Muslims have never
clamoured for regional power
a few are chosen as power players to mould and make political
parties from behind the screen in politics. They may not be
popular in politics but certainly make others popular through
their skills and expertise. One such person who has been active
in the Sri Lankan politics is A. M. M. Naushad, son of former
Member of Parliament (MP) for Ninthavur M. I. M. Majeed and son
- in - law of also former MP for Ampara M. A. Abdul Majeed. He
is today the UNP’s convener for Eastern Province and Chairman of
the Eastern province Political Affairs Committee. He is also a
member of the UNP’s working committee.
Naushad who was one time a High Command member of Sri Lanka
Muslim Congress (SLMC) says if the TMVP was not armed today, the
UNP would have participated at tomorrow’s election in Batticaloa.
Accusing the TMVP’s alliance with the government, Naushad told
The Nation that the non participation of the UNP at tomorrow’s
election was to protest against the government’s efforts to
legitimise the TMVP through a working arrangement both parties
have arrived at. He also declared that the UNP in the future
will not align with smaller parties to contest election, but
instead, added, if smaller parties desired to contest with the
UNP, they should do so under the UNP symbol
By Wilson Gnanadass
Following are excerpts:
Q: How would you describe the support to the UNP by the
Muslims in the East at present?
A: The UNP’s support per se in the East among the Muslims is
not something that can be quantified from what has happened
since 2001. Up to the year 2000, the UNP had Muslim elected
representation in Trincomalee and Batticaloa while in Ampara
there was a National list MP. Thereafter with the electoral
arrangements made with the SLMC, there has been no UNP
organisation at electoral level, even though Ali Sahir Moulana
and thereafter Myown Mustapha, were nominated on the National
list. This has been due to the fact that the SLMC has always
aligned with the governing party, and this has basically kept
the people with them for want of political patronage. The SLMC
will admit that their success at the 2001 and 2004 general
elections in the East was as a result of them being able to rope
in the UNP vote base.
Q: The UNP on your recommendation is not contesting the local
polls scheduled for tomorrow. Why?
A: The assumption that the UNP decided not to contest in
Batticaloa on my recommendation is incorrect. I as the
Provincial Convener, having assessed the ground situation and
the happenings in the district, was of the opinion that a free
and fair election cannot be held in the Batticaloa district,
with one contesting group being armed and working along with
government forces. I am of the opinion that the UNP contesting
at Batticaloa would only legitimise an illegal exercise. There
was a lot of discussion in the party over this, and the final
decision was taken by the party that it should stay out as a
protest against the actions of the government.
Q: Had the TMVP contested the election unarmed conditionally,
would the UNP have contested the election?
A: If the TMVP sheds its arms and enters the democratic
stream of politics I would definitely be spearheading a move to
work with them for the benefit of the Tamil speaking people of
the area, because the TMVP comprises Tamil youth of the Eastern
Province who have an important role to play in deciding our
Q: But the people who have been used to vote for the elephant
symbol are being deprived. They say the UNP should have
contested the election.
A: This decision was not taken just by the hierarchy of the
party, but also on the feed back given to the party by the
organisers of the district, after having consulted their
supporters. In fact during the run up to the nominations, there
were many reports of former UNP candidates and prominent
supporters being coerced by the TMVP cadres to either contest on
their list or stay away. It was a decision based on the
sentiments of the people and the position of the party with
regard to the activity of another wing of the LTTE in the
Q: Would this lead to the erosion of the UNP vote base in the
A: The UNP vote bank in the East has been of recent past
based on the position the party faces vis a vis the national
issues. The UNP is the only party that has a clear position with
regard to the rights of the minorities in a negotiated
settlement to the national issues. Therefore it cannot be said
that decisions taken in the interest of democracy and the rights
of people would erode the vote base of the UNP.
Q: What is the UNP’s position regarding the government’s plan
to hold Provincial Council elections?
A: The party has just initiated discussions on this issue,
and there will be a series of meetings during the course of next
week with organisers of the area, after which the Political
Affairs Committee of the party would take a decision.
Q: Do you think a Provincial Council election is necessary at
present given the escalation of violence in these areas?
A: Any attempt at giving power to the people in the regions
is welcome, provided a level playing field can be assured by the
government in power, so that the people of the area can freely
make their choice of who should govern them.
Q: The UNP is accused of involving in, ‘patch work politics’
in the East by the SLMC. How do you view this accusation?
A: I am really amused at this accusation if there is any.
