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Interviews

 

‘UNP has the best team for the job’


Sujeewa Senasinghe

UNP Kaduwela Electorate Organiser, Attorney-at-Law Sujeewa Senasinghe says that the internal party issues have not had any impact on the UNP’s election campaign for the Western Provincial Council and expresses confidence about victory at the polls.  Senasinghe spoke to The Sunday Leader hours after having survived a shooting at his Kaduwela office. Excerpts: 

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Q: Has the recent turmoil in the UNP affected your campaign for the forthcoming Western Provincial Council (WPC) elections?

A: Not at all. When you are in the opposition you have these problems. These are regular occurrences in a party in the opposition. Even for the President it is not easy, but since he has the executive powers he can survive. Even in my electorate there are similar problems. In politics, these are day-to-day things and it does not affect me at all.

Q: Many party seniors and members have been spending more time on addressing internal party issues. Has it impacted adversely on the UNP’s election campaign?

A: No. I don’t think so. The UNP’s election campaign is not based on the UNP headquarters itself. We have very talented individuals who are contesting the forthcoming elections. The whole team is very versatile and talented and they have their own trends. As a result, the campaign is not affected at all. We are strong individually and the UNP’s image as a party and its principles give a morale boost for the party’s election campaign.

Q: What is the UNP’s current stance on the ethnic conflict? Has it also been included in the party’s campaign for the WPC polls?

A: We have always spoken of devolution of power. We have spoken of the open economy, the privatisation of loss making state entities and the provincial council system. With regard to the provincial council system, Mahinda Rajapakse who sat on the tarred road in front of the Bo tree with Mrs. Bandaranaike, is now asking to give more powers to the provincial councils. How can this be?

When you are in opposition you vehemently object to some issue and all of a sudden it becomes the solution when in government. It is a solution given by the UNP. The party has always said there has to be a sort of practical devolution of power. It does not matter what the word is. Mahinda Rajapakse insists on the word ‘unitary,’ but he is now talking of police powers and land powers.

We also believe in the word ‘unitary,’ but he goes out to the country and says the UNP is trying to divide the country. It is how they manipulate with a little bit of racial remarks and try to make it more attractive. What we say is, not to hoodwink the people anymore and tell them what they are getting. You need devolution of power and that is the only way.

Q: The military offensive in the north and its success has increased the government’s popularity among the people and has also become the winning ingredient for the ruling party at elections. How does the UNP plan to address this situation?

A: It’s dwindling down now. The government on February 4 announced that the war was over. With the war over people will realise that the common enemy is no longer Pirapaharan, but poverty. People will then gradually realise that the war is over and wonder where they would go from there.

Then it would only be a matter of time before they realise the corruption and the ruination of the economy that has taken place behind the cover of the war. The government is now asking for Rs. 3 billion to bridge the budget deficit and not for any development. The IMF has named Sri Lanka as one among the 22 countries with the worst economies in the world. Sri Lankans don’t realise the situation, they see the situation in places like Somalia on TV, but don’t see that the situation in Sri Lanka is similar.

Q: The Western Province, considered as the country’s economic hub has been favourable for the UNP at elections in the past. Do you think the party could secure it at the forthcoming WPC elections?

A: Innovative, talented people must run the provincial council because you have to form regulations and find solutions to poverty. The Western Province is in the wet zone and most of the lands are suitable for agriculture. There are also industries.

However, the provincial council has not taken any of these areas seriously. We need to have proposals and receive funding from donor agencies. People have realised now that the provincial councils have not done anything and are a white elephant. Nothing has been done even for tourism. But the councils can be very productive if you rule it properly. The way it is going now is a clear indication of it being a white elephant with an inefficient administration starting with the chief minister.

Q: Why would you say the people in the province should cast their votes for the UNP as opposed to the government that has carried out a successful military campaign in the north?

A: There is no military campaign in the Western Province. If there’s a military campaign in the Western Province, then we would have a problem convincing people. But there is no parallel or equation to say that a military campaign would help run the WPC in a productive manner and to make it the economic hub.

45% of the country’s economy is in the Western Province. People will also realise about the councilors. I have entered politics because I have done well academically and have performed well in my legal profession as well. Our motive is not to make money. We have a brilliant team from the UNP and regardless of who becomes the minister; we can do well in health, education, agriculture, cooperatives and all other important areas. Although we are not being given the full powers in the 13th Amendment, we will make our own regulations and function.

Q: The war has nevertheless played a decisive role in the successive provincial council elections held since last year. It was so even at the recently concluded North Western and Central Provincial Council elections. Has the war not had an impact on the voters psychologically?

A: The war has definitely had a psychological impact on the people, but not as much as it was earlier. According to the government, the war was finished on February 4. But the war is not over and the government celebrated it prematurely to win the provincial council elections at that time.

