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'UNP is ready to take up any challenge'


Ravi Karunanayake

UNP MP and Colombo District Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake in an interview with The Sunday Leader  said the party has been constantly revamping its machinery and that sometimes people tend to disbelieve them when they say that significant happenings are taking place.

"I am looking at it from a party point of view as well as  from a people's point of view and I think it is the common intention that we have to get a 'winning' team going. "We will protect the image that we are competent, capable, as well as lead the country to a better tomorrow. I am sure these qualities are within us. We just have to get that winning formula," Karunanayake said.

He added that the party had the ability and the capability but not the power. "These people have the power and everything but they do not  have the ability. So that is  why we want to project the image that the UNP is a party of talented people that needs to be put into a winning formula. The candidates would be people that voters can vote for without any sense of shame. I am astonished that our rival parties are putting forward people involved in illicit brewing, people involved in narcotics, people who have been involved in child molesting, people who have been involved in robberies and other nefarious activities as candidates. We can fool some people all the time, all the people some time but never all the people all the time," Karunanayake said. Excerpts. 

By Risidra Mendis 

Q : The UNP was confident of winning the Central Provincial Council elections. What do you think went wrong?

A: We are a political party and in any election we are looking at winning.  We had a very charismatic chief ministerial prospect, S. B. Dissanayake and with that we went forward.  Our intentions have always been pure. But I think there was voter-apathy as well. Remember from January 2008 elections were coming one after another. There were pradeshiya sabha elections, local council elections, Eastern elections, North Central and Sabaragamuwa, Central Province and Wayamba and they keep coming.  I must say the war euphoria has also set in and  with that we got another contributory factor to our defeat. 

Q: Do you think there were any specific reasons for the UNP to lose in these two provinces?

A: It was the voter apathy and also the fact that this was not a decisive election to change the government.  Then there is the  war euphoria that took place. If  you look at the economy I do not  think anybody will ever vote the government in because of the hardships. However, we must pay tribute to the armed forces but of course that is their job. Now that  the war is over it's time to rehabilitate the country.

Q: What kind of party revamping programme does the UNP now have?

A: Well the party has been constantly revamping its  machinery and sometimes people tend to disbelieve us when we say that something is going on. I am  looking at it from a party point of view as well as  from a people's point of view and I think the intention is that we  have to get a  team that is going to be winning and the fact that  we will protect the image that we are competent, capable, as well as able to lead the country to a better tomorrow.

I am sure those qualities are within us. We just have to get that winning formula. That is  what we have to do. Everybody ought to be brought together. The stress should be on unity, on bringing together rather than smashing  things up in two different quarters. So it is time to bring unity and a sense of purpose.

Q: The UNP is strong in the Western Province. What kind of candidates and what kind of election strategy is the party looking at?

A: The Western Province is an area that we have been strong. We also want to fortify this area and to ensure that our errors are rectified and we want to give a clean image to the party. We have the ability and the capability but do not have the power. These people have the power and everything but they do not  have the ability. So that is  why we want to project the image that the UNP is a party of talented people who needs to be put into a winning formula.

Well the candidates would be people that voters can vote for without any sense of shame. I am  astonished that our rivals are putting forward people involved in illicit brewing, people involved in narcotics, people who have been  involved in child molesting, people who have been involved in robberies and nefarious activities as candidates. I mean they are the ones who are  around and furthermore many of them are being hugged and carried around by the political hierarchy of the present government. We are completely different. It is the will of the people  that matters and I think the people have realised that enough is enough.                       

Q: In the event of a general election is the UNP ready?

A: We are ready, willing and able. If I may pose a question, for 15 years the government has been in power led by the SLFP, JVP and JHU except for a small break - what has been the tangible benefit to the country economically? Is our situation better than what it was yesterday.

 In 1994 the younger generation believed in the SLFP.  In 2000 they would have believed in the JVP.  In 2004 probably they believed in the JHU; what all of them realise today is that they have been duped and their hopes dashed and their aspirations spirited away. They know that the UNP is the party that got independence to this country and is the only party that would basically be able to resurrect, revive, revitalise, and help to bring this glorious nation back to the good old days.   

Q: The UNP party leadership is under pressure. In the event of a failure in the Western Province poll as well will the party look at a new leadership?

A: The party is very democratic and it certainly assesses and analyses and feels realistic in its thinking and its intention is to put a winning team at any given moment and that will be foremost. My feeling is that the Western Province will be keenly fought and that  we can move forward together with continuous soul-searching without upsetting the party.  

Q: With regard to the war, why has the UNP changed its stance?

A: We are a party that developed the army, developed the forces, created the STF and  modernised the three forces. We do not  fear to challenge and have  not been challenged by fear. We strongly believe that  credit should be given when it is deserved.

 But  now that the war is over the reality has set in and now we have to deal with post war happenings.

Q: Is the UNP following the government's strategy to win them more votes?

A: We are a political party, unfortunately we are not a hypocritical  party like this government that will sell any con that is available to come to power and stay there. People's confidence ought to be  maximised through confidence,  through credible and acceptable communicative methods, and that is what we are trying to do without unnecessarily creating mayhem or a fear psychosis like what the present government did in the '88 and '89 period.

Q: The government is riding a wave of popularity due to its pursuit of the war. What chance does the UNP have of winning a presidential or general election in the future?

A: I think the UNP has a very good chance simply because the critical issues have remained unchanged. Human misery  is increasing with the economic climate being very bad. The rectifying of the mistakes that we have made in the past will certainly put us into a winning streak. What we must remember is that we can fool some people all the time, all the people some time but never all the people all the time.   

