Taking on the mantle of UNP General Secretary, after Tissa Attanayake; Kabir Hashim spoke to the Dailymirro of the crowds gathering around Maithripala Sirisena, the bond issue and discussions between the UNP and other parties, the Minister of Highways and Investment Promotion is to contest the general election from the Mawanella Electorate in the Kegalle District.
QWhat are the UNP’s slogans for the general election?
We are developing our own campaign slogans. If you ask me at a personal level, it’s about protecting what we fought for and also delivering on people’s expectations. That’s basically what we need to do.
I mean there was a systemic change in the country, not just an ordinary change; people voted for total change in the system and we started-off with policy changes, constitutional changes and value changes, which is very key to this country.
But at the same time, there are people’s smaller expectations, which we need to address. We have tried to balance both but being a minority government it has been tough, but we think we have done a fairly good job. The 100-day programme has delivered at least part of the expectations of the ordinary people.
QWhen you speak of the 100-day programme, do you think the public is satisfied with the outcome of it? Not everything that was promised were fulfilled, like the passing of several Bills?
If you ask the public there would be a mixed reaction. But if you ask the majority, we believe, we have had some feedback that the majority are happy with 100-day programme.
It might have had its limitations, but its limitations are because it is 100 days and it is a minority government. But what we have been able to achieve and give the people in 100 days is something people are grateful for and that is why we think the UNP can win. We can feel it in the people and it’s because we worked hard towards pushing the 100-day programme.
"He spoke with a lot of anger. In Sinhala he spoke with “Vairaya”. There was nothing that was positive in his speech. It was all anger, envy and enmity. That itself shows what would happen if people of that nature come back into power. "
QDo you think the UNP discredited itself? For example the bond issue...
I think what has happened is that the Opposition has tried to make a mountain out of a molehill and tried to use it as a mudslinging campaign.
If there had been any error on our part in the bond issue, then there is a normal legal process that can take place in the country, unlike previously the government has allowed media freedom and allowed independence of the judiciary and the police force.
All these opportunities are there to take a course action. It is more open for this process to make the right judgment for the people.
I do agree that there is a lot of mudslinging and that people can get the wrong impression, but this is dirty politics which has been in this country for a long time.
"If there had been any error on our part in the bond issue, then there is a normal legal process that can take place in the country"
QAs the current General Secretary of the UNP, what is your opinion on your predessor Tissa Attanayake? Do you think he could contest under the UNP and would be accepted into the party?
I don’t make the decision whether he could contest on not. The party has a process.
But personally, I have worked with him, and when you work with someone for a long time you have some kind of a bond or a relationship and I feel bad for him, because it was the wrong decision at the wrong time.
But the party adopts a very strict discipline. If I did something similar, I too would have to face the same consequences. You break the party code and the party trust.
The process is very rigid. If he wants to come back, he would have to come back through the normal re-applying process.
QWhat do you think of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s speech at Medamulana recently?
Couldn’t have been worse.
"The President is in a precarious position. On the one hand, the SLFPers think he had betrayed them and so do the UNPers."
QWhat do you mean by ‘couldn’t have been worse’?
He spoke with a lot of anger. In Sinhala he spoke with “Vairaya”. There was nothing that was positive in his speech. It was all anger, envy and enmity. That itself shows what would happen if people of that nature come back into power.
I mean you saw the people around him, people who were attending the gathering. In the past these people were selected or chosen who had all the privileges. He was not very clear either when he said he would come forward, and if so, what his position would be.
QWhat do you think of Mahinda Rajapaksa being given nominations from the UPFA?
This is a scenario of desperate people taking desperate measures. We can see how desperate the UPFA is. Anyone who had been the President has never come back for such a post. It’s systematically, ethically and morally wrong. It’s like a Judge who has retired from the Supreme Court and making a comeback to the District Court or to the High Courts.
When you are President, there is a certain status and immunity that you are granted, you just don’t come back. This shows that he is desperate for power. It also shows the desperation of the party’s hierarchy for power. It shows that they don’t have sufficient faith in the party nor any other individual.
