Official translation, sent to us by the Presidential Secretariat, of the letter by President Maithripala Sirisena to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, penned on 13 August 2015. For Rajpaksa’s response to this letter (in Sinhala) see here. Image courtesy Indi.ca.
Dear Mr. Mahinda Rajapasksa,
I am writing to you today, in my capacity as the chairman of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the leading single political party in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which having victoriously produced four Executive Presidents and won four Parliamentary elections over the past two decades, was defeated in the Presidential election on last January 08 under your leadership.
Both of us entered national politics from this great party. The SLFP and the voters who kept their faith in it made you the Executive President of this country twice. However, I have become the President in a different manner. That is, by challenging you as the candidate of the common opposition, and by giving leadership to and organizing the growing discontent with your administration. Thereby, I have been able to retain the Executive Presidency within the party as it was slipping away from you and the party. The secret to my success of winning the trust of all opposition parties and groups that stood against you was the inseparable, untainted and genuine relationship between me and the SLFP.
Losing an election is an unpleasant experience. Yet, after your defeat on last January 08, no SLFP activist was targeted as it happened in 1977 and in 2001. In fact, it was another SLFPer, who was a party member for 48 years and its general secretary for 13 years, who replaced you as the President. As the President, I took every measure to prevent post-election violence and protect the SLFP activists. I propose you to consider the aftermath of the election and potential intimidation against you and the members of the SLFP, if it was a candidate other than me, who challenged and defeated you. Therefore, I must emphasize that I have provided political protection to all SLFP parliamentarians, Provincial Council members, Local Government representatives and all SLFP activists. Further, you must also assess the consequences the SLFP people’s representatives and the party activists at the grass-roots level would have had to face, if I were to dissolve the parliament immediately after I assumed duties as the Executive President on last January 08.
I don’t think you can ever forget how I stood for you in the party when you had to face many critical moments until you became the President in 2005. I am sure you have not forgotten the efforts I took to make you the Prime Minister in 2004. When Mr. Wimal Weerawansa had organized a disruptive movement with whatever force the whole JVP had to prevent you from becoming the Prime Minister, I strengthened you. When nominating our Party’s candidate for the 2005 Presidential election became a controversial issue, I firmly took your side. While I took it as my responsibility as the general secretary of SLFP to make you the Presidential candidate of our party, some of those who are surrounding you today were in secret negotiations with Mr. Ranil Wicramasinghe as to what Ministerial portfolios they could obtain after the election victory of his United National Party (UNP).
You are well aware that Mr. Basil Rajapaksa’s improper deeds and behaviour contributed to the deterioration of the strong comradeship that grew between us as two senior members in the SLFP. The anti-Maithripala Sirisena policy he followed with the intention of sidelining me from politics and proving me as a failed politician boomeranged on all of you. When Mr. Basil Rajapaksa was continuously disturbing my political affairs, I expected you to have the humility to intervene to restore my independence. However, you failed to show such humility until I became the candidate of the common opposition on November 21st, last year.
In the three brief meetings between us during the last seven months as well as in the telephone conversation between us two days prior to you signed the nomination as an election candidate from the Kurunegala district, I urged you not to contest this election as I was ready to lead our party to victory. However, with your decision to contest this election, my hopes to lead the campaign and win the election as the newly elected president as well as the chairman of the SLFP evaporated. Had you not contested this election, I could attract those who backed my victory in January, including Tamil and Muslim political parties, civil society organizations, urban middle class, professionals and youth once again to support the SLFP in this election.
Although I proposed you not to contest this election, I had no wish of keeping you completely out of politics. Instead, I proposed a constitutional provision that would assure you a respectable political existence. I am aware that many of your family members too agreed to it. You refused it all, because you had become a victim of a few small political parties and groups, who have no love or compassion for the SLFP, but linked to it through the UPFA. Those small groups want nothing but to exploit the vote-generating ability they saw in you to make sure they get a seat in the parliament. You have to take the responsibility of allowing such small groups and parties with narrow intentions to take control of this great party, the SLFP, that has a 64 year long history and has ruled the country for the longest period of time, i.e. 35 years, since independence. In this context, it is worrying to note that, confronted by these opportunistic political minority, many senior members of our party appear powerless at the district level preferential vote race. It is now time to put an end to the grip you have given these small parties and groups, who have political existence if not for the votes of the SLFP supporters, to decide the destiny of the party.
The great founder of the SLFP, Mr. S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike was prudent to appoint well respected citizens such as Bernard Aluvihare, Badi-Uddin Mohammed, and Thangarja, etc. to official positions in the party, fully representing the ethnic, religious and social diversity of Sri Lanka. Although, in 1956, the SLFP was perceived as a political party with a religious and a communal bias, under the leadership of Mrs. Bandaranaike and Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga, it again grew as a progressive political party that accommodates the ethnic, religious and social diversity of Sri Lanka and upholds social democracy. However, during your tenure of nine years as the leader of this party, it has has become a political party that refuses to accommodate diversity. Behind your defeat on January 08, did you fail to notice the very flames of communalism you ignited were, in fact, working against you? That is, SLFP had fast become a party that represented the Sinhala-Buddhist vote base in the country. Such extremism is unfitting for a great political party like the SLFP. Today, I am faced with the challenge of freeing the SLFP from such narrow ideologies and transforming it into a political party that represents the whole Sri Lankan nation. Yet, those who flock around you try to incite communalism in order to fatten their lot of preferential votes. In fact, they are not SLFP members. They should not be allowed to manipulate the party.
