UNP MP Harin Fernando spoke to the Daily Mirror on the upcoming provincial Council elections and the conflict within the UNP, as well as the various accusations being levelled against the leader of the UNP. The MP from the Badulla district also discusses the pressures of being a young MP.
Q: There have been a number of issues of indiscipline amongst the members of Parliament both young and old, in the recent months. How do you view this issue of indiscipline, being a young politician?
There are a few ways you can go about this; firstly the party has to be very serious about what they do and the party hierarchy has to set an example. This should come down the line to the junior politicians. When something goes wrong, it is important to address that issue, get those people out and make sure there are proper disciplinary inquiries and not just to fake your way through for the public or the media. If that example is set a lot will change.
First and foremost, how you find you representatives is how you should tackle the problem at the onset. When you find people with at least some basic education and knowledge about what is happening in the community would give you better prospects in terms of politicians.
Politics is such that you don’t need education, but it is something where you need to have some ethics—your family life, background and your roots. Therefore, I think that should be a key issue when they select their representatives.
Q: You mentioned the importance of the party in selecting suitable candidates to represent them. In line with that there is this perception, especially after the last general election, that there are a number of members in Parliament who were included in the nomination list merely because they were seen as being able to attract votes. But now that they are in Parliament they do very little for their electorate. This same criticism is levelled against young politicians.
Personally if I was in the same position party leaders are in, I would say that there needs to be a representation of various sectors of a community—its so in the case of actors, who belong to the cultural sphere then they could look into the improvement of cultural activities. I feel that it is a good thing; it is not a bad thing. However, you need to give them responsibilities, once you get them into parliament. I remember even the UNP used to do that; they used to get singers in through the national list and give them responsibilities with regard to the cultural affairs. Today, this has been used to mobilize the votes.
Q: Personally, what would you say have been your strengths, which helped you get elected?
I think being young, I am the youngest member of the opposition, because the UNP was facing a very tough election at that point and people wanted change and I think that is one of the reasons why I got selected. The people wanted new faces, new energy and the UNP needed some new ammunition to go about their work and thinking—therefore I was happy and lucky to get that opportunity.
I think the youth should be there in Parliament, I think that experience builds character. I am totally happy being in the opposition, I have no reservations about it, I love being in the opposition—this is a big learning process and I have learned quite a lot about politics and about the laws, regulations and I am getting used to everything.
I prefer being in the opposition than being in the government, because if I was in the government I would just be a back bencher and the seniors would take over.
Q: That hasn’t been the case for the youngest member of the government.
Well he is the leader’s son and he gets all the respect from the most senior ministers. But I don’t agree with that, because then you mature at the wrong time and that is what I fear. Because if you get too much prominence at a very young age, it is not very beneficial. You need to go through the mill and I think we are really being rubbed on the mill and tested. The seniors don’t always take the stage up front, so we have the chance to grab the opportunity and do the best that we can.We are doing that perfectly at the moment.
Q: As the UNP member in charge of the Ampara District, what do you think the UNP’s chances are at the upcoming provincial council elections?
I have always been honest when I talk about this and I do not think that we are going to whitewash the government—that is not going to happen. The people are frustrated and annoyed and they feel betrayed. But whether they believe in the opposition is doubtful. It is not that they don’t trust us, they still remember that the UNP was the government that has done the most for this country. However with our internal issues, they feel a bit disturbed that the UNP is not coming in as a strong opposition that can cripple the government.
Therefore, I think that we have a lot of work to do, because victory would be—if we could win at least a few districts of the provinces. Then the people will at least be a little more fearless.
The main reason the Government is having this election, is to derail the people from the opposition to the Government—because we see all kinds of people rising up against the latter. Recently we were informed that even farmers in Hambantota have come out into the streets. Therefore we see that people have their issues, but unfortunately they do not see the UNP as the option, having said that, the ground situation is improving very fast. Although I am in charge of Ampara, I have been going everywhere. In the areas like Polonnaruwa, the situation is really good for the UNP, although we don’t even have a member of parliament from Polonnaruwa, people are really looking up to the UNP.
In Ampara, I am involved with the Sinhalese communities; however a lot depends on the Tamil and Muslim communities as well. But I think we have a good chance in that area. So, it is important that in the next few weeks we work as a team and put our differences a side.
The situation in the party is really telling on us and the euphoria that we have to really attack the government and be active hampers our self-confidence.
Q:You are portraying the UNP as the only alternative to the government, but that is not necessarily the case.
We will be their only option, we have performed in the past and we are the party that brought this country onto the right track. I really think people know what we are capable of.
The only fact is whether we have a charismatic leader who can bluff his way through. To be direct, I would say Ranil Wickremesinghe is a learned man; he is smart and intellectual. Whether he can address the common man in a way that he/she gets emotional is a bit of an issue. People in Sri Lanka vote from their hearts and not from their minds. Our people go according to what they see; if someone is carrying a child or hugging someone—they think “I will vote for him,” by just looking at these posters.
Those who vote for people of this calibre don’t understand where Sri Lanka is globally, financially or even morally—they just vote for someone who looks charismatic.
Q: Your prescription then for the UNP to win elections is to follow the formula of the government—to merely have a charismatic leader that addresses the hearts of the people?
