Deputy Minister of Mass Media Shantha Bandara emphasised most Sri Lanka Freedom Party Parliamentarians who find fault with the present Government are only trying to secure votes from Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists.
He said that some of the SLFP Parliamentarians had to accept ministries in this Government to honour a party decision, but some party members were criticising and accusing the Government without valid reasons in order to secure votes. “Those people have personal agendas. Most SLFPers are trying to show they are Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists in order to secure those votes.”
However, the Deputy Minister stressed the importance of both Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa working together in future in order to protect the SLFP.
Following are excerpts:
Q: What are your thoughts about the protest at Parliament conducted by a group of SLFP Parliamentarians?
A: The former President was summoned by the Bribery Commission over a petty issue. This is against the Constitution. According to the current Constitution, the President has the power to appoint ministers. The former President has acted according to the Constitution. Therefore, it is evident that all appointments were done according to the Constitution. This is what the protest was all about.
Q: If Mahinda Rajapaksa has not done any wrong, why is the SLFP getting agitated?
A: If the former President has done any wrong, I don’t think it is wrong for the Bribery Commission to summon him. If it was a serious financial fraud or a serious offence, we will not oppose. Although Mahinda Rajapaksa is a former President, he should be bound by the law of this country. But unfortunately here it is evident that they are trying to humiliate Mahinda Rajapaksa. They are trying to take revenge from him. In simple terms, they are trying to corner him for a seenibola matter.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is a leader who has done so much for this country. No other leader in recent history done what he has done for Sri Lanka. Today we breathe and live peacefully thanks to him. Is this how we repay him? By dragging him to the Bribery Commission?
Q: The SLFP is part of this Government. How do you justify a section of SLFP protesting against your administration?
A: Although we are part of the Government, we shouldn’t be surprised that there is opposition coming from within the SLFP. Mahinda Rajapaksa was our leader; he was the President respected by all SFLPers. When he is to be taken to the Bribery Commission over a trivial matter, naturally people will protest.
Q: Didn’t they say they had corruption charges and financial fraud charges against the previous Government? Why can’t they bring up those cases?
A: We are not against the Government taking action against wrong doers. If there was a valid reason, something the people too will accept as a proper reason, then we will not protest. There were similar incidents in the last two months. Many were taken to Bribery Commission and questioned. Did we protest? Taking Mahinda Rajapaksa is not acceptable, that is what their protest is all about.\
Q: Is this the stand of the SLFP?
A: Let me reiterate, the SLFP is not against taking action against wrongdoers. It is this matter that we don’t approve of. They shouldn’t have summoned a former President over an insignificant issue like this. There is no base in this accusation.
Q: Do you think it is right for a Parliamentarian to pressure an independent body such as the Bribery Commission?
A: I do not approve of anyone interfering with the work of the Bribery Commission, but in this case they didn’t have any other option.
Q: Or were they trying to sabotage 19A being brought to Parliament?
A: There is no truth in that. That is a baseless allegation. The SLFP has announced its stand about the 19A, but we feel that this entire matter is a set up by a few people who do not want the 19A to be implemented. We know there are some people who want to delay the reforms. There are others who say they want to get the 19A through, but secretly they are doing everything possible to prevent it.
Q: Whom are you accusing?
A: I am not in a position to reveal the names. This is a decisive time for the country. Without paying attention to the most crucial matters, why are they trying to trap the former President over an insignificant matter? Why now? This is where the question is.
Q: In that case, do you think it is correct for the SLFP to delay the 19A, claiming more time is needed to study it?
A: I don’t see any wrong in requesting more time to study the amendments. As everyone knows, there were differences between the gazetted document and the one that was presented to the Supreme Court. Therefore as a party we felt it is essential to study it carefully before it is presented to Parliament.
There are certain sections that were included secretly after it was gazetted. For example, the 19A says the premier cannot be removed from his position until his death – not even through an impeachment. These were incorporated later. No one knows how or when they did it. This is why we need more time to study it.
Q: Why does a section of the SLFP still back Mahinda Rajapaksa? Does this mean your party does not accept Maithripala Sirisena as your leader?
A: The SLFP unanimously accepts Maithripala Sirisena’s leadership. There is no question about that. The problem is, although Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated at the last presidential election, people still like him. People still see him as their leader. People still see him as the head of this country. In order to have a better future for the SLFP, it is essential that they get together and work together. Not only SLFPers but most Sri Lankans believe Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena should work together. And let me tell you, the day that we see them working together is not so far.
Q: How optimistic are you that Maithripala and Mahinda will work together?
A: We are very positive. This is what everyone wants. It is going to happen. It will happen. They have both agreed to meet each other and discuss further on how they could work in future.
Q: What position will Mahinda Rajapaksa hold in the party?
A: It is not about positions. Mahinda Rajapaksa can be a patron or be an advisor to the party. What we want is to give him the opportunity to get back into active politics. We are not saying to make him the head of the SLFP.
Q: When the SLFP is part of this administration, why do you claim to be in the Opposition and sabotage work carried out by the Government?
A: Some of us had to accept ministries in this Government to honour a party decision. We are doing this because we think about our country. We want a better future for the people in this country. This is a new experience for everyone. Meanwhile, there are some people who come up with various accusations, but those people have personal agendas. Some make such controversial statements only to increase their vote base. Most SLFPers are trying to show they are Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists in order to secure those votes.
Q: What do you think about the allegations against Basil Rajapaksa?
A: I do not want to comment about the allegations, but I need to say one thing. Some allege that it was Basil Rajapaksa who worked for the defeat of the former President. That is all rubbish. If it wasn’t for Basil Rajapaksa, we would not have secured those 58 lakhs. Over 80% of the votes we got were because of him. People who point fingers at Basil Rajapaksa couldn’t get half of the votes he brought to the party.