Because today the SLMC is holding seats in the East only because
of the UNP not nominating Muslim candidates of their own, at
elections at the request of the SLMC. And in fact, the UNP not
contesting the local poll in Batticaloa, is also to the
advantage of the SLMC, which the SLMC will be reluctant to
concede. This has actually damaged the support of the UNP. The
UNP has now realised that patch work agreements with smaller
parties does not help in the long run. Hence the decision to
reorganise and revitalise its vote base among the minorities in
the North and East.
Q: Does it mean that the future elections will be contested
by the UNP without aligning with smaller parties?
A: The UNP has taken a decision that it is open to alliances
with like thinking parties for an election, or for the formation
of the government without surrendering its identity in the
regions. This would effectively mean that any like thinking
party wanting to align with the UNP would have to contest under
the UNP’s symbol, without restricting the UNP’s need to field
its own candidates as well.
Q: But is it possible under the existing electoral system to
win an election without aligning with smaller parties?
A: If you go back to 1989, with the emergence of the SLMC in
the East with its founder leader at the helm and at the height
of its popularity, the UNP still won the Ampara and the
Trincomalee districts which formed the backbone of the SLMC
support at that time. So alliances with parties with a view to
come into power compromising the founding principles of national
parties has cost them dearly and lessons learnt are what is now
the compelling factor.
Q: Has the UNP identified the needs of the people in the East
and if so what are they?
A: Basically the primary need of the people in the East is
peace. With peace coming in, mobility, access to their
livelihood, investments in infrastructure, and maximising the
resources of that area which has remained untapped for the last
30 years, would also come in automatically.
Q: What are the measures taken by the UNP to deliver this to
A: The UNP has very clearly in its election manifesto
spelled out how it would address these issues. If you look at
the manifesto of the 2005 Presidential election, 2001 and 2004
General elections the development of the East and bringing peace
to the area has been given the highest priority. And once the
UNP assumes power it will definitely be working on swiftly
implementing its plans. But for all this to happen, honorable
peace within all communities has to come.
Q: You were one time SLMC High Command Member. How do you see
the performance of the SLMC now?
A: My joining the SLMC was a result of the persuasion of the
Ampara district Mosque Federation that declared all Muslim
political forces in the district should contest under one
banner. At a meeting held at the Ranmuthu hotel subsequently, I
was the first to get up and declare that I would unconditionally
agree to work with the SLMC, which I was doing even at that time
as a member of their Constitutional Council in an independent
capacity. I was even willing to contest the election if the
party requested me to do so. This was a need of the day as we
had to make an effort to consolidate the Muslim voice to
strengthen the community’s demand for independent participation
at the peace process.
But this did not work out. Thereafter having joined the SLMC, I
worked to ensure that the party realised the mood of the people
and in keeping with reality take up positions that could
eventually ensure that the community had its fair share in any
negotiated settlement to the ethnic issue. Unfortunately the
power politics of the current proportional representation system
and the fact that the SLMC had been corrupted by power and
absolute power during the 1994 to 2000 period, I realised it was
difficult for the party to work towards the basic founding
principles of the party. This is why the SLMC, even after having
received a majority of the Muslim votes at every election, has
not been able to hold on to its representatives who were elected
on a mandate which is very dear to the Muslims of the North
East. So the end result has been that today the party support if
analysed statistically will show a very sharp decline in the
North and the East. The latest episode of the SLMC deciding to
join the government to save the party and thereafter leaving the
government, dividing the party, proves that the party is now
drifting, and unable to basically work towards maintaining its
vote base among the people of the North East, who have
continuously hoped that the party would deliver on its promises.
Q: Does the UNP recognise the SLMC demand for a separate
administrative council for the Muslims in the East?
A: The cry for a separate council by the SLMC or for that
matter Muslims of the East should be seen as a part of the whole
problem because it is more a reactionary call than something
that has evolved over time. The Muslims have in the history of
the country never clamoured for regional power. This has come
about by the non-inclusion of their aspirations by both the
majority communities; that is the Sinhalese and the Tamils,
though the Tamil leadership has been pointing a finger at the
Sinhala majority. They have not turned that finger towards
themselves and seen that they were repeating that same behaviour
towards their minority, that is the Muslims of the North and
East. The very same reasons attributed by them for autonomy is
what is echoed by the Muslims. So this cry will not be sustained
if an inclusive process evolved, which is just and equitable to
all communities. The UNP’s position is that we have to build a
national identity. And it is on record that should the
resolution of the North East conflict be conditional to the
merger of the North and East, then the just demand of the
Muslims and Sinhalese should also be met.