Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva speaks about the proposed reforms of the United National Party (UNP) and the current status of politics in the country.
Q : After the electoral defeat at the local government elections, you were talking about far reaching political reforms to the party. How do you specify the kinds of reforms you seek?
I think the UNPers plus the moderates who decide at an election wish to see major changes in the party. At the end of day, it is the choice they make, that matters. We do not see people coming forward in politics. Unfortunately, that is the reality today because people do not want to be abused like this. Today, be it in the regular media or social media, people are attacked on baseless grounds. Why would people want to leave their comfortable lives in their fields and come forward, only to be abused finally? What is the point?
In that sense, we do not have the people with calibre, coming forward. Therefore, we have to choose among the people we have. I think, among the different political parties, the UNP has a fair number of decent, educated, professional people. They are a lot that can make a difference to this nation.
Q : Are you trying to say that people look to non-traditional politicians?
Yes. There are technocrats in the UNP. If you look at party-wise, that is true.
I think the UNPers plus the moderates who decide at an election wish to see major changes in the party. At the end of day, it is the choice they make, that matters. We do not see people coming forward in politics
Q : What do you think of the kind of responsibilities given to such technocrats?
Unfortunately, I do not see that those types of people have been given responsibilities. If you compare the UNP with the other parties such as SLPP and SLFP, you can clearly see we have a good crop of these people.
They are not tainted by accusations of murder, robberies, or any other criminal acts. They had been successful in society even before coming to politics. They have come to politics with a lot of experience. That is what matters. In a company even, you must be successful in projects you do. You must be able to understand problems and find solutions.
If you look at the Cabinets in the United States, China, Singapore or Canada, there are people who are technocrats and professionals.
Q : Are you trying to say that the present lot of office bearers in the UNP should be replaced with technocrats and professionals?
In the world, there is a move towards non-traditional politicians. In Sri Lanka, if you look at the movement currently being created to promote former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is part of that. What is the message?
It is not just happening only in Sri Lanka. It is happening in France and elsewhere in the world. Why are people moving towards non-traditional politicians? They are sick of traditional politicians. What are they doing? They are a self-serving bunch of people. We have to appeal to the middle of society. It does not matter to the hardcore party men. It is the middle class that will decide based on their expectations.
In the UNP also, what people expect is a more dynamic, modern and younger set-up. Our policies are solid. We are for an inclusive society where every person is equal, and has equal rights. We stand for social-market economy.
These are the fundamental principles that the UNP stands for.
Q : Does it mean that there is no need for a departure from the fundamental policies your party followed during the last three years?
I do not think our policies were implemented on the ground in the proper sense.
People who manipulate the Buddha’s teachings for political gains are not real Buddhists. Ours is a non-violent religion. We wish well for every living being
Q : You followed certain policies like the reform agenda and all. Do you think that the UNP should stick to that line further?
We need to fine-tune some of the policies. Some of the policies have been misunderstood and ill-implemented. I do not think we have been able to implement on the ground the real social market economic policies. That is due to the conflict within the coalition in understanding what we need to do. Perhaps, some of the reforms may need to be implemented much more slowly than the pace the government attempted to do during the last three years. That does not mean we must not do the reforms.
For the very first time in the history of this country, I am undertaking an analysis of pension of 1.4 million people. It has never been done. We are sitting on a time bomb. Pension reforms are one thing that is absolutely essential. People are scared to talk about it. We have to create a national pension scheme. We need to understand the liabilities of unfunded pension. We will never be able to give pension to government servants in the way we do now. People will not talk about for political expediency. The core UNP ideology is that we must create a social market economy. We have not been able to implement that properly. What you currently see is a mismatch. In the party, the policies are solid. I do not think we need to move too far from them. People are looking for changes in the persons.
Q : The UNP advocated power sharing as a means to solve the ethnic conflict. What do you think about this policy?
We should never be ashamed of who we are. I am proud to be a Sinhalese. I am proud to be a Buddhist. A Tamil following Hinduism should feel the same. A Muslim person following Islam should be proud of his identity. As a nation, we should have the space to be proud of to our ethnic and religious identities. There is a perception though, that the UNP has been giving step-motherly treatment to the Sinhala –Buddhist community. This perception is a manifestation of a well-planned, calculated effort by our political opponents to malign us in the eyes of the majority community. Our policy of not responding to such critics has really damaged our real thinking.
Q : Once your party’s former Chairman Malik Samarawickrama said the UNP stood for secularism. What is your view?
The JR Jayewardene Constitution gave the foremost place to Buddhism. The Constitution of a country is bigger than the Constitution of a party. It is our leader who made that constitution. There is no need to wear away from that position. The UNP consists of all ethnicities and religions. We are not a racist party. We do not support hatred among regions. For me, every religion and ethnicity is the same. That is what the Buddha said. He never said, “Kill in the name of Buddhism’. People who manipulate the Buddha’s teachings for political gains are not real Buddhists. Ours is a non-violent religion. We wish well for every living being.
Q : Already, some party stalwarts such as Kabir Hashim and Malik Samarawickrama have stepped down. Who should succeed them in your view?
The party and its Working Committee are considering many names. Hopefully, we will have a new set of office bearers who will help moderate people think that the UNP has right people and right policies.
The Constitution of a country is bigger than the Constitution of a party. It is our leader who made that constitution. There is no need to wear away from that position. The UNP consists of all ethnicities and religions. We are not a racist party. We do not support hatred among regions
Q : When you say a new set of office bearers, does it include the party leader?
The current thinking is that the office bearers should be changed. I do not think the posts of leader, deputy leader and assistant leader are to be changed. I do not know. I am not in the 12-member group working on reforms.
Q : You have been excluded from this group. Do you feel being sidelined?
Well, that was done by a secret ballot. I have no comment on that. Some people have been elected. It is a good committee. I am sure that committee will take into consideration the views of both the groups of MPs. I believe they will be independent enough to propose a good set of names. I have confidence in the committee.
Q ; As far as the next Presidential Election is concerned, who should be the UNP candidate?
Will there be a presidential election?
Q : Yes, as per the Constitution....
We came to office to abolish presidency.
Q : But still, there is no document in hand... isn’t it?
We will cross that river when we get there. In my mind, we came to abolish the executive presidency. That is what we promised to do. I hear everyone is in favour of doing it.