“Military-hardliner image a plus for Gota” - SLPP Chairman | Sunday Observer

“Military-hardliner image a plus for Gota” - SLPP Chairman

6 October, 2019
SLPP Chairman, Prof. G.L. Peiris
SLPP Chairman, Prof. G.L. Peiris

Chairman of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), Prof. G.L. Peiris said the manifesto of SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa, prepared by 26 committees headed by experts, will be released by the middle of this month, in a wide ranging interview with the Sunday Observer.

Prof. Peiris said they were ready to reconsider the flower bud election symbol in a future parliamentary election but not at the presidential election. “It does not make sense to sacrifice such an important political asset in the eve of a critical election,” he said.

A final decision by SLFP on this contentious issue, if they would support the SLPP without a change of the symbol, was due last night when this paper went to press.

Q. The SLFP and SLPP seem to be in a deadlock over the election symbol. Are you ready to give up the flower bud? What are the agreements and disagreements so far in the discussions?

A. We have been as flexible as possible on many issues. We have reached agreement on all substantive policies, 25 matters in total. That would be the bedrock of the alliance and the most important consideration for a stable and long lasting alliance.

On the issue of the Pohottuwa, our view is that a symbol is a very important political asset. The symbol is deeply embedded in the minds of the public. It is the identity of the party. People say “We are for the Pohottuwa”. They don’t say “We want the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna to win”. It does not make sense to sacrifice such an important political asset on the eve of a critical election.

Q. Reports indicate that UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam has invited the SLFP to support their candidate Sajith Premadasa. Do you think this contentious issue may push the SLFP towards the UNP camp?

A. It’s their right to talk to anyone they like. At the end of the day, they have to decide whether they want to support the anti-UNP forces or whether they want to align themselves with the UNP. They have to decide if SLFP and its policies are compatible with what the UNP stands for and if the SLFP vote base, at the grassroots level, will vote for the UNP. That is the critical issue.

Q. You said there were 25 points on policy matters that were agreed upon by the two parties at the SLPP-SLFP talks. What, in your view, are the biggest achievements?

A. All the sectors, such as education, health, agriculture and foreign policy, have been comprehensively covered and a consensus has been reached. It is important not to confuse the issues at a presidential election with the issues at a parliamentary election. To safeguard one’s position in a parliamentary election, at this point, is premature. Even with regard to the symbol, we have said that we are quite prepared to consider another symbol at a parliamentary election.

Q. Have you discussed the Prime Ministerial position in a future SLPP-SLFP government?

A. No, at this moment we have to concentrate on winning the presidential election. But, of course, if we form a government, the Prime Minister will be Mahinda Rajapaksa. That is the wish of the people and there is no secret about that.

Q. There is a case filed against the SLPP candidate in the Court of Appeal questioning the validity of his citizenship. In case the court rules against him, do you have an alternative arrangement for the upcoming election?

A. We don’t need to consider, hypothetically, what would happen if Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not allowed to contest. There is no merit to this case. We may adopt appropriate contingency measures, but there is absolutely no doubt in our mind that he will not be disqualified. This is a manifestation of political bankruptcy on the part of our opponents.

They are quite unable to confront the SLPP candidate at the political level, that is why they are taking refuge behind all these pseudo legal issues, his citizenship, his national identity card, his passport and so on.

They are trying to convert a political campaign into a legal strategy in order to distract the public from the political issues at the heart of the campaign.

Q. It seems that SLPP candidate’s onetime celebrated ‘military-hardliner’ image is hurting his political career. Do you think the SLPP campaign has been effective in painting a different picture of him to please the voters?

A. He did his duty to perfection during the military campaign, and it is thanks to his strategy under President Mahinda Rajapaksa that terrorism has been eradicated from the country. That required commitment and single minded dedication.

That was the principal fact, together with the commitment of the armed forces, that resulted in winning a war that was considered unwinnable. That is a plus rather than a minus.

And, as a politician, he has reached out and addressed, very directly, all the disinformation and propaganda that had been carried out against him. At a major mosque in Puttalam and at an interaction with leaders of Muslim community, he has explained that he has never been racially discrimnative and had served all communities.

Today, security is a national issue, particularly after the Easter Sunday carnage. There is a need for a strong leader who will bring effective government to this country.

The State has been on autopilot. The business community is complaining, because no one is making decisions and nothing is being implemented.

People want to see an end to this and appoint a government which inspires confidence in investors and the public at large.

Gotabaya has shown by example that he can deliver. He will select the right people for the job at hand and maintain discipline. These are the qualities the country is looking for in the leadership at the highest level.

Q. Former Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake has also entered the election fray. Will he divert the SLPP votes. Do you consider him a challenge?

A. We don’t think that is a challenge at all. At a presidential election people want their vote to count. I don’t think people are going to waste their vote on a candidate who is obviously not going to win. The voter wants his vote to be reckoned in the final outcome.

Q. When will the SLPP candidate’s presidential election manifesto be released?

A. We have appointed 26 specialist committees to work on different aspects. Much of the work has been completed. We are now making the final touches to the manifesto. We might be able to release it by the second or third week of October.

Q. UNP candidate Sajith Premadasa is a seasoned politician and a good orator. He claims to have the people’s support. Do you consider him a challenge?

A. No. A feature of our campaign is that Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not directed fire at his opponents. There has been no abuse. He has simply set out his policy in a very rational way. He has presented to the public his vision for the future. With regard to Sajith Premadasa, it is ridiculous for him to distance himself from the Yahapalanaya government which had been in power for four and a half years.

He was not only an integral part of that government, but he played a leadership role as deputy leader of the UNP.

He held major portfolios. And he is bound by the principle of collective responsibility for all the failures and shortcomings of the government. He is also responsible. There is no way he can pretend to be an outsider. He is very much part and parcel of that government.

Q. Do you believe in gentleman politics, that such a campaign will secure victory for your candidate?

A. The public wants a change in our political culture. There is a deep desire for that right across the social spectrum.

Q. Do you think the international community is a factor that he has to be concerned about? What about the EU trade concessions and US preferential trade status? Will these be in adversely affected, if he is elected?

A. The international community recognises that these are matters for this country to deal with and we are confident that they will not get involved. There had been situations in the past which had resulted in some anxiety and criticism, but I think lessons have been learnt. Today, there is greater maturity and greater objectivity of approach.

What foreign embassies and high commissions are telling us is that they are happy to work with any government that is elected by the people of Sri Lanka. It is for the people of the country to make their choice and, after that, foreign governments will work with any government in accordance with the wishes of the people.

Q. Why did Gotabaya Rajapaksa request hearings to be held outside North and East, citing security reasons? Does this mean that he will not be visiting that region to campaign?

A. Everyday he has major political engagements. It is a matter of time and convenience. Certainly both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be going to the North and East to campaign. They will be addressing meetings there. This is a national campaign. It is not confined to a particular part of the country.

Q. Is he confident of minority support? Will the Muslims and the Tamils vote for him at the election?

A. We think the issues are of concern to all the people of Sri lanka. Take the collapse of the economy, the cost of living, problems connected with the circulation of money. Those are issues for everybody, not for one section. On the issue of security, the government has failed miserably to ensure the safety of the people. We think these are national issues and there is desire for a different kind of leadership. This desire cuts across communal distinctions.

Q. Yet all the minority parties representing minority communities, in the upcountry as well as the North and East, are still with the UNP?

A. I don’t think that is correct. All minority parties have not made firm decisions. Many of them have said that they would like to look at the manifestos of the candidates and make a final decision. In any case, the voter in Sri Lanka is sufficiently mature to make informed decisions on their own.