- No one suitable to replace RW as party leader
- CBK dragged me into politics
- Polls will be tough for UNP so target is 2025
- Probe on 2011 WC final should continue
- Murali will realise the gravity of his decision
Arjuna Ranatunga led Sri Lanka to its only cricket world cup win. Today he is an active politician and a former minister batting for the United National Party.
The split in the UNP has led many people to ask if Ranatunga is batting for the right team? What if his team loses? Will he retire?
Daily Mirror online sat down with Ranatunga while he was campaigning for the Parliamentary election and posed these questions to him.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q You brought glory to Sri Lanka in 1996 by securing the cricket world cup. Today, you are on a different field. Do you have regrets taking to politics?
I didn’t win the world cup alone. I won with another 13 very competitive and very honest cricketers who gave their fullest support when I captained the 1996 side.
After that when I took into politics, my ambition was to try and help people, which I saw from my younger days how my father used to work with people in the Gampaha district, especially in the Minuwangoda electorate. The commitment he had, the sacrifices he made was the main reason I had even the slightest thinking of getting into politics. In my family, I was the least interested in politics. Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike is the one who dragged me into politics. From that day I have been in Parliament for 19 years.
"I have spoken to the top leaders. There were times we reached some form of understanding but there are some elements who are looking at splitting the party and securing positions"
Q Why did you decide to join the UNP?
I was with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and Mrs Bandaranaike for a fairly long period. When Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa took over I was with the party for several years till the war ended. However, I never liked the policies and attitude of the Rajapaksa regime when they ran the country. But I didn’t want to leave the party till the war was over.
I was keen to get involved in cricket. I was keen on helping the up and coming cricketers and had a vision for the future. But none of them allowed me to do that. Later I resigned from my ministry and was a backbencher for a long period.
As soon as the war was over I thought I should be independent, work with a group and try to get everyone together and look at future Sri Lankan policies.
At the last election, I was elected to Parliament through the UNP. I got close to 170,000 votes. Despite being an SLFPer the UNP supporters elected me. So I felt I needed to be part of the system, part of the UNP and try to get the UNP to the next level.
I had been invited by the party leader and former prime minister to join the UNP on several occasions but eventually, I decided to join at a crucial time.
Q The issue over the UNP leadership has been discussed over and over again. Don’t you think its time the UNP needs a new leader?
Thing is you need to have a leader to replace the current leader. I don’t think there is anyone who can replace him, looking at his capacity and capability as a party leader. It is easy for people to say they can be the party leader or should be the leader.
But I feel you need to first be part of the system and be part of the party. And what’s more important is, whether that person can run a country. I’m a firm believer that one must do politics keeping the country in mind. I will not worship politicians. I will speak up.
Getting back to your question, I think we have time and when the time comes I am sure, if Mr. Wickremesinghe sees someone who can handle the party and handle the country, he will step down. But I can’t see anyone who can take over at the moment.
Q But he (Wickremesinghe )has lost consecutive elections. What if people feel he is not fit to lead the country?
Well, he won the Parliamentary election in 2015. He is a tactician. I feel he thinks of the party and getting into power than his political agenda. I am impressed by how he handles things. He gives good advice on how to handle ministries. And when I have to say something, he has time to listen. I have convinced him on several occasions when the party or the government tried to do something which I felt was not right. That is why I always say leaders must listen to what others have to say and take the right decision at the right time.
I have been working with Mr. Wickremesinghe for the past 4 ½ years. The only other person I respect as a top leader is Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike.
"when I took into politics, my ambition was to try and help people, which I saw from my younger days how my father used to work with people in the Gampaha district, especially in the Minuwangoda electorate"
Q Has your decision to back Mr Wickremesinghe affected your relationship with your brothers, some who are pro-SLPP?
We have been given an open mandate by our mother. When my father was alive, we could not do some of the changes we hoped for. Even when I was not happy with some of the decisions taken by the government, I could not leave the party as I did not want to hurt my father. There were occasions I wanted to step down and stay away from the party and the government. But I had several discussions with my father and he insisted that I be part of the system. I was not happy with some of the decisions I took at the time but I could not hurt him.
But when my father passed away, I took my own decision. My mother is very open and allows us to do what we want to do. But it has to be proper politics. She has scolded me at times. She has scolded Prasanna Ranatunga several times. My mother looked at us as her children, doing what is right. When we do anything wrong she will even slap us.
Q If the UNP loses the Parliamentary election will you continue to remain in the opposition, consider supporting the government or step down?
I did not want to contest the election this time around. I was keen to unite the UNP. I worked with former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to try and get both sides to work together. But unfortunately, we could not do that.
I thought I would spend a year writing my biography and spend time with my two grown children.
But when the crisis (in the UNP) occurred and one group left, I decided to work with the party and take the party to the next level. My ambition is to form a government. I know we will have a tough time this year but by 2025 I am sure, if we get together, we can bring the UNP into power.
Q So have you given up on your attempt to unite the party?
No. I have spoken to the top leaders. There were times we reached some form of understanding but there are some elements who are looking at splitting the party and securing positions.
You know, some of these young politicians are also looking at securing positions and reaching the top quickly. They are not bothered about the party or their supporters. They only have their agenda in mind. I think that is where the UNP suffered.
"I feel you need to first be part of the system and be part of the party. And what’s more important is, whether that person can run a country"
Q Sri Lankan Cricket is in a big mess these days and the mess has only got worse after former Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage accused Sri Lanka of fixing the 2011 cricket world cup. Do you think the match could have been fixed?
Well, a lot had been said soon after that final. As the then Sports Minister, if he had evidence he should have investigated the allegations back then. Why wait till this election to speak about something that happened 9-10 years back? Also, I feel these investigations should have continued. Mahindananda Aluthgamage said that the players were not involved. You cannot fix a game without the involvement of the players. If I was Mahela or Sanga I would have told the investigators to continue and clear their name. I think the public outcry led to the authorities suspending the investigation.
Q When you were captain were there attempts to try and get Sri Lanka to fix some games?
Not at all. I always wondered why bookies never approached me. There were attempts to reach Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya but they alerted the management and it was handled well.
Back then we also educated the cricketers on the dangers of match-fixing. Also, I remember late cricket commentator Tony Greig once told me, no one would approach me, knowing who I was. That was the best compliment I got.
Q Are you still interested in running Sri Lanka Cricket?
I don’t think I can contest and win. Even if President Gotabaya Rajapaksa contests he can’t win. It’s a mafia. People who support you for a vote get several benefits. When I contested once people asked me what benefits they would get if they supported me.
I think the board must be operated by an interim committee and during that period, the cricket constitution should be changed. I think even the attitude of the players has changed.
Q One of your then team-mates Muttiah Muralitharan had recently attended an event in support of Minister Wimal Weerawansa. What is your take on his decision to back the SLPP?
I guess everyone has a right to do what they want. I don’t want to comment on that.
But I am sure he will realise the gravity of what he has done. Knowing Murali, it is not easy to get him on stage. If he comes to politics, it is fine. But why get on stage with certain people?