QDo you see this as a challenge?
He has always organized forces that are against the UNP. This doesn’t change anything for us. We have prepared to face the worst. So it basically doesn’t change anything. As far as we are concerned, it will not change the expected outcome.
QDo you think there are a lot of people gathering around the former President? Does the UNP see this as a challenge?
No, it is not at all a challenge for us. We think it is a joke for everyone to think it is a challenge. We see a fleet of buses that brought in people was paid by some sources, being carted into different parts of the country for different functions in temples and all over the place to shout the same slogans.
It’s hilarious actually.
QWhen the UNP was in power in 2004; it did not identify the pulse of the people, and that is why it couldn’t continue to be in power. Do you think that could happen again now?
I think in 2004, it was not that we didn’t feel the pulse of the people, we felt so by doing some right things and made some right moves. Sometimes we had to do things that were right do not mean that we could win. That is the reason I said the UNP does the difficult and ethical thing.
We made certain decisions at that time as a party; a policy decision to move the country out of the war, and it was the time the army’s feeling became low after a decade of intense battle, we had lost our army camps up to Elephant Pass. So we needed to make a lot of hard decisions.
I think, looking at it right now, we learnt a few lessons that whilst you are doing other things you have to play politics. We are very much in the game and we are sensing what the people are thinking, and we are working to hundred percent with the people’s moods.
QWhat about the UNP holding talks with Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka to contest the elections together?
Well yes, Field Marshall Sarath Foneska is being in touch and we have been discussing with other parties as well.
Some wants to contest under the Elephant symbol and some others wish to contest separately and join us after the elections.
QDuring the Presidential polls, the UNP came into power with the support of Maithripala Sirisena. Now it has to contest alone as a party. Do you think you can make some headway without Maithripala Sirisena in your camp?
I guess that is our estimate, this is not just fantasizing; in our estimate was that the bulk of the votes which polled in for Maithripala Sirisena was from the UNP. There was a small margin from other parties. We believe that the UNP voter base has expanded since then.
We also know that some of the parties that were part of the alliance want to work with us, so we have that voter base too. We think, by standing alone, no other party can outnumber our votes, and therefore, we are hopeful of getting the highest number of seats in Parliament.
QSome of the UNPers feel that Maithripala Sirisena betrayed them. Can I get a comment on this?
The President is in a precarious position. On the one hand, the SLFPers think he had betrayed them and so do the UNPers. I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes right now, even though he is the President.
I think the President is fairly committed and keep to his word but has also to balance several people at the same time. I believe he would not betray the trust that the country has given him, that is the key.
UNP is a part of that. So we believe that when he honours the trust the voters had shown him, he has to protect the UNP as well. We believe that he won’t betray his voters and the UNP.
QWhat are the other parties the UNP has invited to contest with them? The JHU, the SLMC?
Actually, it has been a mutual process. We have been discussing with many parties at the moment on various issues, not only about joining, but also about political strategy; smaller parties, the minority parties, the JVP, individual people, and we have even spoken with the SLFP on some issues and we are keeping our minds open.
QAs the Minister of Highways, what prompted you to appoint a committee to probe corruption in your ministry?
One of the problems that my ministry had was always termed to be one of the most corrupt ministries. There was a perception that there were massive deals that had occurred in the ministry. We needed to clear that. For me to continue, I need to brand or change my image.
And we found some serious discrepancies where the financial regulations had been flouted. Therefore, we lodged a complaint with the FCID and we have also appointed a special committee to probe the corruption that had taken place.
It is not easy, we find most of the evidence being withheld and there are officials who have been part of this. We are a minority government, with all that, it has not been easy to bring the wrongdoers to book. But we have a duty and an obligation towards what had happened in our ministry, and we are now pushing for this committee to institute necessary action.
The committee is expected to submit its report in one and-a-half months. It has been just a few days since it was appointed.
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