“Sajith Definitely Will Be Leader One Day” — Malik
- ‘Ranil’s experience in politics invaluable to the party’
In a candid interview with The Sunday Leader, former Chairman of the United Nation Party, Malik Samarawickrema spoke positively about the future of the party under a new and more democratic constitution. He added that he is positive Sajith Premadasa will one day be leader of the UNP but even then the party needs to be united.
Q: The proposed changes to the UNP have been passed. How do you view this development?
A: The constitution was ratified at the recent convention after it was unanimously approved by the working committee. It makes the party more democratic.
Q: Given your experience in the party including holding the post of chairman, do you believe these reforms are a step in the right direction?
A: Certainly yes. Everyone in the party is in favour of the amendments.
Q: What, in your view has been the reason for the dismal performance of the UNP since 2004?
A: Frankly, Prabhakaran and the LTTE have been responsible for our defeats. In 1999, a bomb blast by the LTTE, a few days before the election seriously injured President Kumaratunga. At that time our candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe seemed to be in front and leading in the opinion polls. However, mainly due to sympathy there was a last minute swing and President Kumaratunga won that election. We won the General Election in 2001 but lost again in 2004. One of the main reasons for our defeat was the failure on the part of LTTE to abide by the Ceasefire Agreement, thereby allowing the Sinhala hardliners to capitalise on it.
Then again in the Presidential Election of 2005, Prabhakaran forcibly prevented those in the North and East from voting, thereby preventing Mr. Wickremesinghe from being elected. Once you lose a Presidential Election it is almost impossible to win a General or a Local Government Election held immediately thereafter. The LTTE has been wiped out but to win the future elections we need to re-organise the party from the grass-roots.
Q: You are widely known to be the closest ally and confidant of Ranil Wickremesinghe. Do you think, whether he is at this time, the right person to lead the UNP or the right person to turn the fortunes around for the party?
A: I am only one of his friends and I am sure he has many. Ranil Wickremesinghe still has a lot to offer, as acknowledged even by Mr. Sajith Premadasa. His experience in politics is invaluable. It is more important for the party to be united in the true sense of the word and work together instead of quarrelling with each other in public.
Q: It has been reported that President Mahinda Rajapaksa does use you as a channel to get through to Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP?
A: This is totally incorrect. President Rajapaksa does not need me and he can always contact Mr. Wickremesinghe directly, if he needs to.
Q: It is a well known fact that the UNP is strapped for finances. How does a party find adequate funding to face elections when it has languished in the opposition for so long?
A: It is indeed a difficult task. Thank God, there are at least still a few who value Good Governance, Human Rights, Law and Order and who are against corruption. These people, I am sure, will continue to provide funds to face the elections. In addition, we need to mobilise the masses and even a token contribution from them will help.
Q: Sajith Premadasa is currently undisputedly the heir apparent in the UNP. What are your views?
A: It is very clear that Sajith is popular with the people and I am certain that he will be the leader of our party in time to come. But even for him to be successful, the party must be united.
Q: There was a suggestion that Ranil Wickremesinghe be made Senior Leader and to give way to younger leadership. How do you view this suggestion?
A: Even under the amended constitution there is no provision for a Senior Leader. However, it is imperative that the younger leadership be brought in and they should be given responsible positions in the party.
Q: Others yet feel that Ranil Wickremesinghe should be the leader for another two years. Does this reflect majority thinking of party supporters?
A: The leader will be decided by the Working Committee as per the amended constitution. I sincerely hope there will not be a contest as the last thing the party needs is another split. We are still suffering from the break-away in 1991-92.
Q: How does the UNP keep their elected representatives within their fold instead of defecting?
A: This is a difficult task as most of the present-day politicians have very little or no principles and they are primarily interested in themselves. Unfortunately, the recent court rulings have prevented us from even expelling them from the party. This is a problem faced by all parties in the opposition, not only the UNP.
Q: Does this not reflect a feeling of hopelessness hence the defections?
A: Of course, there are many excuses given at the time they cross over but the truth is that most of those who have defected have done so for their personal benefit.
Q: Do you think the UNP has abdicated its duty as an effective opposition? Do you agree that the government has a free run and can act dictatorially due to the ineffective opposition led by the UNP?
A: Certainly not. The recent euphoria resulting from the ending of the near 30-year conflict has given the present government a free run upto now. The situation will change soon as the high cost of living, lack of job opportunities, corruption, abuse of human rights, the lack of freedom of expression, etc, will help the party to mobilise the masses in the near future. The entire opposition must join hands to fight these issues.
Q: Where do you see the UNP in another five years?
A: If we can resolve our internal issues once and for all and can be truly united and re-organise ourselves to reach the grass-roots we will be a force to reckon with and the UNP has a good opportunity of winning the next Provincial, General and Presidential Elections.