the UNP, we will deliver"
Senior UNP Parliamentarian,
Working Committee Member and Political Affairs Committee
Member, Lakshman Seneviratne says if the government does not
facilitate the immediate holding of a presidential election,
the UNP would force President Chandrika Kumaratunga to
In an interview with The Sunday
Leader, Seneviratne said that through a series of mass
agitations, Kumaratunga would be unceremoniously sent home
like all the other political despots who overstayed their
welcome infringing the people's sovereignty. Following are
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Q: Why is the UNP demanding a
presidential poll when there are more pressing needs in the country?
A: I think what is most
important today is to uphold the rights of the citizens. The cost of
living is unbearable. All sectors have crashed. This government has
miserably failed and it must go. In fact, it is the right time for
the President to go. Her government lacks a working majority in
parliament and the country is in chaos.
The UPFA administration survives today
because we have not pulled the rug under its feet. A presidential
poll is certainly due. Kumaratunga dissolved parliament when we had
a working majority, exercising her executive powers in an arbitrary
manner. Yet, she cannot go beyond 2005.
The UNP's position is that she has
exhausted her second term. Now, people should be allowed to decide.
It is this right that should be protected. Therefore, demanding a
presidential poll is a pressing need in defence of their right to
elect a president of their choosing.
Also, a presidential election at this
point would change many things. This political indecision would then
disappear. It will create a market friendly, peace-oriented and
Q: Speaking of breaking governments,
the UNP is also guilty of breaking the PA administration through
paving the way for a series of government crossovers?
A: In a democratic set up, these
things are bound to happen. People break alliances and form new
alliances. That cannot be compared with the willful dissolution of a
government with a majority for political opportunism.
When we formed the government, the PA
had lost its majority. But we had a thriving majority when
Kumaratunga used her executive powers to dissolve the house. Even
though she sent us to the opposition benches, we command 146
members. With four more, there will be a two-thirds majority for the
Nevertheless, the governments of today are not stable. It
stems from a constitutional malady which provides no working
majority to any government. Perhaps the need is for electoral
reforms and not polls of any kind?
A: It is the PA and the UPFA
that gave pledges of overhauling constitutions and introducing
electoral reforms. Half way through, they forget priorities and
concentrate on power perpetuation alone. As you know, we did make
some changes to the constitution with the 17th Amendment.
She only thought of her political
future and concentrated on ways to further her stay. She gave a
series of pledges. In 1994, she pledged to abolish the executive
presidency and the JVP candidate withdrew on her word. She is a
leader who cannot be trusted. The country is now in serious disarray
due to her imprudence. Instead of trying to stay on, she must
quickly bow out.
All I ask is, what is Kumaratunga's
scorecard after 12 years in office? Show a single achievement, a
project completed? In her own words, the 1,000 tank project was a
farce which led to rehabilitation of 365 anicuts and no more.
Q: What moral right has the UNP to
criticise President Kumaratunga for her alleged reluctance to hold a
presidential poll, when the UNP also at one time held a dubious
referendum to extend the life of parliament by six years?
A: One may criticise, but the
fact remains that President Jayewardene went before the people and
sought a mandate. It may have been a political mistake but it is
The Bandaranaike legacy differs. In
1975, Sirimavo Bandaranaike extended the life of parliament from
five to seven years using her two third majority in the House. Today
her daughter has no majority but still wants to stay on.
President Jayewardene accepted that
sovereignty lay with the people and sought a mandate. He went before
the people while enjoying a five sixths majority and an extension of
the parliamentary term could have been easily achieved.
Q: While demanding a presidential
poll, why does the UNP extend conditional support to a government
lacking a working majority in parliament?
A: We do so to prevent political
instability. A presidential poll is due and the government should
hold one to end the instability created. We warn them not to treat
the conditional support extended as a weakness.
Q: To the UNP, what are the urgent
A: Peace and political
stability. The rest will follow. We have to do some confidence
building and show the world there is light at the end of the tunnel.
