|I AM A GREAT DEMOCRAT,
Rebels steadfast as ever in demanding unp reforms
The power struggle in the United
National Party is far from over even though there is now
less public exchanges possibly in view of the forthcoming
local elections and reformists not wanting to be blamed for
But reformists are steadfast as ever in their demand for
greater democracy in the party.
Reformist camp leader Sajith Premadasa who is aspiring for
the party leadership of the party speaks his mind in a wide
ranging interview with The Nation.
Following are excerpts:
Q: Suddenly, UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya talked on
Thursday about implementing Panditharatna recommendations to
revive the party.
These recommendations were made some years back and were
left ignored all these years.
Does that mean that they are no longer interested in the
reforms package that has already been approved by the
working committee for adoption into the party constitution?
I am sorry that is a question you will have to put to him. I
also heard this statement, but this is a question he has to
answer. I got no idea.
Q: Increasingly it looks as if the leadership challenge
is heading for open showdowns. Now you launched the ‘Uda Gam
Charika’ from Horana on Thursday in direct challenge to your
leader Ranil Wickremesinghe starting ‘Grama Charika’ from
the same electorate on Saturday and Sunday. Where are we
That is absolutely rubbish.
It is just a creation of some mischievous elements in the
political and media arena.
As far as I am concerned there is no Charika.
All my life I have ensured that I have promoted the
interests of both rural and urban constituencies, which form
the backbone of our party and I have always mentioned that
79 per cent of Lankans live in rural areas so some greater
emphasis has to be put on the needs, grievances and
interests of rural folks.
I have said this all along.
So it is good that the party has initiated a programme to
promote rural interests.
Q: Is it not too much of a coincidence that you started
your ‘Udagam Charika’ from Horana on October 28 when your
leader is launching his ‘Grama Charika’ from the same
electorate just two days later?
This is where you missed the bus.
Two days before Horana, I was doing my programmes in
Where was the media in Kurunegala?
I have my own way of doing things in terms of promoting
I always try to ensure that when I embark on political
activities in parallel to that there is a development
programme in place.
For example, yesterday I was in Horana in three of the model
villages my father built – Jayadadagama, Maugama, which is
my grandmother’s birthplace and Arunagama. In two of those
villages there were requests from the area temples that they
were conducting development activities in view of the 2,600
‘Sambuddha Jayanthiya’ and they wanted some help and
assistance as far as their temple renovations are concerned.
So I have a programme called ‘Sasunata Aruna’ and we
provided Rs 50,000 each to the two temples.
One is located in the Maugama area and the other in
I have done this all my life. If ever I go to a particular
area in addition or in tandem with the political programme.
I also have a development programme that I implement so that
there is some sort of benefit to the locality and this is a
principle that my father followed.
For example, from this file (showing a file) you can see
this is the particular request from the Batuwita Sri
Jayasekeraramaya on the road leading to Maugama.
They requested some support for constructing Atavisi Buddha
Prathima. So this is how I have donated funds. Similarly
this (showing another file containing exchange of letters
with another temple) is what we did in Arunagama. All along
I have told our party that it is one party that has so much
We supposedly claim we have a huge international network,
especially in donor countries.
So, I always mentioned to our party that while doing all the
programmes to reinvigourate and rejuvenate the party, let’s
go beyond and try to help the people.
This is the difference. I have a party revival approach
which emphasises development and the party leadership has
another programme called Grama Charika.
At least keep in mind all these efforts are initiated with
the sole objective of bringing the United National Party
Remember during the Jayewardene era, Prime Minister
Premadasa had the Uda Gam Programme, Lalith Athulathmudali
had his Mahapola programme and Gamini Dissanayake had the
So these were different development oriented approaches,
which the prominent members of the UNP adopted in supporting
the people living in any particular locality, while
providing an injection of energy to the party.
Q: Some have observed that the party convention might not
be held in December by getting some one to get an injunction
against it on a technicality and therefore the status quo
I am not privy to such information. I don’t know whether you
have a back channel which provides you with relevant
information about plans to scuttle party convention. This is
a question best asked from the leader of the party. If I may
say so if the party conference is not held, then I think
that would be something highly damaging to our party.
Q: People like Mangala Samaraweera and Ravi Karunanayake
are arguing that what’s needed are not reforms, but
discipline in the party and those who are clamouring for
reforms are only helping the government.
I think members of our party have every right to voice their
opinion on a variety of issues.
That may be their stance, but I as a member of the UNP was
born into the UNP, what you can term an authentic UNPer.
I say the party has to undergo drastic path-breaking reforms
and changes if we are to succeed at future elections purely
because if you look back at our track record, it points us
in the direction of reforms not a status quo ante.
Q: Ravi Karunanayake is staking his seniority in the
party on the basis he has been elected five times and been
in parliament for 17 years openly says that you should not
consider the party leadership as your inheritance. What is
your answer to that?
He is entitled to his own opinion in a democratic country,
but you have to understand he is not a UNPer.
He is a DUNFer.
As far as his seniority and my seniority are concerned
please go back in time and look at the political history.
He is not a UNPer as he came to parliament from the DUNF.
He joined the UNP very much late in his political life.
So I don’t need to answer political juniors in the UNP.
