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‘‘Common Opposition First

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The UNP’s National Youth Front Chairman and Leadership Council member Ruwan Wijewardene has said emphasis should be given towards forming a common opposition to topple the corrupt government.
In an interview, Mr. Wijewardene who is the UNP’s Gampaha District Parliamentarian said after the strategy for common opposition was worked out these parties could focus on a common candidate for the next Presidential Election.
Excerpts from the interview.


QThe Uva PC election battle has started. What are your aspirations?

Yes. I believe we are going to record a splendid victory. By this time our young Parliamentarian Harin Fernando has sacrificed his MP’s post and now contests for the post of Chief  Minister of Uva. Through this act we notice a general awakening in the area. He is a good youth leader, honest and has a  good reputation. He has been able to give more vigour to the movement opposing the Government.


Q  That means you have high hopes?

Yes. Not only in Uva but look at our area, the members in the Gampaha district have also consented to render their fullest support in Uva. This is a change. It is happening in all parts of the island. This is a good omen.


"People have now realised that winning the war is different to developing the country. This Government  has failed in this activity, and the economy can never be built up in the manner this Government  implements its policies"



QBut this time a member of the Rajapaksa clan, a “Podi Rajapaksa” is contesting from the UPFA?

Not only is a Rajapaksa contesting, just look at the way this Government is holding elections in a sporadic manner which has become a fashion. It is doing it for its benefit. The powers of the President and the force of the Government are totally concentrated in that province. The government wants to win it at any cost. But this election is going to give a signal to the country. It is the change that we are waiting for. Sashindra Rajapaksa is a  good  friend of mine, but I must say this is the truth, that the country is asking for a change. Take the Moneragala district for an example. It is a district which is supportive of the Government, but the poorest district secretariat is located in Moneragala. Despite Shashindra Rajapaksa being the Chief Minister he could not change that situation.



QBut the Government boasts that the best development in the history had happened in Uva?

May be some development has taken place there. Uva is poor. Roads are being built, new highways are coming up, but the ultimate so called benefits have not reached the people of Uva. These development works are carried out with loans provided by China. These loans have to be paid back. Can you term this as development? People had begun to realise that this is not real development.


QThe Government insists that these are baseless allegations?

 It is a canard by the Government. What amount of facts we produced in Parliament and the evidence we tabled; our MPs speak after witnessing what is actually happening and after conducting visits to some important locations.



QDuring your visits the response you received is also not encouraging? And recently you were jeered at a Railway Station?

But the public response has been overwhelming.


QThen why all the jeering?

Not only in Colombo Fort, they hooted at us even at Sapugaskanda, what about Hambantota. Who does it and how they did it had been proved beyond doubt. Most of those were organised by trade unions affiliated to the Government. They have to obey the orders or face the consequences. If there was no corruption why fear, they should have simply allowed us to ‘come and see’. The reasons for not allowing us to enter are quite obvious.



Q If you are so sure of victory in Uva, why was Harin not given the team leadership?

This was the result of a dialogue we had with Harin Fernando. There are several seniors in the list like Ravi Samaraweera and Upali Samaraweera. They had been in Parliament long before Harin became an MP. These seniors were also consulted and Ravi Samaraweera was made the group leader  while Harin Fernando was made the aspirant for the Chief Minister’s post.



QIt has been rumoured that as Harin is not the group leader, he would not get the post of Chief Minister?

That is not correct. The Uva Chief Minister will be Harin and it will not be changed.


QWho is leading the election campaign in Uva, is it the Leadership Council or Ranil?

Our National Leader and the Leadership Council are spearheading the campaign. The Leadership Council and our National Leader decide and act together. Ranil Wickremesinghe is a tower of strength to Harin Fernando in this Uva election. The result of this election will be the precursor for the next Presidential election. Therefore our leader will never treat this election lightly. Beginning next week he will be leading the campaign from Uva itself.


QSince 1994 the UNP had been losing elections, as a youth leader of the party what reasons do you attribute to this situation?  

There were different scenarios in all these elections. In 1999 Chandrika faced a bomb attack and the sympathy votes gave her victory. After  the war victory Mahinda Rajapaksa received votes to strengthen his hands. The UNP is the largest single party in the country. The people have now realised that winning the war is different to developing the country. This Government  has failed in this activity, and the economy can never be built up in the manner this Government  implements its policies. The UNP had been in the forefront of building the country’s economy, whenever it was crippled. During 1977 it was J.R. Jayawardene who introduced the open economy which created a complete change in Sri Lankan society. In 2001, in a similar manner Ranil Wickremesinghe changed a minus economy to a gainful one.