I am not saying that. What I am saying is that the people have to be smart in their voting, without getting carried away with their emotions. Sri Lanka is a country where they go for charismatic leaders, which makes sense.
Q: In that context what is the prescription for the UNP?
I think we have a very good grassroots level leader, who is the Deputy Leader of the party—he is fantastic and knows how to handle people. We need to have a winning combination; and I think that is Sajith Premadasa and Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Both of them need to be in the arena, because we are in debt and the person to handle that is Ranil Wickremesinghe. Don’t forget that he is the person who obtained $45 Million for the country as a grant and not as a loan. Therefore he is capable of revamping the country from the present state. There is so much of negative campaigning against him from within the party and from the government; that is really bringing him down.
The government knows that by slinging mud at the party leader they can divide the party. There are some seniors in the party, who think that Ranil Wickremesinghe can still do it. Similarly there are other hardcore UNPers who will take up this criticism because; they know that Ranil Wickremesinghe is unpopular at the moment. The government fears Ranil more than they fear Sajith.
Ranil Wickremesinghe is great at management and economics. If someone asked me if he is a good politician I would say no, but he is good at management. Therefore we have a very good leader coming up in Sajith Premadasa, so we need to boost his image and let him take over after a few years.
Q: The accusation levelled against the leader is that he is very oppressive in his style of management. Would you agree?
When you have been in the opposition for a long time, there are certain issues that hamper your whole political journey. I would agree there is a little bit of that in the party. Having said that, I think that we are the only party that has an internal election to appoint a leader.
There is a lot of work that Ranil Wickremesinghe needs to do and there are a number of issues he must address. Personally from my experience, it is very difficult being the only UNP MP from Badulla, to keep telling the people—“have hope, we will come into power”. Therefore, we need to be tougher in terms of controlling our party members. I can sympathise with Ranil Wickremesinghe and understand why he acts as he does.
Q:Do you think that you have the ability to make decisions and choices in the best interest of the party and your electorate without being reprimanded?
We have these group meetings and I am part of the working committee and we can talk about anything that we want.
We had an issue where Sarath Fonseka was going to be in Badulla, I had an issue with the fact that we would not be supporting his visit and I spoke out about it. We explained our part of the story and he listened and he told us his part of the story. He had a valid point; because Sarath Fonseka was going to visit our party members it would be detrimental to the party in the long run, because if he does start his own party then he could take away some of our party members.
On a technical note, when the leader presents his case, and if it is valid, I agree with him. Because at the end of the day, I am a young politician and I have to work with whoever is the leader. I have openly said that I did not vote for Ranil. However, after the whole issue blew over and he was appointed I decided I had to work with him because he is the leader of the party.
I fear certain consequences, because if I get cornered then that will affect the people in my electorate, because I am the only Member of Parliament from the UNP for 9 electorates. I need to work with the present leadership, to ensure the interests of my people.
I am being open; I am not saying everything is okay. But I think that Ranil Wickremesinghe has been open to criticism all this time. I have criticised him at various times and he has fought with me and told me off and also explained to me his point of view. But in the end, we have come to an agreement and been friendly with each other. At the end of the day it is all about interacting with him, he is very hard to understand but if you know how, then it would be fine.
I think I have learned how to do this, because I was someone who did not vote for him, but then I came around and I said okay I will work for you.
Q: Do you think he is a revengeful person?
I am yet to find that out. But I think that he is not. Because if he can get Karu Jayasuriya back to the party and give him the Deputy Leader post and he can get along with Sajith Premadasa?
I know for a fact that he likes Sajith Premadasa, but he does not like a few people around him.
Q:What do you think is his relationship with Dayasiri Jayasekera?
I think that he is very disappointed and hurt, because Ranil Wickremesinghe had a lot of hope for Dayasiri. Dayasiri is an up and coming politician and he has that charisma and is becoming overly popular. However Ranil Wickremesinghe does not believe in building people up in that way through the media and hype.
Thank you for this interview Ms. Dianne silva. Glad to see Mr. Harin Fernando being blunt about certain issues. Many people including myself have little confidence in the opposition. A strong democracy needs a strong opposition.
Lal Surain Thursday, 16 August 2012 06:29 AM
you can build young leaders. but unfortunatly you cant hold them because of the present leaders week management style
mana Thursday, 16 August 2012 03:49 AM
I Must thank Mr Harin for the truth spoken to the people to understand the real Situation of UNP. Anyway it is too long for UNP to sit in the opposition with Mr R W. We need him as a Most senior adviser to the party. My personal view is he should allow a young leader to replace him and allow party to be united with all the forces required. At this moment UNP is doing nothing to attract young or old Generations to the party. I am a UNP er who is voting always with the party but i have already decided something else if UNP function like Today. Some Old leaders of UNP must retire and give away to young UNP ers.
sunila mendis Thursday, 16 August 2012 04:18 AM
This is a very logical conversation.He has a lot of potential as a young member of Parliament.He sounds very sincere and genuine. I wish he would maintain this stance through out his political life. He is an asset to the UNP.RW should not repeat what he is criticising in MR.He has to show by practising the precepts of Democracy in the Party.The Govt is hell bent on destroying the unity of the UNP.UNP members should be aware of this.
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