We will create a climate that is conducive for investment,
encourages industry and entrepreneurship and gives hope to the
youth. It is time we stopped postponing answers.
Q: If that is so, do you accept that
signing the P-TOMS was the correct decision despite raging
A: It is so, but the P-TOMS is a
flawed document which ignores the interests of all other
communities. As the President, she should take bold decisions. They
may not even be popular decisions but leaders must initially decide.
President Jayewardene signed a peace
accord with India to save this country and Ranil Wickremesinghe
signed a ceasefire agreement to pave the way for a negotiated
political settlement. But now Kumaratunga wants to pass the buck.
Bringing the P-TOMS to parliament after
signing was a cosmetic exercise to keep her belligerent constituent
allies together. She lacked a consultation process with her own
Q: As a very vocal UNP member, you
have often criticised your own rank and file for the fall of the UNP
administration. Have things changed now that you are in the
A: We all learn from our
mistakes. There is a lot of party restructuring taking place. When
in government, we fail to nurture the political organisation. When
in opposition, that is all you do. We have formed party branches,
appointed organisers and campaigns have begun at grassroot level.
If a presidential poll is not announced
by the end of August, we will hold massive demonstrations and force
Kumaratunga to go home. She can do so now decently, or we will force
her out of office.
Q: What are the protest campaigns
the UNP has planned?
A: Last week's Jana Bala
Meheyuma was only the tip of the iceberg, the beginning. It was also
the beginning of the end for President Kumaratunga's tenure.
Her second term commenced on December
22,1999 and it ends this year. She must respect the sovereignty of
the people. Others exercise the executive, legislative and judicial
powers of the people. But it is theirs. She must bow to their will.
Or else we shall force her. As it happened in the Philippines,
Bangladesh, Indonesia and elsewhere, she will be forced to go. And
don't forget, you may survive for a while, but not forever. The
power of the people has always prevailed over the dictatorships of
Q: In hindsight, will you accept
that what really caused the downfall of the UNP was its inability to
cater to the common man's needs? In short, due to being out of touch
A: It is the UNP that really
understands the pulse of the people. Just look back. Since gaining
independence, the UNP has performed brilliantly. Of course there
were setbacks and problems.
When we assumed office in 2001, there
were no reserves. We had to first find the funds.
That required a rigorous process of economic reform. We were
well on our way to delivering the fruits of our labour when
President Kumaratunga used her executive powers to dissolve
Her timing of course was correct. She
knew there would be no future for her party if we continued with the
economic reforms. So she got the JVP on board, but what has happened
14 months later? Also, don't forget the UPFA only received 46% of
the total vote. What has she done with the new mandate? She has only
managed to drive this country to the brink of despair.
Q: Though you sound very convincing
about your party's strength and its ability to win, there is much
criticism about the UNP's lack of internal democracy. What are your
A: If the structure was
unacceptable, following the defeat, things have truly changed. There
is a political affairs committee now following a request for power
sharing within. Today, a team decides on the party's political
activities. That was a significant step towards internal democracy.
When I entered parliament in 1985 as a
youth, President Jayewardene certainly did not assign huge tasks to
us. Things are different today. Today, young parliamentarians head
many committees. They are decision makers for the entire party and
the scope of their activities has certainly expanded.
other side of the coin is that while internal democracy is a must, a
leader's hands should not be tied. He is there to decide, and they
may not be popular decisions - some taken by Ranil Wickremesinghe.
In hindsight, we believe he had the foresight.
All I can say is, trust the UNP, we
will deliver. We may have flaws, but we are workers and good
managers of the economy. Also, take the UNP's track record. Since
the time of D. S. Senanayake, the UNP has worked hard to develop
this country. UNP leaders have done much and have left an indelible
mark in the country's history.
Of course there is more to be done.
Only we can do it. The reason is that whenever SLFP or SLFP- led
coalitions come into power, there has been a severe decline in all
sectors. It is almost like a curse. They always make the country go
And the UNP has a clean leader who has
never lied to this country, which is our biggest strength.