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Interviews


ďMy resignation will force leadership to
find solutions to party issuesĒ

UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekara says the party leadership has failed to implement decisions taken, and he wonít return to the UNP Working Committee unless these issues are resolved

By Rathindra Kuruwita
Q: You resigned from the working committee of the party on August 12. Has the leadership accepted your letter of resignation?
A:
No. Ranil Wickremesinghe told me that he will not accept my letter, and he told me that he is not even willing to read it. But that does not mean that I will be returning to the Committee unless the issues I pointed out are resolved.

Q: The Working Committee meeting at which you handed over your resignation was very tense. And it is rumoured that many MPs were very critical of your behaviour?
A:
No, thatís not what happened. Almost everyone agreed with my decision. Some claimed that I was too rash and others claimed that the system can be changed from the inside. But overall they were very supportive.

Q: Do you think that your resignation will force the leadership to find solutions to the problems you pointed out, like the failure of the Working Committee to implement certain polices adopted by the party?
A:
I think it would. The fact that the decisions taken by the party were not implemented by the leadership is a very grave issue. And I think that as a member of the UNP I should question why this is happening, and I think these objections should be raised openly at the relevant places. But unfortunately when I raised this issue in the past I ended up getting called a traitor or a rebel.
The other option is to take a silent stance and ignore the fact that the party is losing its footing with the people. But itís something that I cannot do.
As that was the case, I thought that resigning from the Working Committee was good for the party and itís good for the health of my cardiovascular system!

Q: But this is not a new issue. It has been raised many times in the recent past?
A:
There are issues, but so does every party. Even the UPFA has a lot of internal issues but since they are in power those internal issues are hidden.

Q: And the consecutive losses at the recently held elections have definitely contributed to the worsening of the situation. If the UNP was in power, would these issues have surfaced to such an extent?
A:
With the war victories and the immense support that the government managed to harness through it, itís not surprising that the opposition parties are having a tough time at the elections. And the government has also made sure that independent commissions donít function. Therefore they can politicise the entire state sector. We need these independent commissions to make the playing ground legal, and to make these elections free and fair.
Normally people associate violence with an unfair election, but that is not always the case. The state can carry out many activities below the radar that would have a lot of implications and influence.

Q: The non implementation of independent commissions, specially the Police Commission, has had a significant impact on peoplesí lives as shown by the recent incidents that involve the Police?
A:
In the absence of the Police Commission, there is no place for independent and efficient Police officers. Everyone is worried that if they take a decision against a supporter of the UPFA, they might get a transfer or their career will suffer. And the HQIs and the OIC are political appointees, and in decisive moments they become the pawns of the government politicians.

Q: You speak about the non implementation of the Constitutional Council, the independent commissions and the misuse of state property. But it is also true that the UNP has not appointed organisers for many of the seats. And that has also had a significant impact on the poor performance?
A:
That is also a one reason. In a situation like this when the government is riding on a wave of success, many opposition party supporters and representatives lose hope and are disillusioned. So on occasions like this, some decide to leave. But we should also constantly work on keeping our grass root level organisers motivated and weather this storm and rebuild the party.

Earlier Justin Galappaththi left the UNP because of a disagreement over the appointment of MP Sagala Ratnayake as the Matara district leader instead of him who had held the post for a long time. I know as a party we could have done more for him, but I really cannot agree with his decision to leave the party as people who stood for him. He should have endured and stayed on.
But we canít turn back the clock and there is no point in worrying about those that have left the party. We should focus on rebuilding the future with a new set of leaders.

Q: You say that you need to think about building new leaders. Who are you thinking about?
A:
We have a set of leaders who have new ideas and they are willing to fight for much needed reforms in the party. If we look at the recently held Western Provincial Council elections we see that the people have chosen many who are well educated, and who I think represent the future of Sri Lankan politics.

For example almost everyone we put forward as candidates from Rosy Senanayake to Shiral Lakthilake are people who have made a lot of sacrifices for the UNP. And many of them were appointed to the Council. Now it is up to them to prove themselves and to convince the people that they are really peopleís representatives. They should attend the sessions, point out the mistakes of the ruling party and make their voice be heard by the people.

Unfortunately, Shiral Lakthilake was not able to enter the Council. But I think some members will move to Parliament in the next general election, and Shiral also will get a chance to be a member of the Council.

Q: There are a lot of MPs that claim that the party cannot move forward with Ranil Wickremesinghe. If Wickremesinghe leaves the leadership, who in your opinion can fill that void?
A:
I canít predict the future but if there is a change in the leadership Iím sure there will be people who will rise to the occasion. And Iím not saying that I can see a clear contender in the UNP, but when you look at any party there are no real second tier political leaders. Our system stifles the creativity of the youth and prevents them from developing themselves into great national leaders.
But as I said before, there maybe a dark horse within the party ranks and that person might change the partyís fortunes. For example when Chandrika Bandaranaike left the SLFP many feared that there would be no one to lead the party, but new leaders came up and I think that when there is an opportunity someone will definitely rise to the occasion.

Q: There were many media reports on the dispute between you and MPs Akila Viraj and Sagala Rathnayake?
A:
I have no personal antagonism with either. We had a heated argument regarding policy. I think that the leadership and Akila Viraj made a mistake regarding the way they filled a vacant position in the North Western Provincial Council, and I told that directly to them. I have always pointed out mistakes very openly, and Iím also keen to accept any constructive criticism levelled at me. So I think itís a mistake to think that the argument we had was anything personal.
I also spoke of the issue between Sagala and Justin although Sagala is a very close friend of mine. This does not mean that I will not cooperate with Sagala or Akila. I will work with them to lead the UNP into victory.

