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'Mangala, Sripathi, JVP and UPFA'
 

Eye to eye
with
Prasad Gunewardene

 

Profile
Name - Pallewatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena
Name in politics - Maithripala Sirisena
School - Royal College, Polonnaruwa
Professional Status - Graduate in Agriculture and Political Science
Political party rank - General Secretary SLFP
Portfolios held - Deputy Minister of Irrigation (1994), Cabinet Minister of Mahaweli Development (1997) and Minister of Mahaweli, River Basin Development & Rajarata Development (2004)

Current portfolio - Minister of Agriculture Development & Agrarian Services

This political figure is a son of a war veteran during the Second World War. Albert Sirisena was a brave soldier who was commended by the Father of the Nation, D. S. Senanayake, first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. DS rewarded Albert Sirisena for his bravery with five acres of paddy land in Polonnaruwa close to the Parakrama Samudraya. In no time the masses in Polonnaruwa recognised and respected the services of Sirisena to make him their "Village Headman" from 1952-64.

His wife was a Teacher by profession who followed the path of the late Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike. The man we talk with today is none other than the vibrant General Secretary of the SLFP, Maithripala Sirisena, a loyal SLFPer.

Educated at Royal College, Polonnaruwa, Maithripala first tread on the path of communism at the tender age of fifteen. He joined the SLFP Youth League in Polonnaruwa in 1967. He climbed the ladder in politics in a gradual manner.

From his village, he stepped into the all island level of politics in the SLFP. In 1981, Maithripala entered the SLFP politburo. In this process he became a successful politician when he entered Parliament 1989 from the Polonnaruwa District.

From that point, Maithripala has won all elections in a row to represent his people uninterrupted for 18 long years. It was not a path of roses for this youthful looking man who turned 56 on September 3. He has seen the four walls of the Prisons during this thorny political journey.

Hard work, dedication and commitment gave him strength and courage in his journey in politics to serve the people. He is a man who calls a spade a spade. Out spoken and fiery at times, Maithripala Sirisena is a loyal man to any leader in his party.

He is prepared to accept any challenge and does not fear to throw his weight if the situation called for it. He is a man who is forthright and does not fear to speak the truth. This is how he responded when questions were put to him:

Q: You have seen the SLFP under two regimes. One under the Bandaranaikes' and now under Rajapaksa's. How do you view these two administrations?

A: Analysing the Bandaranaikes', the beginning was 1956 and 1960 saw a turn when Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was at the helm. Both these regimes formulated policies to meet challenges and needs of the international political arena which prevailed at that time. It was Mr. Bandaranaike who started diplomatic relations with communist countries in the world.

The policies of the 1970-77 government which had many socialist features made some foreign countries assume that Sri Lanka was a communist country. These two regimes culturally revolutionised the country with policies that benefited the masses.

These progressive measures from a small country like ours did not meet the aspirations of capitalist countries at that time. Even the Non Aligned Movement was born as a measure to meet the pressure that mounted from capitalist countries against people oriented policies adopted by nations like ours.

It was an era where small nations were sandwiched between the two super powers at that time, the USA and the Soviet Union. The Bandaranaike regimes acted in favour of the Soviet Union policies which were socialist in nature. The 1956 and 1970 governments too were formed with parties which had communist policies.

However, the 1994 administration of President Chandrika Kumaratunga was different. We then had to embark on a different path. That was because we had to face up to international tidal waves both economic, social and cultural needs if we were to tread on a path to development.

If we were economically stable we would have been able to withstand outside pressure. We are now in an era where we cannot afford to annoy our neighbours. By 1994 the international political scene drastically changed. From globalisation to the UN we see a one sided political trend in the international scene. Therefore, the Kumaratunga regime was quite different to that of her father and mother.

The present regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his leadership, despite arguments for and against, is an era of a serious cultural revolution.

The President is subjected to political pressure, political conspiracies as well as international pressure. The President is a man who wears the national costume, who treads on paddy fields and has not gone for education abroad. Therefore, he is a national figure in today's politics.

I view the journey of President Rajapaksa as a continuation of the 1956 SWRD policy that was followed up in 1970 by Ms. Bandaranaike and stalled in 1977 with the change of government at that time.

It is also the second stage of the Bandaranaike policies as this is the first time that power shifted from the Bandaranaikes' to outsiders like Rajapaksas'. Hence, the Rajapaksa policies are meant for the people and by the people.

Q: As the General Secretary of the SLFP, how confident are you that the party could win a future election as a single political party?

A - There is no impossibility of the SLFP winning an election as a single party. The need is the commitment, strategy and plan towards achieving such a victory. Today the UNP cannot win and come to power as a single political party.

Some may argue that the UNP has come to power as a single party in the past but, not the SLFP. In the 1960 July election, the SLFP came to power as a single party though there were some agreements. For example, see the last Presidential elections.

Some minority parties which claimed they are the people who decide on the king withdrew support to Mahinda Rajapaksa. The President won without their support. Take the 1965 UNP government. That government of Dudley Senanayake was known as the 'Hath Havula' (marrying seven together).

Therefore, the UNP has not won as a single party all the time. In 1970, though the SLFP contested with coalition parties it won 90 seats under the first past the post system.

Q: May I interject for a moment to ask you what obstructs you to win as a single party in the future, when the SLFP had earlier won 90 seats as a single party at the 1970 general election?

A: Yes... the factor that stands in our way is the present constitution. It is a constitution that destroys the nation. This nation can never prosper till this constitution remains in force. That is my personal feeling as a politician. This constitution needs to be changed to develop this country, be it we, or any other party that may come to power in the future. This constitution has messed up the strength in Parliament.

