One of the senior-most Parliamentarians in the country and Chief Opposition whip, UNP front liner John Amaratunga in a candid interview with Daily Mirror, spoke about his party’s policies on the upcoming provincial polls and explained why they did not believe former UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekara’s defection last week would make any impact on the party or its campaigns.
Following are some excerpts:
Q:Isn’t former MP Jayasekara’s defection a major setback for the UNP at the upcoming Provincial Council polls?
Absolutely not and we say that with outright certainty because we have other members in the party, who are even more capable and ambitious in running the campaign for the UNP.
Q: Presently, some 67 UNP MPs have crossed over and are now part of the coalition government. Majority of them cite disagreements and clashes with the leader, as the reason that led to their defection. Why are party officials inactive before this rapid drain in the UNP?
Well, there were some issues but they have now been resolved amicably. Even with concern to Dayasiri, he was pardoned. Even the investigations and inquiries against him were quashed prior to his defection.
Disagreements with the leader are just excuses that they look for, to justify their defection and they try to take cover under it. I don’t see any necessity for a change in the current leadership, as he is the most intelligent and knowledgeable man in Sri Lanka in comparison to the rest of those engaged in politics, in the country.
"The reason for taking Dayasiri, from the point of view of the UPFA, was due to their insecurity of losing the North Western Provincial Council polls. They were seeking a candidate who could get sufficient votes for them to be able to form a council"
Q: But the quashing of former MP Jayasekara’s inquiries has been interpreted by some as a move to cover-up the actual reason for his defection - disagreements with the leadership?
Dayasiri’s negotiations with the UPFA have been going on for several years. Knowing the President, he waited until the opportune moment arrived to get Dayasiri onto his side.
The reason for taking Dayasiri, from the point of view of the UPFA, was due to their insecurity of losing the North Western Provincial Council polls. They were seeking a candidate who could get sufficient votes for them to be able to form a council. These actions - hunting for personnel from the opposition parties to achieve their goals, merely reflects on the political bankruptcy of the UPFA.
Q: So you are acknowledging that former MP Jayasekara is a figure who could have rallied sufficient votes for the UNP to have won the election?
That is what the government thinks. But in my opinion, his conduct during the past couple of days has discredited him; the confidence that was placed in him by the people has now waned. He is no longer a reliable figure.
'Our voter base has not decreased but the voters have felt discouraged to cast their votes due to the misappropriations committed during the election processes. They have lost their confidence in the democratic process'
Q: Allegations have been levelled against the several disciplinary committees appointed recently – that they are the leader’s henchmen who carry out his bidding. As a senior member of the party, what are your comments on such accusations?
We are a party with a fully-fledged constitution and we work according to the rules and regulations embedded in it. Those appointed to the disciplinary committees are selected owing to their competence in the legal profession. Hence, I do not see why those members should be accused of being henchmen of the UNP Leader or anyone else’s – their appointments entitled them to investigate into a matter, inquire and report.
The disciplinary committees had to be appointed due to unruly actions of Dayasiri and several others. However, once the committees were appointed, the MPs in question attended the inquiries, confessed to their actions and pledged to refrain from repeating them. They even signed documents before the disciplinary committees; even Dayasiri asked for pardon for his actions and vowed to stand by the party and work together. Even on the day before the morning he crossed-over, he was participating in the process of selecting candidates for the upcoming provincial polls – this is why I called him an unreliable figure.
Q: Why have MPs Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa been side-lined from the nominations board for the upcoming PC polls?
There have been so many members of the UNP who have not been included in the nominations board. There is no hard and fast rule that states they should be nominated. Maybe there are reasons as to why they were not included but I am not aware of them.
Q: Is it true that the UNP is planning to gear their provincial poll campaigns towards drawing in senior votes and waive off attempts to win those of the youth? Do you believe a strategy that excludes the youth would help win the polls?
Of course not! We have to and will be canvassing for every vote in the voters’ list at the upcoming PC poll campaigns. There is a youth group among our Parliamentary members as well as a senior group and they will be distributed evenly to carry out the campaigning.
"We are anxiously waiting to see the outcome of the Parliamentary Select Committee report on the changes to 13A and the fact that it is being held without the participation of a single opposition member"
Q: Do you think there is scope for the upcoming PC elections to be free and fair, particularly in the North where opposition political activities have not been allowed much of a voice throughout the past four years?
If the past is any indication, I don’t believe the upcoming elections would be anything close to free and fair. In fact, I made a claim that the voting process with concern to government servants is not autonomous due to personnel being compelled to cast their votes before the head of the department. That is only a single example of the hundreds of election regulation violations that have been occurring under the blessing of this government throughout the past few years.
It is due to our concerns regarding the possible violations of a free and fair election process, that we strongly advocate foreign monitors. But they have already rejected the feasibility of bringing in foreign monitors and it is a forecast of the type of violence the government is planning to instigate during the upcoming PC polls.
These are the results of the absence of a Police Commission that would ensure the independence in their affairs, the absence of an Elections Commission, of which the Commissioner has turned into a tool of the government at present and the absence of the Public Services Commission. These institutions exist but only nominally; the aspirations envisaged from the 17th Amendment are not prevalent today. So I don’t think it is realistically possible for us to believe or ensure that the upcoming elections would be free or fair.
"However, the government should also realise that if they resort to strangling the policies and programmes of the newly elected Provincial Council in the North, this country would qualify for another insurrection"
Q: Why has a specific group of MPs been selected to address the voters at party propaganda rallies during the upcoming polls?
