One of United National Party (UNP)’s ‘rebel’ or ‘reformist’ MPs Ashoka Abeysinghe who has constantly criticised the incumbent leadership of the UNP, and thereafter was viewed as a possible pole-vaulter to Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s party spoke to the on a wide range of issues that go to the heart of the political climate of Sri Lanka. Abeysinghe during the interview insisted that the only way to topple the ruling regime was through a common opposition candidate and put forth reasons for his assertion among many others.
Q:Who do you think should be the common opposition candidate for the upcoming Presidential Election?
I can’t give you a name with certainty but a common candidate should be someone who has the backing of all opposing political parties, trade unions and civil society organisations. I am of the view however that we can only defeat the incumbent regime through a common opposition candidate.
Q: Is there a discussion within the UNP about the need for a common candidate?
Yes there is. But the discussion currently revolves around the candidate being an UNPer. Personally my view is that the upcoming election is the final chance for the UNP. This government has now come to a stage where the people are fed up with it. Therefore I believe that we should be able to and must galvanise all forces that are opposed to the government and present a single candidate who can take on the government.
"What we see now is clear.Although the people are fed up with the government they have not shown any interest in the opposition. What should happen is that, the vote that is moving away from the government should come to the main opposition which is the UNP. Instead the people are looking for different alternatives."
Q: This method, which you speak of, was used when Gen. Sarath Fonseka was brought into the fray as a common candidate, but he lost isn’t it?
That’s true. But what you have to remember is that you have to take that election in the context of the many factors that prevailed at the time. The main factor was the timing. The previous presidential election was held a few months after the end of the war and we put forward the best candidate at the time. The people decided that the incumbent President should continue at the helm maybe due to some sort of gratitude that they wanted to show to the President.
However, the situation has completely changed now. The people today are willing to take a completely different decision at this point of time and therefore I believe that a common candidate is the best way forward. The current social context and the one that existed in 2010 are very different.
Q: But what about the theory put forward as soon as the Presidential election was concluded; that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory was due to a ‘computer gilmart’?
As soon as someone loses an election different theories are presented. The computer ‘gilmart’ story is the very reason that many of the UNP voters don’t go to vote. When we go to villagers these people tell us that there is no point in voting because the government will win through computer ‘gilmarts’.
My view is that it was a very close election, and the government attempted to exceed Chandrika Kumaratunga’s mandate of 62 %. This was a very close election and the government did different things, but I will stop short of saying anything about a ‘gilmart’ because if that was so then the Colombo Municipal Council and the Northern Provincial Council would have both been won by the government. If there was a computer ‘gilmart’ they could have swept the polls but that did not happen.
Q: Do you think that Sajith Premadasa is qualified to be the common opposition candidate as a UNP nominee?
Yes I think he is. There are lots of people who like him. The main thing is that the people should trust the person they are going to vote for. What is happening now is that the voters don’t trust our candidates. My personal view is that politics entail two things. One is getting to power and the second is holding on to that power. In order to get to power we have to use all the tactics in our armoury. We have to put forth someone who can attract the voters, if the voters are not attracted and don’t come to the ballot box anything that we do is not going to pay off.
"My view is that the upcoming election is the final chance for the UNP. This government has now come to a stage where the people are fed up with it. So we should be able to and must galvanise all forces that are opposed to the government and present a single candidate"
So that’s what we have to do, we must be able to present a candidate that could attract the voters. The best example of this was the 1994 election, when the incumbent UNP regime of over 17 years was halted with a candidate who attracted the voters. The government then was also as strong as the government now, and if Sirimavo Bandaranaike was put forth the UNP would have continued in power. It was a complete new personality that was brought in, a person who hadn’t even contested a village level election. Suddenly the party members were rejuvenated and even those opposing went and voted for her.
What we see now is clear.Although the people are fed up with the government they have not shown any interest in the opposition. What should happen is that, the vote that is moving away from the government should come to the main opposition which is the UNP. Instead the people are looking for different alternatives. Take the youth of today, is there anyone born after 1990 who is aware about what the UNP did for this country? Obviously the youth don’t, we have to do something to attract this youth, then we also should have a method to attract the SLFPers who are fed up with the regime, we also have to work on getting back those who have left our party. It’s only when all of these forces come under a single umbrella that we could win. That is my position.
Q: Does Sajith possess these characteristics?
What we have to understand is that we should win a minimum of 5.5 million votes if are to defeat this government. I am not of the view that if Sajith comes forward that will automatically entail a victory. The UNP does not possess a voter base that is that large and therefore we have to put forth a common candidate. That is imperative if we are going to have any realistic chance of winning the election. We have to be able to bring the JVP, Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s party, the small parties, other forces and every other force that we could on one common platform.
Q: How certain are you that a Presidential election will be held soon?
If you take the television we see many astrologers who come and predict this sort of thing. And we even have a Royal Astrologer in this country. Dates for the election are also given by these astrologers. In this backdrop I believe that an election will be held between November 7, 2014 and February next year.
The President is facing a very big problem which is why he has intimated that elections will be held soon. If not why should he call for an election this early? He could be in power till 2016? They will wait for the most opportune moment and hold an election and from what I hear this period is going to be between November 7 and February 2015.
It’s not going to be easy for the President to win this election and from what we have heard the President is also a bit agitated about his chances of winning it.
The defeat of this regime will solely depend on our capacity as an opposition and the forces we are able to galvanize. This President is different from all other presidents because previously, all those who were around the earlier Presidents were officials. But in this case, the people around Mahinda Rajapaksa are his siblings.
We can never defeat this President through a no confidence motion in parliament because his brother Chamal Rajapaksa would thwart it. The President does not have to worry about anything.
Then if you look at the Economy, it is completely handled by Basil Rajapaksa and the President does not need to worry about it.
Then on the security front, Gotabaya Rajapaksa will protect his brother without even a fly being able to get close to the President.
The youth have been taken care of by Namal Rajapaksa through various programmes.
So then what does the President have to worry about? He has his family that surrounds him and not officials. He has no work to do if you really analyse it. That is why he could carry children and go for funerals and go for all these events of a miniscule nature. All he has to worry about is how to maintain his power by winning elections and how to manourvere the political landscape.
Therefore we have to be able to present a candidate who is politically more savvy than he is and who could take up this challenge. I am of the belief that we could defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa but for that to be done all forces must unite and work together with a single purpose in mind.
Translated by Hafeel Farisz