The number of votes that are cast into the ballot box is not represented in Parliament. The executive presidency at times hangs in the balance if the minority parties do not support either candidate. All these dangers have erupted due to this constitution. But, the SLFP is quite confident of its future endeavours.

Q: Did the exit of Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi weaken the strength of the SLFP? How do you view that situation as party General Secretary?

A: At the time the SLFP was formed there were three Co-Secretaries namely, Aluvihare, Bud-udin Mahmud and Thangarajah from the three communities with Mr. Bandaranaike as party president.

Of these three, Aluvihare joined the UNP. In 1959, after the assassination of SWRD until Mrs. Bandaranaike took control, CP De Silva was the acting president of the SLFP.

After a few years he too joined the UNP. SKK Sooriyaarachchi who was the general secretary from 1970-77 also crossed over to the UNP. S.B. Dissanayake who was my predecessor after joining the UNP even went to jail.

The treasured son of the Bandaranaike family, Anura also joined the UNP at one time. Maithripala Senanayake who was acting Prime Minister, on 21 occasions went on the UNP platform with JR Jayewardene. Like Maithripala and others, people like Kalugalle went to the UNP. But, the stronger political party in the country today is the SLFP.

Therefore, the exit of Mangala and Sripathi is only a big issue to the free media which blows the trumpet for them to show it is a big loss for the SLFP. All must remember that they look strong only till they remain in the party. When they leave the party they become dud coins in no time. The party history has proved it beyond doubt. If I leave the party today, same fate will befall me in no time.

Q: Now let us move to another interesting topic of the day because you are the best person to seek answers to questions of that nature. I have observed you as a person who speaks straight without fear or favour. Can you win an election without the support of the JVP? Is the SLFP afraid of the threats and intimidation of the JVP?

A: (The minister enjoys a hearty laugh) We are a party that has a proud history and we have, and will never go on the defensive in the face of any threat or intimidation from the JVP. SWRD was shot dead; Mrs. B's civic rights were taken away.

Did we retreat? No. In 1971 the JVP attacked our government. We did not fear them. In 1999, the LTTE attacked President Kumaratunga and disabled her in one eye. Still we didn't fear. Our party supporters at village level have never feared anybody.

Hundreds of our supporters have sacrificed their lives for the party. We are a party where our leaders and supporters have braved all odds. Our intention is to build friendship with other parties. We do not believe in collision course with other national parties. The President is keen to accommodate any party into the fold to build the nation.

Today there are 42 members who contested under the UNP at the last general election holding hands with President Rajapaksa. I don't agree to a position that the SLFP cannot win elections without the support of the JVP.

The SLFP organising system and capacity is quite different to that of the JVP. The SLFP is a centre for economic, social and cultural needs of a country and not a party based on doctrines.

We are different from other leftist political parties. Take the UNP... it is not a party that needs to be reorganised. The current setback in the UNP is due to the misfortune of its present day leaders. The UNP is a capitalist party which undermines the needs of the downtrodden.

Q: Mr. Minister, this question seeks to clarify a certain issue with regard to a fundamental right of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government.

Do you accept that Members of Parliament under the symbol of the 'betel leaf' are bound by the constitution that governs the UPFA? Do you also accept the fact that under such statute, be it the JVP or any other constituent party, if they withdraw support they do violate discipline as MPs of the UPFA? Furthermore, will you endorse the fact that in such instances the General Secretary is empowered to remove such MPs and recommend the entry of the next in the list as all parliamentary seats today in the government belong to the UPFA, irrespective of the individual identity of the respective political party?

A: Very clearly the General Secretary of the UPFA enjoys that right and privilege. To be emphatic on that issue may I tell you that when the JVP wants to take disciplinary action against their members who represent the Provincial Councils elected under the UPFA banner, they still communicate with the UPFA General Secretary, Susil Premjayanth.

It is only then, necessary action is taken. Though we enjoy such powers, we do not abuse or misuse them. Despite enjoying that power and privilege, we have not used it on the JVP. We practise gentleman politics and view the JVP as a friendly force and not as an enemy.

We may have differences of opinion. We do not view the JVP in the perspective we see the UNP. Premjayanth as UPFA General Secretary enjoys the rights to take disciplinary action against any UPFA MP. But, when we receive complaints against any JVP member under the UPFA, be it at grass roots level, we refer it to the JVP General Secretary for necessary recommendations.

That is why I said that the SLFP is a gentleman's party. It never abuses or misuses power that it enjoys by statute.

Q: Sorry, let me interrupt you... Mr. Minister my argument and my position is not that what you try to prove, running round the bush. I reiterate that the UPFA General Secretary has direct powers to try any member of the UPFA who violates discipline of the Alliance irrespective of the constituent party such a member represents......

A: Yes... the constitution of the UPFA (SLFP-JVP) states that the UPFA General Secretary should act on the recommendations of the JVP General Secretary with regard to any form of violation of the provisions of the agreement by JVP members. Today, the alliance is constitutionally not in force.

Q: I am not talking of an agreement between the two parties in the Alliance. The point I am trying to place before you is that the UPFA General Secretary enjoys the right and privilege to remove any UPFA MP who violates the UPFA statute, then inform the Secretary General of Parliament that, he had upon taking such action, recommend the next name or names in the UPFA list to fill such a vacancy. Could you respond to this position?

A: Yes... ....he has the power. But, he has so far not exercised such powers.

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