The Sunday Leader

Kiriella Speaks

By Raisa Wickrematunge

Lakshman Kiriella

UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella is the former Minister of Plantation Industries. He currently represents Mahanuwara, Kandy. A former student of Royal College, he has been an MP since 1989. Kiriella met with The Sunday Leader at the UNP Media Centre to chat about the issues of the day. Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Why do you think the UNP vote-bank has reduced so drastically of late?
Well, I think mainly the UNP has lost the confidence, and the vote, of the Sinhala Buddhists. In fact, after the 2005 Presidential and the 2004 Parliamentary election defeats we brought this to the notice of the party, saying something must be done to win confidence among the Sinhala Buddhists, but no steps were taken. There is a saying ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’ You can’t win only on the cost of living. There are other things like culture, history and nationalism which have to be catered to by the party.

Q: Do you think a change of leadership would improve the current situation?
Well the Working Committee met, presided by Ranil Wickremesinghe himself and the Working Committee accepted the elective principle. This was not a creation of the Reforms Committee.
In the UNP constitution there is no provision to elect a party leader. So since the Working Committee accepted the elective principle, it’s up to the people who vote at this election to decide on a proper course of action. If they feel Ranil Wickremesinghe is good enough, they can elect him. Or if they feel a new face is necessary that also could be achieved. After all, that is what democracy is all about.

Q: You are the only UNP Sinhala MP representing Kandy. What do you think brought about this situation?
The result in the Kandy District really proves my point. Seven Sinhalese were elected, and only one was elected from the UNP. So this proves my point that Sinhala Buddhists have moved away strongly from the UNP. Unless this is addressed immediately, the party won’t have a future. If you take a country like Malaysia, the Muslims are 51%, the Chinese are about 43% and other communities about 6-7%. They have accepted this Bhoomiputra policy where prominence is given to the majority community. But at the same time, other communities can live in peace. This has worked wonderfully within Malaysia. It is one of the strongest economies in the world.

Q: In that case, what steps have the party taken to win voters at the grass-roots level?
This is the problem that the party has, because however much this problem has been highlighted, the party continues to be Colombo-centric and urban dominated.
So far there is nothing — no proper plan to target people at the grass-roots. I hope at least after local government elections in January we would be able to have a good nucleus. There are a lot of young people who are very keen to contest the election. Applications are overflowing, mainly from people between the ages of 25 and 35. I feel after the government elections we would have a strong nucleus to build the party.

Q: But don’t you think that this nucleus should be built before the elections?
It’s not an easy task to attract voters now. Mahinda Rajapaksa will be there for the next six years. Only youth with long term political ambitions, will lead and work with the UNP. The vast majority of the youth want short term solutions. They will try to stick with the government as much as possible, thinking the promises they made during the elections will be fulfilled. A Minister in the Central Province has collected 125000 application forms from young people promising jobs. So they’re still living in hope. The UNP has nothing to offer at the moment.

Q: In the past, there was always a very strong second tier leadership. Would you say this is the situation now? If not, do you think this is a deliberate move?
Developing a second rung is very important. When J.R Jayewardene was president he had very good second-in commands like Gamini, Lalith and Premadasa. Premadasa appealed to the ordinary people, Lalith to the intelligentsia and Gamini to the Sinhala Buddhists. Unfortunately what happened was most of the second line UNPers left the party, not that they have not been developed. In 2007, 17 of them, who could have been the second level, left.

Q: Why do you think these people left?
They too were asking for party reforms at the time, which were delayed. Most of them had personal reasons too. I feel most of them used the delaying of the reforms as an excuse to fulfil their personal ambitions. I joined the party after parliament had been dissolved. I am the only cabinet minister who stayed with the UNP. All the cabinet ministers who crossed to the UNP in 2001 have crossed back to the government.
I still have faith that the UNP can unite the whole country. If properly handled, we can improve the economy and take the country forward.

Q: After the reforms have been put to the executive committee, how long will it be before they come into effect?
Our proposals are not final and conclusive. They are only a set of proposals. So they could be changed, by the Working Committee or the Executive Committee. It is only the Executive Committee that has the right to effect constitutional amendments. Our proposals could be changed if the Executive Committee so desires. Also in our report, we have said that the new office-bearers will take office within four months of the Executive Committee approving the amendments. So before the end of the year, the office-bearers have to take office.

Q: What information do you have on the talks between President Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe regarding the Presidency and the post of Executive Prime Minister?
I didn’t go for these talks. I have just a vague idea of it. At the moment it’s all up in the air.   However, the issue of giving the President unlimited terms to contest elections, appointing an Executive Prime Minister — no party ever discussed this at the election. Nor did a single party have all these things in their manifesto. Nor did the people want this. So it’s a bit surprising that the government is discussing topics which the people did not want in the first place. What people wanted was for constitutional amendments to solve the ethnic problem. Also the implementation of the rule of law under the 17th Amendment, which the government is intentionally violating, was expected. So it is a bit surprising that the government has offered to discuss these issues.

Q: Recently the UNP has held several protests about the budget proposed by the government. How effective do you think these protests are?
President Rajapaksa crushed the LTTE and asked for five years to improve the economy. So I think people believe in him and have given him the mandate to do so. I think people don’t expect him to bring down the cost of living and other issues immediately. The people will give him at least three years to stick to the promises he gave. In light of that situation, I don’t think these protests will have the effect we expect. It is the UNP cadres who will come for these protests, not the floating voters, because the floating voters are still observing the situation.

5 Comments for “Kiriella Speaks”

  1. UNP-man

    This type of people are even a shame for our Royal College.

    • Mustapha

      UNP-man, You mean for the Ranil, Malik group who is eating and destroying the UNP ? Kirialle is a gentleman and he says the truth in this interview.

  2. Wije silva

    What is for an Executive priminister. Ranil cannot win any form of election. Step down. like Premada some one should start the campaign now. Dont wait til MR makes mistakes.

  3. N.C.Wijeratne

    No point changing the pillow when you have a headache-Find a cure for the headache-
    S.W.R.D.Bandaranyaka initiated the era of the common man-He had hardly anything in him that represented the interests of the common man-
    What happened to the Leftist movements and their leaders? They have all become a part of the so-called bourgoues or some case now the elite-
    Dudley Senanayaka went round the entire country with a camera round his neck-trying to portray the interests of the paddy cultivators-a very important part of our heritage-Once the elections results were announced Dudley almost put a rope round his neck!
    And now some people think the voters have shifted their interests towards Politicians like Weerawansa-Stupid even to think of-Our Voters are much more intelligent-Even after so much humiliation UNP came back and ruled for 17 years-Some major milestones were achieved.It culminated with Premadasas death-Premadasa not only worked-but got those around to work-
    Now we have a mediocre set of Politicians sswaying from left to right-no fixed policies-nothing that has put the country in some order. There is disorder-chaos-utter disregard for improvement of quallity of life of our people.
    The UNP and its leadership is more often in and out of the Presidents office-
    HE loves to call them and have a chat-when it most warrants specially when some of his allies are trying to rock the boat.
    Oh, Come UNP-and all others who want to show the way to go-Get your act together-Make some changes in the areas that are neccessary-Dont trust people of the calibre of SB-they will take the power and walk out for a Vehicle-or House in Colombo.
    Change what is neccessary.Spend more time with the people.

  4. One of the best politicians to come up in Sri Lanka, He was corrupt to his nose and today is considered a multi millionaire – this is Luxman Kiriella. Some say from the Pallakele cricket stadium alone he scored a neat $US2 million of extortion money

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