The party would line up and identify the meetings to be held in the Central and North Western Provinces; those would be the main meetings. The party would also identify speakers who should address the voters at those main meetings. However, any speaker is free to address the propaganda meetings held at grassroots levels. Such restrictions have been imposed to ensure that the proper party message will reach our voters. It is very important. After fiascos with individuals such as Dayasiri, we decided we cannot take any more chances – we have to ensure that the party line is being firmly established in the presentations of the public speakers.
Q: Has the TNA’s choice of candidate for the NPC influenced the UNP to follow suit?
Well, in comparison to the type of people and selections made by the UPFA, our choices are far more superior. We ensure that candidates who contest under our umbrella are dedicated and are of good character; they are not smugglers, murderers or those who have engaged in any type of criminal activity. Presently, we see daily reports on UPFA politicians of all strata, engaged in bribery or corruption being arrested. This is an issue of grave concern; we are very worried about the fate of this country. The UPFA politicians are attempting to destroy the golden thread of the society in which people are living in peace and harmony.
"During the power of the UNP governments, to a very great extent the trade unions did win their demands. I am not saying what they achieved was a 100% victory but there was tolerance."
Q: The TNA has expressed concerns about having to face the personality of the Northern Province Governor - a retired military official, when implementing policies to ensure the welfare of the Tamil community residing in the areas. How do you view this situation?
Firstly, we do not agree with this trend developed by the government to appoint military officials into civil administrative positions. It is a step towards supporting the government’s dictatorial rule in the country.
However, the government should also realise that if they resort to strangling the policies and programmes of the newly elected Provincial Council in the North, this country would qualify for another insurrection. The frustration would once again set in and there may be an uprising within the Tamil community, particularly in the North and East.
Besides, the government should also note that the international community would be watching as to how they are conducting their role with concern to the independence of the provincial councillors.
Q: Shouldn’t the dwindling opposition be held responsible for the strengthening of this government, which you claimed is heading towards a dictatorial rule?
The government’s power is strengthened not by the opposition, but because they have a steamroll majority in the Parliament. They have depleted the number of opposition members by buying and paying, and exerting various pressures on them by uncovering their weak points through issues such as defaulting on tax payments, criminal cases, corruption charges etc. and holding them ransom to it.
Q: Are you saying while the government bribes their way into creating a monopoly in Parliamentary power, the opposition can do nothing and is powerless to act against it?
Yes! We can’t do anything because the Constitution is weak; it does not allow specific provisions to be taken against MPs who cross over in the Parliament from one party to another. This is why our leader created a draft Constitution covering such areas with loopholes, which require immediate attention.
Q: Do you feel like the public has accepted the UNP’s proposed draft Constitution?
The silent voters – who don’t make a public display of their political alliances by shouting in rallies are very much satisfied and appreciate the provisions laid out in the draft Constitution. Similarly, they will silently vote for the UNP, so that all citizens can benefit when the provisions laid in the draft Constitution are implemented in the country.
Q: You were recently appointed as the President of the UNP’s Trade Union Wing (JSS). What reasons do you think have contributed to the present deterioration in the trade union movement?
During the power of the UNP governments, to a very great extent the trade unions did win their demands. I am not saying what they achieved was a 100% victory but there was tolerance. But under this regime, there are only threats. Through instilling fear and insecurity, the government manipulates personnel into abstaining from trade union actions.
The latest examples can be drawn from what became of the railway and bus strikes. Due to the pressure being exerted on those who work, the employees do not participate in trade union activities in fear of losing their livelihood - so much so, that they are even scared to take membership in a trade union affiliated with an opposition party because most were victimised – transferred from pillar to post.
Although usually, the number of members in a trade union affiliated with an opposition party would dwindle, previously it has never depleted in this manner. For example, although those in the Ceylon Transport Board are able to carry on their duties until the age of 60, they are instructed to retire by the time they reach 57 because the government is well aware that the majority of senior officials are UNPers. Likewise, the government is using various tactics to kill the membership for opposition supported trade unions.
Q: As the opposition, what action is the UNP planning to take if the government decides to continue with their plan of repealing powers of 13A?
The Government is bulldozing everything in their quest for power. We are anxiously waiting to see the outcome of the Parliamentary Select Committee report on the changes to 13A and the fact that it is being held without the participation of a single opposition member.
Q: Recently, UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake had stated that the UNP’s primary goal was to establish a government. Wouldn’t you say it’s a tough aspiration to reach, considering the fact that the UNP has not won a single election for the past 15 years?
The only reason for the government’s continuous triumph at elections and the opposition’s defeat is the absence of free and fair elections. Our voter base has not decreased but the voters have felt discouraged to cast their votes due to the misappropriations committed during the election processes.
They have lost their confidence in the democratic process. We believe this can be changed through a very important message and it needs to be taken down to the very grassroot level; the corruption and injustices committed by this government and the manner in which the public is laid with the burden of paying for the government’s financial incompetence.
Q: Although various charges against the government continue to mount, the general public seems to be untainted by them. Why do you think this is?
See what happened in the Middle East! Injustices by the rulers continued, but at a particularly stage, the masses took to the streets and the rulers had to run. It won’t be long before Sri Lanka faces a similar fate. The whole economy will collapse, just like in Libya and Egypt.
point of view - the upcoming polls the big looser is UNP. The winner is PA. There is no deep plane to win or dream with UNP.As a opposition leader Mr.Ranil should have critical mindful plane to win upcoming polls. he has to have knowledge to protect his partners .that is main thing to be understand. good luck.
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