QWhat is your opinion about the thinking that elections are lost due to Ranil?

Anyone can express such opinions and it is easy to do so. With the war most of our organisers were discouraged. They lost interest in elections and as a result we could not face the elections  with the same perseverance.


QThe  UNP never shared in the victory of the war?

We were not allowed to join hands in the war victory celebrations. We offered our support graciously but had our reservations. The Government handled the war in its own way. Our party and the leader were labelled as Tiger supporters.  When our leader took over the Government in 2001 our resources were not sufficient to engage in a costly war, we had to use our brains to win it. The peace accord was signed accordingly and a build up of arms and ammunition for our military was launched. We were able to split the LTTE into two. This helped in the subsequent war for the army to defeat the Tigers. An honourable part of the war victory should be attributed to our leader.



QThe purpose of appointing a Leadership Council was because the party saw Ranil Wickremesinghe as a failed leader?

The Leadership Council was appointed to sort out minor disputes in the party among two factions as a solution and not to humiliate the leader. This step has brought good results and problems would be settled after winning Uva.



QYou have still not been successful in bringing Sajith Premadasa to the Leadership Council?

His vacancy is still there. He will soon take a decision in this regard. We need him for our party’s success. The Leadership Council term of office is for one year. We have a journey to go together and he will take a decision soon.



QThere is a story now circulating about a common candidate for the next Presidential Election to represent the Opposition, what have you got to say?

The country now needs a common Opposition and not a common candidate. It is a common opposition that can throw a challenge to this corrupt government. We need a common programme  inter-woven with a common opposition, which would boost up a candidate.



QWho do you think that common candidate would be?

There are on-going discussions among the Opposition parties and we should know who that person is in due course.



QIf that person is representing the UNP?

If the UNP is proposing the common candidate the most suitable is none other than Ranil Wickremesinghe, our leader



QYou were brought to the Leadership Council by Ranil Wickremesinghe?

No, that is incorrect. When selections were made I was abroad, and Ranil Wickremesinghe had objected to my name being included, but when representations were made by a group of first time MPs that the youth front should be represented in that council, the leader and Karu Jayasuriya had agreed to include my name.



QWhat is your future political dream?

The situation in the country is not healthy. Our economy is crippled. People have been blinded by an illusory development. The youth fear that they have no future. If you speak to ten youths, nine of them are displeased with what is going on and feel they could achieve nothing by remaining in the country.
They want to go to South Korea, Japan or Australia. The country has fallen to that level. During the time of our governments we had healthy relations with the Unites States, Britain, Europe and India .
The present foreign policy of the Government  leaves much to be desired. What is happening now is borrowing colossal amounts from China and we are in a massive loan trap. My dream is for a UNP government to rebuild a country which will make every Sri Lankan proud of his or her motherland.



QAs the grandson of D.R. Wijewardene are you happy with the present media culture?

I am not happy with the present situation in the field of media. What is seen in this country is self censorship in the media.



QYou mean that the Government is suppressing the media.

Yes. This suppression has pushed the media institutions and media personnel towards self censorship. Many media personnel have left this country in fear. Some of them were cruelly murdered and left by the road side.
 If you glance through a newspaper any critcism by an  Opposition member, of the President or his family, is not reported. There is an issue here. There is much mud slinging even inside the Parliament. We do not condone this type of mud slinging but the media should have the freedom to be critical.

"It is wrong to assume that I was brought to the Leadership Council by Ranil Wickremesinghe. When selections were made I was abroad, and Ranil Wickremesinghe had objected to my name being included, but when representations were made by a group of first time MPs that the youth front should be represented in that council, the leader and Karu Jayasuriya had agreed to include my name."





QAre you having any strategies to change this media culture?
There should be a code of conduct for the media. This could be worked out in consultation with media institutions and journalists.
Q  Who are your close associates in the Government or in the Opposition?
There are many young politicians both in the Government ranks and the Opposition. Sunil Handuneththi and Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the JVP and M. A. Sumanthiran of TNA are among them from whom I learnt a lot.
 Then there are Ruwan Ranathunga,  Dilum Amunugama and Namal Rajapaksa, to mention a few.
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