During your tenure as the President, you repeatedly said that there was no more a majority or a minority community in this country, but one nation. Yet, from the beginning of the last presidential election to the day you gave an interview to a national newspaper on August 12th, 2015, you and those who speak on your behalf make statements that incite feelings of communal hatred. According to Buddhism, in which I believe, as well as by all other major religions, spread of communalism cannot be justified. Communalism has not been accepted by any other humanistic philosophy either. Further, as this is a moment I have been able to win the trust of Tamil and Muslim communities, if I were to lead the party in the coming parliamentary election, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and other communities would have placed confidence in our party in an unprecedented manner. At a moment when our task should be to build the Sri Lankan nation, integrated and reconciled, to overcome the challenges of the 21st century, it is a crime against the country and also the party to incite communal hatred for narrow political gains.
When the issue regarding the nomination came up, the main challenge which I had to face was keeping this party from breaking up into factions. Sri Lanka has a two-party political system and I assume that you are aware of the negative consequences on the country, when one party breaks up and becomes weak. In order to keep the integrity of the party, I had to take a step back and wait, as you and your team were always ready to split the party and contest separately over any small issue. During the nomination process for the Gampaha district, it became impractical to allow three members of the Ranathunga family to contest from the same list. As such, I expected that Ranathunga brother who was already the Western province Chief Minister would withdraw his nomination. However, it was unfortunate that you decided to break-up the party and contest separately, had not been given nomination. Over this issue, I watched silently and let you win, as one Ranathunga family member left the party and joined the United National Party. It is due to my tactical decision to withdraw that the SLFP could be prevented from splitting up over an unfortunate incident around the election candidacy nomination for just one person.
The proposal to form a national government was not solely a proposal of one person. When the National Government proposal was tabled, the Central Committee of the SLFP and the parliamentary team of SLFP backed it and expressed their fullest support to it. But now, certain groups who claim themselves to be your allies are attacking those members of parliament who took up Ministerial posts in the aforementioned National Government. This is nothing but another shameless clash over preferential votes. It is my duty to tell you the true story. Those who are have flocked around you and praise you, while capitalizing on the final bits of electoral value you have, try to secretly talk to me over the telephone, meet with me, and send messengers, expressing their wish to join hands with me after the election and beg for a ministerial portfolio so that they could sustain their political career. These are the same opportunists, while pretending to be loyal to you, are campaigning to demean the other candidates of our party who took up ministerial portfolios in the National Government portraying the latter as enemies of the people. Despite all this, I observe with equanimity, how the same candidates who try to underscore a so-called division in the party, shamelessly use my image in the UPFA‘s promotional campaign. If this preferential-vote-hunting mafia that bids you and your image a cheap price-tag continues, it could very well be the cause of defeat for UPFA at this general election.
Recently, the media quoted that you are looking forward work together with me in the future. If you have such a wish, I have to make one point clear. Your arbitrary decision to adopt the 18th amendment to the constitution led to a brutal suppression of democratic rights and freedom of the people. It not only destroyed the social democratic ethos of the party but caused serious injustice to many senior members of our party. With the intention of remaining the President for ever, it is appalling how you curbed the freedom and destroyed the dignity of the people, while depriving the SLFP and many dedicated SLFP seniors of their political future. If you too had retired gracefully at the end of your two terms, like all former presidents did, one of our senior SLFP leaders could have had the opportunity to become President and for another, to become the Prime Minister. It looks now that even after this General Election, you will continue to deprive them of their rightful opportunity. Don’t you think they deserve a chance at least now? In the upcoming election, if UPFA manages to win 113 seats, which is the required-minimum to form a government, I believe that a senior leader of SLFP, who has not yet had an opportunity, should be made prime minister. If by any chance, UPFA does not achieve 113 seats but ends up getting close to the mark, I may be able to intervene as the Executive President to gain the support of other parties to form a government. In that case also, it is not you who should become prime minister but another senior member of our party. The true strength of our party is that it is the only political party in the country that can boast of many leaders who are experienced, politically mature and farsighted enough to become prime minister. I request from you, in the name of our country, our people and our party, to show before the nation, your flexibility, cooperation, and blessings in nominating one of the senior leaders such as Nimal Siripala de Silva, John Seneviratne, Chamal Rajapaksa, Athauda Seneviratne, A.H.M. Fowzie, Susil Premjayanth or Anura Priyadarshana Yapa as the Prime Minister in a new government.
Since your defeat in last January, it was quite ridiculous how you went from one temple to another countless times all over the country and tried catch the attention of media. Since I know your beliefs, wishes and behaviour from 26th of January 2010 to 21st November 2014 quite well, I doubt if those countless temple visits over the last six months or so could help you develop some spiritual thoughts. The reports that, during your personal encounters with members of our party, you only display hatred, abhorrence, animosity and an overbrimming egoism attest the same.
Against this backdrop, I request from you, for sake of the well-being of the country and the citizens, to listen to your brain and not your heart, not to make statements that provoke racism and not to allow promote divisions within the party, so that UPFA will have a chance to win more seats in the parliament.
Signed: Maitripala Sirisena
Sri Lanka Freedom Party