Q: There are rumours that there is a dispute between you and some other UNP MPs?
A:
I donít think so. I have no personal issues with anyone. I donít have a personal agenda. My only agenda is to bring the party to power.

Q: You said you have an agenda to bring the party to power. What is that agenda?
A:
First of all we should understand the feelings of the people. Secondly we have to come up with a plan to convince the people that we represent what they want. For example we have come to decide on our policies for the coming years. Are we going to follow the open economy and the neo liberal principles? Or are we moving towards a welfare system of governance? Are we going to abolish the Presidency, and what steps are we going to take steps to ensure good governance and real national economic agenda?.
I admit that we have lost ground with the people, even with social groups that traditionally supported us, but we can easily restore faith, if we are able to properly formulate a plan that people can accept.

Q: In the recently held Provincial Council elections, the UPFA won over 70% of the votes in almost all the districts, and many feel that they can repeat this performance at a general election?
A:
No, I donít think so. The government got such large percentage of votes simply because it focussed the entire state machinery on a limited area and overwhelmed the population. The UPFA government misused state property and the state media to hammer down their will upon the people.
That cannot be done in a general election where they will have to spread out the state resources, and with that they will lose their edge. Iím sure we will be able to make a good come back in the general election. In the coming months people will have to face harsh economic realities, and that will wake them up from their slumber.

Q: There are a lot of stories circulating about the UNPís common candidate, and there are rumours that some people have already been identified?
A:
We are already working on it but we have not yet specifically identified such a person.
Although I cannot go into detail, I can say that the common candidate should be a UNP member. But he should also have the capacity to unite other parties around him. He should also be a well known and respected individual.

Q: Talking about the more immediate Southern Provincial Council election, what kind of preparation has the UNP made?
A:
Right now we are talking to our grassroot level organisers. We are trying to motivate them and discuss strategy with them. We plan to commence a massive election campaign when we are done finalising the nominations.

Q: When the COPE report was presented earlier this week, you along with the JVP MPs Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Sunil Handuneththi protested, claiming that you have reservations about certain observations made in the report, particularly with regard to the reactivation of the Sri Lanka Press Council?
A:
These were many problems. First of all our viewpoints had not been incorporated when COPE took a decision on the reactivation of the Press Council. Secondly according to the regulations, it is not permitted for any member of a committee, specially a member of the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee on Public Enterprises to discuss internal matters in public. And if a member feels that he needs to add something or make a statement he/she should present a report to Parliament.
But Lakshman Yapa not only publicised the matters we discussed, especially about Press Council, he also took some statements I made out of context, and told the media that the UNP is supporting the Press Council. But when we checked, no opposition MP has supported the implementation of the Press Council.

And we felt that some things that were included in the report were discussed when some opposition members were absent. For example the JVP MPs were absent when the issue of Press Council was discussed, although I was there I opposed it but there is no mention of that in the report.

We felt that the government was trying to use COPE for its petty political agenda. Thatís why we protested and demanded that things should be done according to procedure, otherwise people will lose faith in the COPE. And last Thursday we discussed the matter with the Chairman, Minister W. D. J. Senewiratne and resolved some issues.
And during Thursdayís meeting we came to a common agreement about three points regarding the future proceedings of the COPE.

1. No member can discuss internal affairs outside the committee.
2. We will not exert unnecessary force and intimidate the state officials that we question.
3. Stop the unnecessary intervention by some ministers who try to protect the corrupt officials

What we have to realise is that the COPE committee comprises members of all political parties, and the questions we ask or the issues we raise are not politically biased. All the members are striving to look into the malpractices of state institutes and rectify them.

Q: The previous Chairman of COPE was MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, and everyone agreed that during his tenure the COPE performed well. But the appointment of Minister W. D. J. Senewiratne raised many concerns about the independence of the committee?
A:
Traditionally the Chairman of the COPE is chosen from the opposition, but this government changed that policy without any regard to the accepted norm. When a government minister becomes the Chairman, it affects the integrity of the committee. But despite this we are doing our best to make the best out of this situation.

Q: Are you implying that the committee under the new chairman has underperformed?
A:
I wonít call it as an underperformance but I admit that we have still not touched important issues. We have not even looked at institutions that have major issues like Maga Neguma, Lanka Transformers, Mihin Lanka, Air Lanka, Ceylon Electricity Board, and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation; these are institutions that have a lot of irregularities. And we plan to bring these institutions in front of the COPE in the coming months.
And also, as we pointed out, some institutions jointly owned by the government and the private sector are challenging the COPEís authority to inspect them. Those institutions refuse to provide information to the Committee citing legal reasons, but after discussions that took place last Thursday, we decided that we should be able to get information from these institutions. So we plan to bring them in front of COPE.

Q: Last Tuesday MP Mangala Samaraweera was verbally assaulted at a UNP meeting in Kurunegala. And many claim that this is the result of an internal dispute in the party?
A:
I donít think that is the case. Mangala Samaraweera said that it was carried out by the government and I also believe that itís their doing. This is very similar to what the Naziís did in Germany, stifling the voice of the opposition by breaking their meetings by force.
This is a democratic country and people have the right to criticise. If the government does not like it, they could have used many alternatives that are permitted in democracy.

****