divided on both sides. Our group in the SLFP will not take any side at this point; we will make representations on behalf of the country.

As for a future election, we are able to decide what we will do, but right now our biggest issue is resolving the ongoing crisis. If the country collapses at this time, will there be an election for us to contest? Therefore our duty is to stabilise the country without letting it collapse.

How is the SLFP dealing with the SLPP and how is it preventing its members from joining the SLPP?

When I was the party’s General Secretary, I brought in a concept called ‘Mahagedara’. The SLFP is the ‘Mahagedara.’ In 2015, when Sirisena became President, it was those who could not join him who marketed the brand of Mahinda Rajapaksa and created the SLPP. However, their birth or the inception of their journey was with the SLFP.

Therefore, I believe that when Mahinda Rajapaksa is no longer present and when that brand comes to an end, there will be no SLPP. I believe that then all of them will return to our ‘Mahagedara’ – the SLFP.

There is wide speculation that you will be joining the UNP. Is there any truth to it?

No, I will not join the UNP for any reason.

In 2015 also, I made my decision. Everyone who joined Sirisena chose the UNP at the next election for their political future. But I said it then and I say it now: I am an SLFPer.

Although Maithripala Sirisena went to Sirikotha for his election meetings and even though I helped him, I did not go to Sirikotha and I will not do so either. I have not gone for a single meeting at Sirikotha.

Once when there was a meeting organised at Sirikotha, I spoke to Chandrika Kumaratunga and said, ‘Madam, I cannot go to Sirikotha.’ The meeting was then changed and was held in the Opposition Leader’s Office. Even then, even amid green banners and flags, I always got on stage wearing a blue shirt or a blue sarong. There is no necessity for me to join the UNP.


Courtesy:Sunday Morning