People are now wondering. It is almost April, they showed Pirapaharan’s house and footage of many places and items captured, but the war is not over. It is all hype. For the people, they wonder what comes next after the war is over. When the UNP removed barricades and tourists started to come in, it was very attractive and people were very supportive. After a while, it was forgotten. The same will happen. In fact it is happening even as we speak.


Udaya Gammanpila

“I will practice
what I preach”

Former Chairman, Central Environment Authority (CEA), Legal Advisor and Western Provincial Council candidate of the JHU, Udaya Gammanpila has said he will abstain from using posters, polythene and crackers in his election campaign as he believes in practicing what he preaches.

In an interview with The Sunday Leader Gammanpila said a lot of people warned him that he was taking a huge risk since this was his first election.

“But I thought it is worth taking this risk. Enough is enough. Politicians should not fool the voters anymore. In turn voters should make their decisions not by considering promises given during election campaigns, but by considering things said and done by politicians before the election,” he  said. Excerpts: 

By Risidra Mendis 

Q: Why do you think the public should vote for you?

A: A lot of candidates seeking a mandate to do something give a lot of promises. In my campaign I’m not giving a single promise to the people. My request to the people is to review what we have done and analyse who I am and decide if I’m good enough for a vote. 

So let me explain my contribution to the nation. By 2000 I was a successful company director in a group of companies. Then the Sihala Urumaya which is a nationalist party was formed. They sought a mandate to defeat the LTTE by military means.

They said the LTTE could be defeated and should be defeated. I strongly believed in that course. So I joined the party at the launching ceremony and was actively involved with the party. Unfortunately only 1% of the voters believed that the LTTE can be defeated.

Thereafter I gave up my business and profession and was full time committed to that course and because of our hard work we were able to receive a mandate for a unitary Sri Lanka at the last presidential election. That was the turning point of recent history.

Although I have lost everything that I had earned, we have regained our beloved motherland. Traditionally professionals used to take up to politics. Unfortunately that professional touch cannot be seen in the present political arena. I’m a lawyer, a software engineer and an economist.

Further I was able to become the island’s best in the 1988 A/L examination and received a scholarship to study computer science at the Monash University in Australia. I was appointed as an assistant lecturer of the university while I was a student in the fourth year.

I have announced that my campaign will be free of posters, polythene and crackers. Moreover I have made a pledge at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy known as the Ten Fold Dalada Pledge, in which I promised to declare my assets to the people through the mass media, before assumption of office and annually thereafter. Further I pledged to abstain from resorting to violence, and levelling unfounded allegations against rival candidates etc.

Q: What are the new policies you will be putting forward for this election?

A: I don’t intend to give a single promise because I want to end the era of false promises. Our politicians have misruled the country. People got fooled by haal seru dekak in 1965, rice from the moon in 1970, eight varieties of grains in 1977 and eradication of poverty in two years in 1988 by the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa and the promise by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga to bring back peace in five years.

Enough is enough. Politicians should not fool the voters anymore. In turn voters should make their decisions not by considering promises given during election campaigns, but by considering things said and done by politicians before the election. My aim is to implement the Mahinda Chinthanaya in the Western Province as well. I was a member of the Mahinda Chinthanaya team and I have handwritten a part of it. Moreover it has been endorsed by the people.   

Q: In a culture where there is no accountability among politicians how do you hope to make a difference?

A: I believe in ‘preach what you practice and practice what you preach,’ as advised by the Gauthama Buddha. So I used to make a lot of speeches on the conservation of the environment during election time. To practice what I preach I decided to abstain from using posters, polythene and crackers in my election campaign.

A lot of people warned me that I was taking a huge risk since this was my first election. But I thought it was worth taking this risk. I resigned from my powerful post of Chairman, Central Environment Authority (CEA) before handing over nominations, because I thought that if I campaign at the election while holding that post it would be unfair by the other candidates.

Q: The public perception is that the whole provincial council system has failed. How can you make it work?

A: I don’t belong to the lobby who want to strengthen the provincial council system and believe in the usefulness of the system. For me it is a white elephant. But we must utilise the existing resources for the benefit of the people without demanding for more powers to the provincial councils.

Q: Are you going to fashion your political campaign based on the government’s military victories?

A: I have the right to do that. I have personally contributed towards the government’s military victory. To my knowledge, there are few candidates who can make this claim.

But I do not solely rely on the government’s military victories. While claiming my due share, I want to present myself as an educated, environment friendly, ethical politician who has shown his administrative skills.

I canvassed for a military solution for the LTTE problem since 2000, when few people believed in it. Moreover I was personally involved in launching military operations to liberate the Mavil Aru anicut. That was the start of the war against the LTTE. With this background I have every right to rely on the President and the heroic soldiers in my campaign. But I would not do only that. I will also rely on my personal achievements and my character.


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