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With Wilson Gnanadass

Interviews



Elections - Not the yardstick for any Government - Muzammil

The provincial council has terribly failed to meet the aspirations of the voters. Firstly the government is still not devolving all the powers specified in the 13th amendment. When councils are run by the government party, there is no initiative to fight for powers. This is why an opposition party running the council would be helpful to the people in general. A classic example is the problem faced by the CMC today. The chief minister appointed a special commission to probe CMC corruption. The commission clearly said that this council is corrupt and mismanaged and must be dissolved forthwith. The CM has all the powers to dissolve the council but he did not do this due to pressure from above. That means he has devalued the system. Finally we had to go to the court to get the council suspended. So what I am saying is that a council should necessarily be from the opposition. This is healthy for democracy

A. J. M. Muzammil is no stranger to Sri Lankan politics. His political career goes back to the Dudley Senanayake period, where he first, as a student started to engage himself in politics. He has served the United National Party (UNP) and worked for the party under Dudley Senanayake, J. R. Jayawardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa, D.B.Wijetunge, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and the present leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in various capacities. Muzammil, who is a sitting member of the Western Provincial Council (WPC), will be contesting the forthcoming election and he says if elected to power his party will fight for the full implementation of the 13th amendment. He says the provinces lack adequate powers under the 13th amendment. He told The Nation in an interview that the present problems faced by the UNP is due to
a ‘UPFA sponsored conspiracy’ and added the matter has now been laid to rest

Q: With the WPC election around the corner, what chances do you think the UNP has this time to win the election?
A:
Given the present volatile economic situation, we are very optimistic that we will win the election. Of course, the present government is trying various methods, particularly in Colombo central to instill fear into the UNP supporters. I still believe that the government will try to block them from going to the polling booths. But still we have a very good chance. You see, the government’s dismal performance in the sphere of economic development which is coupled with the soaring cost of living has severely affected the people in the metropolitan sector. Especially the business community is affected. These factors will push the majority of the voters to cast their protest votes against the government, which I strongly believe will be in favour of the UNP. On the other hand the minority communities have made their choice already clear this time. In the western province they are sure to vote for us.

Q: Assumptions are that even if Colombo is won by the UNP due to the minority factor, the other two districts are going to be tough. What is your assessment?
A:
Don’t forget the fact that in Kalutara there is a sizeable Muslim vote base. Even in Gampaha there are Muslims and Tamils. Besides, the present UPFA government has failed to attract the minority community, even though it has the largest minority representation in parliament. Simply making every Muslim or Tamil Member of Parliament a minister is certainly not going to attract Tamil and Muslim vote bases at an election. For instance, the President promised during the eastern election, that the chief minister would be appointed from whichever the community that got the highest number of votes. The Muslim community returned 17 members and became the majority party in the eastern provincial council. But the promise was not honoured. At least decent portfolios could have been given to them to serve the community. Now do you think the government can win the confidence of the Muslims at the next election? Secondly, in the Kandy district, although the government machinery was put to its full use, not a single Muslim was given a chance to represent the community, though there are so many Muslim ministers and MPs. So in this situation, I doubt whether the minority will ever help this government win future elections.

Q: Why are you contesting the election again? What have you got to offer the people?
A:
The provincial council has terribly failed to meet the aspirations of the voters. Firstly the government is still not devolving all the powers specified in the 13th amendment. When councils are run by the government party, there is no initiative to fight for powers. This is why an opposition party running the council would be helpful to the people in general. A classic example is the problem faced by the CMC today. The chief minister appointed a special commission to probe CMC corruption. The commission clearly said that this council is corrupt and mismanaged and must be dissolved forthwith. The CM has all the powers to dissolve the council but he did not do this due to pressure from above. That means he has devalued the system. Finally we had to go to the court to get the council suspended. So what I am saying is that a council should necessarily be from the opposition. This is healthy for democracy.

