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17th July, 2005  Volume 12, Issue 1

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Interview

"Trust 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 relinquish office. 

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 excerpts:

Lakshman Seneviratne

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 stable government. 

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 opposition.

Q:  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 history now.

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 identified priorities?

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 opposition?

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 constituent partners.

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 opposition?

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 petty politicians.

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 with reality?

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 parliament.

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 views?

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.

 The 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 broke.

And the UNP has a clean leader who has never lied to this country, which is our biggest strength.


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