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Interviews

 

UNP down, but not out


Karu Jayasuriya

Excerpts of an interview with UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya, post election...

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Q: Should UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe accept sole responsibility for this 17th defeat?

A: Be it victory or defeat, it is the leader who should take responsibility. However, it would not be fair to expect him to solely shoulder the responsibility. In my opinion, everyone in the party – particularly the seniors, including myself as the deputy leader and every one who contested — has to take responsibility for our defeat. It is a collective responsibility.

In fairness to the party, I must say that this election was held under very favorable circumstances for the government and it was a difficult election to win. The government is at a peak due to the successes of our military forces. This, however, in no way means that the UNP can be satisfied with its performance.

Q: Can our national leaders learn lessons from the past? Take the case of Ranil Wickremesinghe, for example...

A: It is not a matter of whether we learn bitter lessons; it is imperative that we should. Leadership and success is about doing what’s right rather than what’s easy. I am proud to say that our party and leadership are not led by polls, but by principles, not by calculation but by conviction. Leaders should lead not only by words but also by deeds and by example. For instance, as a leader, President Premadasa had extraordinary energy and stamina. It will be beneficial for the party to adopt that style.

I must confess that our party must learn the art of getting its message across more effectively and efficiently, especially at grassroot levels, if we are to succeed in the future. We must be humble enough to admit that there is room for improvement.

In addition, we must not forget that Ranil Wickremesinghe is the most experienced politician we have in Sri Lanka today. Over the course of his 30-year political career, he has always held the positions of senior minister, prime minister and opposition leader. He has a wealth of experience and this country can benefit from that experience.

Q: Has the UNP, like most political losers, come to the conclusion that the party losing another election is the greatest loss to the nation?

A: The UNP has never adopted such an arrogant approach. We humbly accept the verdict of the people. We believe that it is the people who will push us forward when we are on the correct path and let us know when we are not.

Q:  The election results showed that the people of the south do not trust Wickremesinghe to be the guardian of their national interests. In the next six years, will the UNP try to convince the people that it is pro-people and not pro NGOs, churches, moneybags like Lalith Kotelawala, UK, USA and Norway – all of which seem to alienate the party from the southern voters?

A: The UNP represents the whole country, not only the south. It represents every religion, every region, all ethnicities and people from all walks of life. Our party supporters come from different backgrounds and different places. But we all share common objectives. We are committed to the principle of unity, not division. We are neither pro nor anti NGOs, churches or moneybags.

The UNP is a moderate political party, which does not encourage extremism of any kind. We are a pro-people political party, but as I stated earlier, we will have to find better methods of getting our message across to the masses.

One way of getting our message across is through the media, but today, unfortunately, the media has been silenced in a systematic and calculated manner. Anyone criticising the government or giving publicity to the opposition’s opinion is targeted and sometimes eliminated.

Lasantha Wickrematunge, Keith Noyahr, the attack on Upali Tennekoon and the Sirasa attack are all examples.  How many senior journalists have left the country fearing for their lives?

Today, there is no room for dissenting voices. If the government has nothing to hide, why isn’t it allowing journalists to practise the profession the way it should be practised? It is due to all these reasons that the opposition is facing many obstacles. We are facing great resistance, but I can assure you that we will not give in or give up. Nor will we remain complacent.

Q: In this election, the UNP tried every trick in the book — from family dynasties to trotting support for the military effort. Why did it still fail?

A: It is not only the UNP that does this; all political parties use every trick in the book to win elections. That is a fact. The important thing is that those tricks conform to the election laws. In any election, only one party can obtain a majority. There can be only one winner. This election was won by the government thanks to our forces and not due to any other achievement. Unfortunately, I am not sure whether sufficient credit has been given to our soldiers. The government can take some credit for providing the forces with political leadership but it cannot take all the credit for the military successes.

I also wish the government was magnanimous enough to acknowledge the roles played in the past by several political leaders like our Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, President Premadasa, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Ranjan Wijeratne, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and military leaders like General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and General Janaka Perera, for example.

Apart from Wickremesinghe, none of the others are here with us today; every single one of them sacrificed their lives on behalf of our motherland. Today, not a word is said about these exemplary leaders. It is people like Kadirgamar who got the international community to isolate the LTTE. It is Ranil Wickremesinghe’s peace initiative that made the world believe in the bona fides of Sri Lankan government. All of this helped our military efforts.