Q: If elected to power what are the new changes the UNP intends to bring to this province?
A:
Firstly, we will try to implement the existing powers in the 13th amendment to the constitution. That will create a big impact. Once this is done the whole system will be strengthened. And then there are unsolved problems in the key sectors such as education, health and sanitation, rehabilitating the Colombo youth and so on. And we will be actively engaging ourselves in improving these sectors. We will also find an immediate solution to the garbage menace in Colombo especially.

Q: The UNP has still not nominated its chief ministerial candidate. Why?
A:
The prime motive of the UNP is to allow the candidates to contest freely so that everybody will be able to demonstrate his or her popularity in general. The UNP needs strong politicians in the districts. So this will make a better situation for the people to run and show their strength. At the end of the day all had worked hard.

Q: Young Duminda Silva and Thilanga Sumathipala, both UNP crossovers, are carrying out massive campaigns. Are they a threat to the UNP?
A:
They are a threat to each other. Besides, they are only threatening their own candidates. We are not threatened.

Q: The present UNP is embroiled in a huge power crisis and do you think this could possibly affect the elections at the end of the day?
A:
Obviously the timing is bad for candidates like us. But the present struggle that is seen in the UNP is for a structural change. Whoever who demanded for changes did not look at taking the party to victory. It was only to reduce the power of the present leader and also to treat the future leaders as prisoners. These kinds of exercise cannot succeed unless the prime objective is to bring the party to victory. Since this problem has come up during the election, this could have seriously affected the progress of the campaign and the election. But fortunately, we managed to bring everything under control. As a person working with the grassroots, I find that the support they (grassroots) have for the present leader is immense. It is only a few who wanted to make some changes but they have not succeeded. We also see this as a huge conspiracy. I believe in any political organisation the party leader without power cannot survive and cannot take the party ahead. A party leader should have absolute powers.

Q: You said the present crisis is a conspiracy. Who do you suspect?
A:
Obviously the UPFA. The government is now stuck in both the ethnic issue and the economy. The government has terribly failed to manage both. There are no more towns to capture in the north. This is something what the government has been selling for some time. But now this is also over. Now what is the next option the government has? It is only the opposition. For the government, the best thing would be to weaken the main opposition and then go before the people, begging for votes. This is why, the present government, very tactfully has manipulated in such a way to sell the UNP dispute in the market, just prior to another election. The government is very shrewd and we are aware of this but not taking it seriously. This is part of today’s politics.

Q: If this is construed as a UPFA sponsored conspiracy, how come senior UNP members are caught in it? It is the party stalwarts who are demanding for changes?
A:
The members who are demanding for changes feel that they will not be able to win future elections under the present leader as the party has lost many elections under him. So this is the fear they have. But I strongly feel that the UNP can win the next elections. The present conspiracy that I am talking about is definitely not about a future general election but to cause some splits so that there will be confusion and the party will not fare well at the WPC election. I clearly see a close links with these members and the government. I will give one classic example. A former director attached to the Airport and Aviation recently said that he allowed some telecommunication equipment to be taken into the LTTE area during the time when Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister. Now this individual is very closely associated with the UNP rebels who are demanding for changes in the UNP. But after the statement was made, he was released. He was not further questioned or detained by the present government. So understandably he has been used by the government to sling mud at Ranil Wickremesinghe. In actual fact, either he should have been detained or Wickremesinghe should have been punished if this story was true. I somehow see a link to the rebels’ demand for structural changes in the UNP and this individual’s statement to the press. I also see a government hand in this whole exercise. This is why I am confidently holding the government responsible for this present crisis within the UNP. One thing I am certain. And that is, the only political leader President Mahinda Rajapakse fears is Ranil Wickremesinghe. The rest of them are chicken to him.

Q: But the leadership crisis never surfaced yesterday or last week. It has been there for a considerable period of time?
A: It has been surfacing on and off. But the present one appears to be a conspiracy. But otherwise the party in governance has always had an advantage over the other parties in the local elections. Nevertheless, these elections don’t necessarily and always become the measuring yardstick for any party.

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