Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) national organiser Basil Rajapaksa addressing the media yesterday with SLPP Chairman Prof. G. L. Peiris
– Pic by Ruwan Walpola
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By Uditha Jayasinghe
Boosting anticipation to fever pitch levels, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) national organiser Basil Rajapaksa yesterday described their Presidential candidate to be announced on Sunday as meeting the expectations of the public, and ruled out his own candidacy, saying he does not have “enough luck” to run in the next elections.
Rajapaksa, addressing the media at the Kingsbury Hotel in Colombo, stopped short of naming who the candidate will be, but said he has faith SLPP de-facto leader Mahinda Rajapaksa will “give the people what they have asked for” in deciding the Presidential candidate to contest in the upcoming election.
Describing the candidate, Rajapaksa insisted it will be someone who has “democratic values but also the ability to tackle corruption like a Terminator”. He also emphasised former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has documents to prove he has relinquished his citizenship.
The SLPP has also busied itself preparing for key international forums it will encounter in early 2020 if it wins, Rajapaksa said, adding that they are planning how to represent Sri Lanka at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Rwanda in 2020 and the United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in March.
“Today, the youngest political party in this country is the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). We will be holding our first national convention on Sunday. Despite being established in 2016, the SLPP has not had an official leader and the main event at the convention will be the selection of a leader in accordance with the party’s Constitution. I don’t have to tell you who that will be. Even though he has not had an official position, he has given us leadership. After that we will announce our Presidential candidate,” he said.
Rajapaksa praised his elder brother’s competence, and insisted that the right decision will be made with the candidate possessing qualities needed to establish consistent policies, enforce the law, and attract much-needed investment.
“As a party, we have requested someone who will be able to manage this country well. We have updated Mahinda Rajapaksa on the requirements outlined by the people to us, we have told him what the people expect and want. We need someone with good democratic values but on the other hand, he must also be a Terminator to fight against corruption. He must be able to protect the people and inspire confidence in his governance. This is the sort of person we have asked for. People will not fear the name of the candidate when they hear it.”
When questioned as to why he had not tossed his hat in the ring, Rajapaksa replied, “I don’t have that much luck.”
Rajapaksa expressed regret at not being able to invite all members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which he noted was hindered by the provisions within the SLPP Constitution, which gave power to only the party and coalition members to be present at the convention. However, he said personal invitations have been extended to key Parliamentarians who have backed Opposition Leader Rajapaksa and continue to hold talks with the SLPP on forming a coalition.
Responding to questions on whether Opposition Leader Rajapaksa will face difficulties in keeping his Parliamentary seat after he takes over SLPP leadership officially on Sunday, Rajapaksa noted that they have consulted legal experts, including SLPP Chairman Prof. G. L. Peiris, and do not foresee any complications to Rajapaksa keeping his seat.
Fielding questions on the possibility of SLFP running separately from the SLPP at the upcoming elections, Rajapaksa hedged his bets on SLPP still managing to enough votes to scrape through to victory.
“The same argument was made when we contested the Local Government elections last year. People said that because SLFP and SLPP will broadly fight for the same vote base, that will be bad for us. But we recorded a resounding victory. So I don’t think a coalition with the SLFP guarantees our victory nor do I think that we will necessarily lose if we contest separately.”
He also pointed out that the SLPP was unafraid to take the initiative at a time when other major political parties were clearly dealing with infighting and were unable to name a Presidential candidate, and expressed hope that being the first political party to declare their Presidential candidate will give positive momentum to their campaign.
He also said the SLPP has kicked off substantial efforts to enfold minority parties and other stakeholders into the SLPP, and was optimistic of a strong show of minority votes in the North and East as well as the hill country. He also said the SLPP stands ready to form a coalition with any party unless they have been proven to be backing extremism and terrorism.
“Anyone can make accusations. There have been about six cases filed against even me, but that does not mean I am guilty of anything. So as long as they have not been convicted of wrongdoings, we are ready to join anyone who will support us to achieve our goals.”