The UNP should now commence a campaign to educate our people about these facts so that justice is done to the UNP at a future election. It should not be forgotten that in 1994, UNP handed over the executive power (presidency) to the PA, with the entire east including Thoppigala and the north including Killinochchi, Mullaithivu, Mannar, Elephant Pass, etc. under effective government control. All these are areas captured from the LTTE during UNP regimes. UNP never made use of these victories for political purposes.

Q: Did the party fail because it fell for the old trick of believing in its own propaganda?

A: We have to get our propaganda machinery in order if we are to win future elections and we will address this issue immediately. We don’t have the resources that the government enjoys but we will find ways and means of making our propaganda outfit more effective and efficient. Above all else, unity within the party is paramount.

Many young politicians emerged in the course of the last few elections and we must get them involved in the decision-making process. If we do the same thing over and over again, we can be rest assured that we will only obtain the same result.

Q: The UNP has been paying dearly for deviating from President Premadasa’s pro-people politics. Would you agree that the party’s immediate task would be to rethink, revitalise and reorganise the party on the lines of Premadasa’s pro-people policies?

A: Yes, of course. After an election defeat, it is natural for a political party to rethink its strategies. One of the critical factors of the last election was the very low turnout, despite extraordinary government propaganda and pressure being exerted. Only 34.9% of the people have endorsed this government.

The majority of the people in the country have become very cynical about what governments do to improve their lives. Our people are disappointed, frustrated and angry with their leaders for hoodwinking them, for not listening to them and for not always telling them the truth. Naturally, they are very bitter about it.

The UNP will have a huge opportunity to muster support at future elections, provided we approach the people in the right manner. President Premadasa was one of the most effective leaders Sri Lanka ever had. The UNP never deviated from his policies but during his time we had a far more efficient administrative system and an effective media outfit that reached the masses in a remarkable way.

Q: Do you think the fallback in the opposition has created a dictatorial regime in the country?

A: We do not see how the recent provincial council results would tend to lead to a  dictatorial government and president. Whilst we are concerned about the disappointing results, the PA faced a similar situation in the 2002 local government election, which was far worse than what the UNP experienced this time.

Having said so we are now convinced that the executive presidency has several flaws and it needs checks and balances.

We believe that the immunity must cease and the President must be answerable to parliament as much as the finance portfolio should be handed to a member of parliament.

It is also our view that presidential, parliamentary and provincial council elections should be held on a single day and the lifespan of the institution must be either four or five years. Election dates should be fixed according to the constitution and no arbitrary dissolutions should be allowed for political gains, which causes heavy damage to the economy and much inconvenience to the public.


“We must reach the common man”

By Risidra Mendis 

An interview with UNP MP Sajith Premadasa following the Western Provincial Council election. Excerpts:  

Q: Should UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe accept sole responsibility for this 17th defeat?

A: It is my view that the UNP as a whole ought to be responsible for all the victories and defeats it incurs. However I should also point out that the party constitution provides the leader of the party with a high concentration of power which enables him to provide the necessary leadership to achieve victories at all levels of electoral competitions.

So being a team player while on the one hand I believe that every one of us should have the backbone to accept the accountability for defeat the high concentration of power within the party in the hands of the leader of the party provides him with a unique opportunity to ensure that the weaknesses within the party are eradicated and the strengths of the party are enhanced.      

Q: Can our national leaders learn from the bitter lessons of the past? Take the case of Wickremesinghe...

A: If one is to progress and develop as a politician it is most prudent that you learn lessons from all the experiences and try to ensure that one’s own political path is progressive and constructive.

Q: Has the UNP like most political losers come to the conclusion that the party losing another election is the greatest loss to the nation?

A: I certainly think the UNP as the single largest political party in Sri Lanka has a great deal to contribute in order to make our country successful and prosperous. To that extent I strongly believe that our party has a historic role to play in accelerating our country’s path to peace and prosperity. 

Q: The election results show that the people of the south do not trust Wickremesinghe to be the guardian of their national interests. In the next six years will the UNP try to convince the people that it is pro-people?

A: Our party will take a more pro-poor, pro-common man/woman approach in terms of our policy, vision and substance. I have always asserted and emphasised this aspect in the strongest possible manner in the various decision making structures in our party. I shall continue to pressurise our party hierarchy to make the requisite and indispensable amendments and alterations to our party policies and policy substance so that there is greater credibility for the UNP among the common masses of Sri Lanka.