Q: In the recently concluded election UNP national organiser S.B. Dissanayake emerged as the party's most popular candidate in the Central Province. Is there a likelihood that the clamour to elevate S.B. to a higher position in the party may resurface owing to his success?

A: Today we have a leader, a deputy leader and an assistant leader and a competent team. Success can never be trampled and pushed down like a cork that is being pressed in the water. The UNP sees talent and maximises and utilises it well. The party's best  team will be put forward. The people are looking forward to the UNP to put  things into stride and move forward to protect Mother Lanka. We call upon our people who are looking at us as their party and calling on others who never thought of us to help us to  lead this country to a better tomorrow.

Q: Given the current economic situation in the country what kind of a bailout package should be introduced to rejuvenate the Sri Lankan economy?

A: The first bailout package needed  is  a more  committed, a more full time, a more understandable team that doesn't fool the public to say that we are not in trouble. If we grapple with the situation and come up with an honest policy we can resurrect the economy which is in a crucial state.  When the world is saying that there is a financial melt down it is only a lunatic that would say that we are not affected.

That is why it is better to accept reality and take to reposition ourselves, utilising our strengths, opportunities and eradicating our weaknesses and threats and concentrate on  getting Sri Lanka into a strong economic position. This is where we are at our best. In 1948 D.S. Senanayake brought independence to this country. In 1956, we historically voted into nationalism.  The economy was taken back to ruin. We started borrowing internationally until 1965. Dudley Senanayake took over in 1965 and led it to recovery till 1970 when two measures of rice was promised from the moon and people fell for gimmicks.

In 1977 with the economy in peril and long queues, J. R. Jayewardene came and modernised and integrated Sri Lanka to the world and broke  political opportunism until 1994 when Chandrika Kumaratunga sold a 'peace package' and came in. In 2001 for the first time a negative growth was reflected. In 2001 when Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe got the mandate to run the country he integrated Sri Lanka with the world.

The people felt that there was a tomorrow to look forward to. But this was not properly marketed and  the six year mandate was reduced to two years and there was no time to distribute the dividends of our success.  The country gained but there was a general perception that the people did not  get the fruits of that gain.

So there was character assassination that we were callous. The business community took us for granted and did not  respond to the economic recovery by investing in the future. Now we have corrected that fault where in future the UNP government will ensure that the people of this country will be benefited first. People first and thereafter country, not vice versa. We are somewhat of a rescue service that does emergency economic recovery after the patient is usually put in intensive care. I think we are close to that again. We are ready, willing and able to provide leadership and eradicate ourselves from the dire straits we are in at present.

Q: The UNP has been campaigning for a negotiated political settlement to the ethnic conflict. Given the worsening humanitarian crisis in the north what has the UNP done to highlight the problems of an intensified war?

A: While drawing attention where necessary for democracy to prevail basic needs must  be provided. We cannot go beyond the boundaries of tolerable limits where the government would utilise this by saying we are trying to make undue political gain in talking negative and distorting the military successes.

But remember the UNP has at all times been there strong and accessible. When the innocent Tamils and the Muslims were taken out in the night, when the IDPs and the tsunami victims have been homeless or displaced from their official territory or when the minorities were subject to harassment, it is the UNP who stood tall, firm and aggressive to right the wrongs.

We have proven that we are a truly United National Party that has gone forward  to help Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and Malays live in harmony with the Sinhalese as one united family just like when D.S. Senanayake obtained independence for the country. We have been with the IDPs at all times in any part of the country. You could see that even at that time the UNP has been disciplined in its stance. It has never exploited opportunities like their opponents did when they were in the opposition.

Q: Do you think a concerned United Nations may impose sanctions on Sri Lanka in the present context?

A: I hope not. I pray and hope not, but the way the government is heading it may be a reality. It may quicken the pace and that is why  we have always been extending our fullest support to the government even though they disregard  us and callously reject it saying our support is not necessary. Diplomacy is not fighting the world, it is utilising their knowledge and their intelligence to the benefit of Sri Lanka.

Q: Your comments on the abolition of the Executive Presidency?

A: I am  a great believer that abolishing the Executive Presidency must take place unconditionally. We have seen too much power in the hands of one person and it has at times turned peaceful people into monsters with unbridled power vested in  them. It has distorted human decency and then democratic principles and pushed the constitution beyond practical implementation.

Therefore it has been the bane of our country and the powers vested in one person should be immediately changed to a parliamentary system which embraces pluralism and a sense of collective decision making rather than a 'winner takes it all' type of political culture.

The President has gone on record saying that he is a one term president. This is a time to rectify our crimes and ensure that the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and the media are made to work with compassion and human decency. This will also help to root out corruption and incompetence shielded behind executive powers and privileges and bring a sense of fresh air. It will also help to change the general Sri Lankan mentality that the world is inside Sri Lanka rather than Sri Lanka is inside the world. Together we are sure we can achieve that change for a better Sri Lanka.

Q: What kind of hope is there for the younger generation in the country?

A: The economic situation has put us into  a situation where the younger generation has no place or future. The brain drain taking place in the country and the senior citizens feeling they have lost all hope  are all situations that need to be corrected. Let us all shed our political differences and instead of targeting human beings lets target the problems in the country. Bring national policies in and integrate little Sri Lanka into the world and get trade to replace aid, ability to replace political patronage and human decency to take over inhuman actions and make Sri Lanka the home of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, and Malays. Let them live without any fear and feel that this is our country and not seek refuge anywhere else. This is possible. Whether the will is there is the question.  Together we can make that difference.


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