Karu Jayasuriya

ĎParty back on right trackí

By Rohan Abeywardena
Humble and ever gentlemanly UNP Deputy Leader Jayasuriya, although accused by some of his Ananda College contemporaries as a school bully, says he may have been up to his share of mischief in his youth, but the important thing is not to carry them into adulthood. He answers some blunt questions we placed before him regarding his party in equally forthright and hard hitting replies.

Q: An irate reader who was apparently not happy with us interviewing Sajith Premadasa in our last Sundayís issue of The Nation asks the question why we donít give attention to a much experienced person like you, the Deputy Leader of the UNP, who is rightfully the next in line for the leadership of the party. Are you interested in leading the party?
While thanking your reader for his assertion, I stand by the fact that it is up to the newspaper to decide who would be the most interesting interview candidate in a particular week. Sajith Premadasa is a vibrant young politician who is a big part of the UNP grassroots whom I wish to see in a position of power within the party one day. So, I congratulate you for conducting an interesting discussion with him last week. With regard to the UNP, I must say that we are a party with a proud tradition of allowing space for talented young leaders to emerge based on their merits rather than on any hereditary right as seen in other political parties. I have no doubt that a leader will emerge soon among the young members of our party who can take us back to the winning path. Both Sajith and Ravi are capable leaders while there are several others who are equally competent. In the meantime, if the party feels that there should be an interim arrangement until a future leader emerges, then at such point Iím ready to take up any responsibility that is bestowed on me or even resign from the present post I am holding. I have said this repeatedly and I will say it again; Iím ready for any promotion or demotion as long as it is in the best interests of the UNP. I have achieved many things in my life that Iím very proud of and nothing will please me more than to contribute to make the UNP a winning force again. We owe that to the people of our country. Today, they deserve to be heard. The people are looking for leadership to rise against the cost of living which is drowning the poor man in a quagmire of misery. They are desperate for a voice to deter the blatant corruption and the ugly nepotism that has taken root under this regime. The masses are not blind to the violence that is happening around them. These are issues that need to be heard. History has proven that the UNP is the party to deliver on prosperity and now the time has come again for us to live up to that promise.

Q: According to some of your contemporaries at Ananda College you were a bully in school. When did you undergo the transformation into white clad peace loving politician or are you a wolf in sheepís clothing?
I may have been many things during my school days but this is the first time that Iíve heard any one call me a bully. Ananda College is known for its strict disciplinary standards and I am certain that it did not tolerate indiscipline and bullying in the past or in the modern day. It was the training I received at school that enabled me to perform successfully as an officer of the army, a diplomat and now as a politician. None of these professions could have tolerated a bully or allowed one to succeed. Having said that, I am sure you can appreciate that children will be children and for boys in particular, being rioters during school years is a perfectly natural, even healthy thing. I am sure I exercised my share of naughtiness and mischief, but only someone who fails to grow as an individual would carry those things into adulthood.

Q: It is an obvious fact that your leader virtually invited trouble by not taking the initiative to galvanise the party to being much more vibrant by devolving tasks to capable people and instead he always withdrew into a shell with a coterie of yes men. What in your opinion should the leader do now to win back the initiative instead of going out like a sore loser?
With regard to what has happened within the UNP, it is not only the leader, but to a certain degree I myself must take responsibility. Neither he nor I can ever run away from that. Mistakes have been made, but there are very serious attempts now underway to rectify these shortcomings. As I said before, the silent majority is yearning for political leadership to address the burning issues of the day. We must rise to this occasion.
With regard to Ranil Wickremesinghe he will never be a sore loser. Irrespective of the slanderous propaganda that has been drummed in truly Gobbelsian fashion by the current regime, the people of this country will never forget that it was Ranil that Prabhakaran wanted defeated at the 2005 presidential election and it was not Ranil who cut a deal with the LTTE leader to win the presidency. So, irrespective of the future course of action Wickeremesinghe may choose to take, his mark in Sri Lankan politics will be remembered by those who choose to view history with a long view lens, instead of believing only the versions spewed out by the regime.