Q: In this election the UNP tried every trick in the book, from family dynasties to touting support for the military effort. Why did it still fail?

A: I personally feel that there are substantive and substantial factors that led to the electoral defeat of the UNP on successive occasions. In the present context I believe it is correct by the party to express my sentiments within the party structures and ensure that the necessary reforms and transformations take place to ensure that our party is victorious at all future electoral contests.    

Q: Did it fail because the UNP fell for the old trick of believing in its own propaganda?

A: Once again I would like to express my thoughts on the factors that led to the electoral defeat within the party structure and make sure that the necessary steps are taken to ensure that our party is victorious at all future political contests.   

Q: The UNP has been paying dearly for deviating from the pro-people politics of your father, late President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Do you believe that the immediate task of the UNP is to rethink, revitalise and reorganise the party on the pro-people policies of your late father?

A: Yes, most certainly.

 “Govt. won on the war”


S.B. Dissanayake

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

An interview with UNP National Organiser S.B. Dissanayake following the Western Provincial Council election. Excerpts:

Q: Should UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe accept sole responsibility for this 17th defeat?

A: In the first place, calling it the 17th defeat is wrong. The truth is that there has been one general election, two presidential elections, two provincial council elections and two local government elections. The calculation that has brought out the number 17 therefore is incorrect. A massive change has to be made in the party from the village level. However, I do not like to speak about the party leadership to the media.

Q: Who should then take the responsibility for the UNP’s defeat?

A: No one can be held responsible for the party’s defeat at the elections. The government won the elections clearly because of the war.

Q: Can our national leaders learn from the bitter lessons of the past? Take the case of Wickremesinghe...

A: We cannot speak only of Wickremesinghe. There have to be changes made with regard to certain party organisers and the activities of the party. Everyone has to get together, decide and bring in reforms to make a change in the party. The truth is that the people are frenzied over the military victories. It is this that has brought victory to the government and that is temporary.

Q: Has the UNP like most political losers come to the conclusion that the party losing another election is the greatest loss to the nation?

A: I don’t say so. The people have faced a war for 33 years. The country and the economy have suffered as a result. We all felt insecure. People  want an end to the war. People are now with the government because it is winning the war. I do not think the party is shattered. For example, the SLFP fell down to eight seats in 1977. In 1978, Sirimavo lost her civic rights. In 1979, Mahinda Rajapakse, Anura Bandaranaike and the deputy leader of the SLFP left and formed a separate party.

At the 1982 presidential election a faction within the SLFP brought Kobbekaduwa forward and as a result, he did not receive the support of the Bandaranaikes and other SLFP leaders. During the referendum, five MPs out of the eight SLFP MPs spoke on the UNP platform. Then during 1985 and 1986 Anura returned to the SLFP making Vijaya and Chandrika Kumaratunga and several other party seniors leave to form another party.

The SLFP even lost its party office and had to shift to a small office space in Borella. At the referendum, the SLFP vote base fell to 10-15% in some electorates. The UNP has not seen such a downfall. We still have 43 MPs and hold the opposition leadership, which the SLFP lost during its fall back. This is a temporary fall back. The UNP has not fallen completely. The country is now on a high due to the military victories.

Q: In this election the UNP tried every trick in the book. From family dynasties to touting support for the military effort. Why did it still fail?

A: As a party, the UNP was not in a position to carry out a massive campaign. We had financial constraints and our candidates faced the campaign with difficulty. The President, state machinery and state media together with the candidates carried out a strong campaign for the government. The military victories were used to the hilt, as all are keen to see an end to the war.

It is difficult to face staggered elections. Since the 1960s the Commonwealth and many international bodies agreed in principle that holding elections on a staggered basis was anti-democratic.

Q: Did it fail because the UNP fell for the old trick of believing in its own propaganda?

A: No. The party leaders know the campaign was done with great difficulty. We wanted to do a massive telephone campaign, but were unable to do it due to financial constraints.

Q: The UNP has been paying dearly for deviating from the pro-people politics of President Premadasa. Do you believe that the immediate task of the UNP is to rethink, revitalise and reorganise the party on the pro-people policies of President Premadasa?

A: We still have the pro-people policies, in some instances more than during President Premadasa’s time. He was in a way a dictator. Premadasa did well, but he did some wrongs. We have sometimes suffered because of certain decisions taken by him. The UNP still has pro-people policies and the fall back in the party is due to the military victories.

