Crisis simmering in the UNP; Mahinda under JVP fist: SB

UNP national organiser S.B. Dissanayake is frank in his opinion and openly says there is a crisis within the party. He cites delays in implementing vital reforms as the cause for this crisis and says there is a section within the party who does not want any change done. While assuring that he would not leave the party, Dissanayake told The Nation that he feels it is difficult for the UNP to march to victory unless reforms are implemented.

ďThere is a section that does not like any change within the party. Another section think if we go on like this there is no future for the party and it will get destroyed. I also hold that latter view. Therefore a clear, decisive change should happen within this party. This change has to be done quickly. Certain action is being taken towards this end.Ē

By Kesara Abeywardena
Following are excerpts:
Q. It seems the country is back to all out war despite pronouncements by both sides that they had not violated the ceasefire agreement. Your observations?
A. Both sides are at war. They are bombing each other. But both sides do not want to accept responsibility for violating and breaking the ceasefire agreement. Both sides are killing innocent civilians. - And the war is raging on. Both sides are lying when they say they are not killing civilians. They are also lying when they say they have taken over this or that base. At the moment there is no ceasefire or a ceasefire agreement.
Q. Would the situation be different if the UNP was in power?
A. The UNP went to the ceasefire at a time when the country was divided. They had their own police stations, courts, banks, post offices and other administrative mechanisms. At that time the government had suffered several setbacks militarily. We went to a ceasefire at such a moment. By 2002, the UNP government signed the ceasefire agreement and brought both the main political parties to a common understanding on this issue. If that process which we initiated moved forward without being obstructed the whole world would have been with us. They would have helped us in many ways even if there was a necessity to fight with the LTTE.
Q. Do you mean that situations like Mawil Aru would not have arisen?
A. Definitely no. Our government was dissolved at a time when we were almost ready to start peace talks again. We could have come a lot forward in the peace front by now if that did not happen. The only way to solve this problem is through maximum devolution of power within a united Sri Lanka.
Q. There is a perception that this entire war effort is being carried out on the whims of the JVP and the JHU and the voice of the SLFP had been buried. What do you see?
A. Quite clearly so. We can see that the President wants to devolve power but both the JVP and the JHU does not allow him to do so. Mahinda Rajapaksa although he is the leader of the SLFP and the PA, now is under the fist of the JVP and the JHU. He also does not have any other option. Although he wants to go on a different direction he canít because the government will collapse.
Q. Do you think that the President is genuinely interested in devolving power?
A. I donít think so. There was a viewpoint in the SLFP that power should be devolved and the genuine grievances of the Tamil people should be answered. But Mahinda Rajapaksa was never in the forefront of that school of thought. But now he must be realising that there is no other alternative than finding a solution through devolution of power.
Q. Will it serve any purpose having an all party conference at this time?
A. No it is a hoax. It only deceives the country, the people, the world and finally the President himself.
Q. The criticism levelled against the UNPís ceasefire and peace process is that they were giving into all demands of the LTTE and the Tigers strengthened themselves using the ceasefire and even transported bombs to the South during that time. Your comments?
A. Did the Maradana bomb, the Dalada Maligawa bomb, the Central Bank bomb, the Katunayaka attack take place after the ceasefire. All these attacks happened while there were barricades and checkpoints all over the city and outside as well. So there is no logical ground to support the view that the LTTE strengthened itself because the checkpoints were removed. There is no country in this world where problems with ethnic and racial tones were solved by fighting. In India for example there was no Tamilnadu till 1965. One section was in Kerala and the other part in Andra Pradesh. They made Tamilnadu because people struggled for it. The states of Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland were created after the government was not able to defeat the uprisings in those places. Indonesia completely burnt Timor but they lost it in the end. In Aceh, Indonesia is trying to solve the problem by devolving power to extreme lengths. If power is not devolved what ultimately happens is that those countries breakup. Czechoslovakia broke into two, Yugoslavia broke into five. Even today the Chechnyan guerillas are fighting with Russia. They could not finish it off. Devolving power is not done in desperation or out of fear of the LTTE. It is the correct thing to be done. The unitary form of governance is a very primitive system. Only kings, tribal and fascist leaders maintained this form of centralised power. When countries developed and people got educated power was devolved. So telling that Sri Lanka is a small country and there is no point in devolving power is wrong. Switzerland is very much smaller than Sri Lanka but there are 26 small councils. Belgium is smaller than us but there are seven councils. These are highly developed and wealthy nations. Countries have not become poor from devolving power. Devolving power while keeping the country together is a highly civilised feature, centralised power is a feature of the savages. But Mahinda can only keep fighting because the JVP and the JHU would not allow him to go towards such a solution.
Q. Will the UNP support the government?
A. If Mahinda wants he can come to some arrangement with the UNP for two or three years. But I personally believe that he does not have the strength to do that. He does not have the strength to throw away the JVP and the JHU and work with the UNP.
Q. Is there a crisis within the UNP as well?
A. There is a crisis. After we lost the Presidential election many people thought that there should be some major changes within the party. The leader, the deputy leader and everyone agreed to do that change. But it is not happening. Because of that there is a big crisis. There is a section that do not like any change within the party. Another section think if we go on like this there is no future for the party and it will get destroyed. I also hold that latter view. Therefore a clear, decisive change should happen within this party. This change has to be done quickly. Certain action is being taken towards this end.
Q. Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe presented his own proposals for reforms recently. Do you agree with them?
A. We give our whole hearted support for a clear change in the party. We started discussions on his proposals. There were some good proposals and there were some that needed to be changed. But these should be done quickly.
Q. There is an idea that the UNP is not powerful at the grassroot level, particularly in the villages. What has to be done?
A. We should go from village to village and carry out our organising campaigns. When that is done people will get a new hope. We should create hope within the party at village level. There are many good UNPers in villages who say it is useless as we have been losing 14 elections. To rejuvenate them we should give them hope. This was the case with the SLFP in 1993. But we brought in a new face in Chandrika at that time and created that hope in the minds of the people. There is a breakdown in the UNP in the village as well as at town level. That is why reforms are needed. If we do that and go before the people in a new way I am confident that we can come to power at any moment.
Q. There were reports that the political affairs committee of the UNP is to be dissolved. As a person who had raised vital issues on party reforms at the political affairs committee do you think this is another move to block reforms?
A. I also think it is not good that things we discuss at the political affairs committee appear in the newspapers. That is not healthy because we very openly discuss and criticise each other at the political affairs committee. We are doing a major struggle there to take this party in a new direction. So it is not good that things we discuss there appear in newspapers. But there is a certain section that does not want party reforms and want the political affairs committee dissolved. My personal opinion is that the reforms we think of are not happening in this party. Because of that it is not easy for the party to win as well. Therefore for me it does not matter whether the political affairs committee or the working committee exists or not or whether I am in them or not. But I will not leave the UNP. I will work within the UNP to correct its course and move forward.