Q: Often when your party attacks the government with almost daily media briefings they lack credibility as your glib speakers clearly seem to be just attacking for the sake of attacking, looking morť like parrots. It is like a case of crying wolf daily. Wouldnít it be better to wait for some serious issues which you can challenge with facts?
Well this is a question I must pose back at you. It is not our problem that the government in power makes mistakes on a daily basis. Donít you think that the country losing GSP is a serious issue? Donít you think the non-implementation of the 17th Amendment over the last five years is a matter of importance? Donít you think we should ask the question why university students are being killed by the police and covered up, while the same police are admonished for trying to protect UN staff members against hooligans led by cabinet ministers? Donít you think that the fact that Lasantha Wickrematunge was killed and that his death is not being investigated is matter that we should remind this regime about on a daily basis? Donít you think that the people deserve to know why the general who led the army to victory is now languishing in a prison cell? Sirasa Media is being attacked repeatedly, not because it is supportive of the opposition, but simply because Sirasa is trying to provide both sides of the story Ė this is something the regime cannot tolerate, having subjugated almost every other media outfit into towing its line. Lasanthaís assassination, the multiple attacks on Sirasa, the abduction and assault of Keith Noyahr, the attack on Upali Tennakoon, the missing journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda Ė these are all critical matters that the government has failed to investigate, leading to the conclusion that the inquiry is so lax because it was carried out with government sanction. And even now, with the war concluded and world attention being focussed squarely upon Sri Lanka, the Siyatha TV station was bombed yesterday, just yards away from the Gangaramaya temple and at the very heart of a high security zone that also covers Temple Trees.
With regard to your question as the UNP we find ourselves confronted with two problems. Firstly, the media in this country is being stifled and these messages are not getting across to the public for them to be better informed regarding the state of affairs. The other problem is that a daily press briefing is not enough to cope with the levels of incompetence and corruption that the current regime has managed to reach. When governments make such mistakes Ė I donít think anyone would accuse the opposition is crying wolf on a daily basis. If anything the UNP might be accused of not doing enough.

Q: Last week as the acting leader of the party you came out with an appeal for an internal party truce by publicly admitting that the party was facing the worst crisis of its 60 year history. Are you talking to deaf elephants?
Certainly not. I have had very positive responses to my statement and I can clearly see that the UNP after many years is awakening to its true potential. We are a party that has a rich history in democracy and Iím certain that before long the UNP will be championing the call for change in our country.
They say that the darkest hour is before dawn and we can now see light at the end of the tunnel. The UNP is a democratic party that allows free expression. We have had frank discussions and a frank exchange of views. We are now coming together to ensure that the party gets back on the right track and focuses on victory at future elections. I have never been so confident that things are going in the right direction as Iím now. And I have no doubt that the whole country will be surprised by the way things will turn around in the very near future.

Q: The lack of internal democracy may not be something Ranil Wickremesinghe created as even JRJ or R. Premadasa were no saints, but the fact of the matter is the whole world has changed and UNPers too are demanding internally what they are asking from the central government. So, will you now insist on first putting your own house in order as should be the case in any legitimate democratic party?
We intend doing both simultaneously. While applying pressure on the government to take the right course of action on many matters especially on constitutional reforms that would ensure that democracy is restored in our country from the current oligarchy of a chosen family and friends, we will also put our party straight. I think these two things can happen together and there is no reason to exclude one while concentrating on the other. To do so would be abdicating our democratic responsibility. The UNP can afford to do this Ė to look inward while also taking on the government on multiple fronts because what an opposition party does rarely affects the people of this country on a daily basis. So, in a sense we have the luxury of fixing our own house while attending to matters as a responsible opposition. On the other hand, every action of the government has a direct and detrimental effect on the population of this country. For that reason, they must be checked, constantly and unceasingly.

With regard to your reference to past UNP leaders, I would like to say that no leader is perfect and some maybe worse than others. Presidents Jayewardene and Premadasa were no mere mortals in our pantheon of leaders. Their achievements are still visible. JRJ ushered in a free market economy long before China or India, todayís global powerhouses realised the disastrous strangulation of a closed economic model many years later. President Jayewardeneís leadership in dealing with a hostile India and turning the table on a neighbour that was about to invade us are not qualities even historians have fully fathomed. So goes for President Premadasa. People are still talking about him because of the work he did for the poor and disadvantaged people of the country. He is a man who understood the masses and developed the country. Certainly they are human and therefore may have made mistakes.