Also, people are a little hesitant to come forward due to the party’s defeat at several elections. But this trend will change and the government can be toppled at a general election or a presidential election. For that the present organisational structure has to be changed and awareness has to be created among party members, especially about the war and economy.

They have to be told that the economy fell during 1956, 1960, 1970 and 2001, but was uplifted by the UNP. While the credit of the war can be given to the President, it should be said that the UNP has not been a traitor to the country and that it was instrumental in creating the first step in the downfall of the LTTE by causing the eastern Tigers to break away from the Tigers in the north. Also, reforms have to be done in the party.

Q: Speaking of reforms, Wickremesinghe in March agreed to give powers vested with the party leader to the deputy leader and the political affairs committee in line with several proposals made by party members. This agreement has not been given effect. Why?

A: Yes, it has not been done as yet, but will be done soon.

Q: Do you say there needs to be a change in the party leadership?

A: I don’t say so. There needs to be an introduction of overall reforms to the party. That has to be done; otherwise, the party cannot win.


‘People will soon realise the truth’ 

By Nirmala Kannangara

An interview with UNP frontliner Ravi Karunanayake following the Western Provincial Council election. Excerpts:     

Q: Should UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe accept sole responsibility for this 17th defeat?

A: Victories and defeats must be accepted in the same spirit, as there’s a saying that successes have many fathers and failures are orphans. A leader has to accept defeat and victory alike, but in this instance I would say that all decision makers that have taken credit must also share the blame.   

Q: Can our national leaders learn from the bitter lessons of the past? Take the case of Wickremesinghe...

A: What lessons? After rebuilding a collapsed economy from December 2001 to April 2004 still we were sent packing by the Executive.

Q: Has the UNP like most political losers come to the conclusion that the party losing another election is the greatest loss to the nation?

A: When the economy is in the doldrums the country is heavily indebted and the people become poorer with the galloping cost of living. However when the global prices are lessening still our prices do not come down instead they keep rising all the time to cover up the bribery, corruption and mismanagement of the government.

There is neither media freedom nor law and order in the country. The Rajapakse administration has failed to have a cordial relationship with friendly countries; instead it is deteriorating. But the government has renewed relationships with the countries that the world is moving away from.  At the end of the day it is a loss to the nation. In this backdrop it is very clear as to which direction the country is heading towards.

Q: One common thread that ran through the election results is that the people of the south do not trust Wickremesinghe to be the guardian of their national interests. In the next six years will the UNP try to convince the people that it is pro-people?

A: When the time comes the people will realise on whom the real interest lies on. 

Q: In this election the UNP tried every trick in the book. From family dynasties to touting support for the military effort. Why did it still fail?

A: It takes a longer duration for the people to realise what the truth is and usually forgets it very easily but sadly misrepresentation and lies do spread like wildfire and takes time to be erased. This is the mentality of our people.  

Q: Did it fail because the UNP fell for the old trick of believing in its own propaganda?

A: Absolutely not.

Q: The UNP has been paying dearly for deviating from the pro-people politics of President Premadasa. Do you believe that the immediate task of the UNP is to rethink, revitalise and reorganise the party on the pro-people policies of President Premadasa?

A: No. The UNP never changed or deviated from being a people based, development oriented party. The party always believed in giving a better quality of life. It was our leaders starting from D.S. Senanayake who initiated power generation rural development after 1948.

Dudley Senanayake worked towards agricultural development from 1965-1970.

Then J.R. Jayewardene strengthened the economy and initiated the free trade zones, self-employment, Mahapola, Mahaweli, labour rights and the eight main cereals concept from 1977 to 1988

During President R. Premadasa’s tenure he built houses for the homeless and initiated the Janasaviya from 1989-1993.

President D.B. Wijetunge from 1993-1994 worked towards economic revival and reinstituted democracy in the country.

UNP is a party of collective responsibility with a team spirit. This approach was changed during the period you were trying to compare with. Lalith and Gamini were sacked from the party. The cut off point was brought down to 5% from 12.5 % by a one-man show by trying to inculcate a ‘have’s versus have-not’ battle to which the UNP had to pay the price dearly later on. Also the state media was used to substitute real development and to target individuals and not the system.

Then came the Chandrika administration followed by the present regime where they too used the executive presidency to stymie the opposition from being given any publicity and also for character assassination of political opponents.


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