I do believe absolutely that there should be no inheritance
at all, but the problem is one has to listen to the opinions
of the people and I challenge your newspaper to do an
authentic field study throughout the country and if you do a
very balanced opinion poll as to who the people of the party
want and as to who the country wants, I think it is
irrelevant the opinion I give or what anybody else gives.
You can find out your own answer.
Q: He even chided India for giving you VVIP treatment.
What have you to say about that?
I don’t think a politician can dictate to any country as to
how they receive and how they treat foreign dignitaries.
As far as I am concerned I think I am doing a better job as
far as my party and my country is concerned in terms of
conducting foreign relations.
This guy who has supposedly objected or made a fuss about
the reception given to me is supposed to be the secretary
for international relations in the United National Party.
So if he needs any lessons in conducting international
relations I am certainly willing to spare a moment of time
from my busy schedule to educate him.
Q: He maintains that he has activated all 54 branches in
his Colombo North electorate for the current year, which he
challenges anyone to match in any other electorate. His
charge is that those who go around talking so much have not
done their work in their electorates.
What an achievement? Is that the litmus test in politics,
whether you form branches or not?
I would say the classic litmus test is the electoral test.
Kindly go back five months in time to the general election
It was only in the Hambantota District that we managed to
save the same number of seats that we obtained in 2004.
In all the other districts in the whole country, the numbers
declined from 2004 figures.
This is a district wise election and not a
first-past-the-post electoral contest.
It is not just Colombo North, but the Colombo District
What happened to Colombo District result at the last
The UNP numbers elected to parliament dwindled.
What happened in the rest of the country?
Everywhere it got reduced, except in Hambantota.
How did we manage to do that while having a President, a
first lady, a son of the President, a brother of the
President, an international air port being built, an
international port being built, an international cricket
stadium being built, and a vast amount of resources being
allocated for other development work in the district ranged
What is the secret? I will leave it to the nation and the
readers to decide.
Q: Leaving aside those two individuals, there are others
in the party also saying that this is not the time for
All I can say is that I am 43 years young.
As far as my political career and political advancement is
concerned, I can wait another 20 years?
Look at the Jayewardenes and Premadasas they reached the
higher echelons of political power much later in life.
So waiting is absolutely no problem for me.
We have more than five to six million UNP members in this
country, but are they willing to wait 20 years.
If the United National Party membership tells me to forget
about reforms and let’s preserve the status quo.
Let’s go on and on committing self- destruction and becoming
the permanent party of the opposition.
I have absolutely no issue if the party membership says so.
Not one or two people who are not representative of party
Q: Mangala Samaraweera is spearheading a protest campaign
on the third month anniversary of the passing of the
controversial 18th Amendment in which they will bring to
Colombo one million people on that day next month.
Will you be taking part in that protest since you have
already been axed from the Grama Charika speakers list?
If you are challenging me as far back as numbers are
concerned please go back in time and check all the protests
we have had, I have brought the highest number of
Even those members of parliament from the densely populated
Colombo District have not been able to bring such numbers
from their electorates to these protests.
Even in this case I will strive to ensure that I will bring
the highest number.
There is absolutely no issue. I have not been axed from
Q: But you are not taking part in the Grama Charika
programme since your name has been deleted from the
How can you say I am not taking part? It has not even
commenced. I have my own programme on those two days. I am
so sorry that you are so ignorant.
Q: I based my question on published reports in national
newspapers that you have been chucked out of the speakers
Whose reports? I can’t help if there is a campaign of
propagating misinformation. I can’t help it if you are
Q: The party must have leaked that information.
You better check the sources because I am not privy to those
sources. I am doing a programme that is productive. It will
not be a waste of time. My programme will ensure that it has
value addition both to the area and the party.
Q: So, what exactly will be your contribution?
I am helping two areas some time on Sunday.
Q: That is in addition to helping those two temples
during Uda Gam Charika in Horana on Thursday.
Yes. You can be rest assured I will play a prominent,
productive and constructive role to ensure that our party is
Q: These reports indicated that in the event the
convention is put off once again your supporters will show
their strength by summoning all provincial council and local
government members to Colombo. Is there any truth in that?
You are being highly presumptuous.
You are assuming that the party convention will not be held
whereas every statement has been made both within the
working committee and outside that the party conference will
be held and I am acting on the assumption that it will be
held. There are lots of reports and lots of propaganda about
a variety of issues.
It is best that you filter out such information and ensure
that whatever information that you obtain is authentic and
Q: What are your options if your struggle to bring free
and fair elections to elect the party’s leaders does not
come to fruition?
All options are available, but my only option is on going on
my political journey as an UNPer.
The more obstacles and objections I face in this political
journey I will ensure that the proximity between myself and
the people of this country is lessened and I get closer and
closer to the people and try to understand their thinking,
their expectation, and their heart beat.
As far as the political competition is concerned at the end
of the day the critical component in that process will be
people of Sri Lanka.
They will decide what is best for them.
Q: In a sense you can’t blame the leader wanting to
sabotage or postpone this convention as it is obvious that
your supporters will shout him down even if he tries to
address the conference.
That is absolute rubbish.
Q: You have overwhelming support at the provincial and
local government level.
I am glad your Nation newspaper accepts the fact that there
is a greater opinion in my favour at the provincial and
local government level.
What I request you is kindly do a survey throughout the
country and ask the people the question who is best suited
and which cause should one ought to follow to make our
country prosperous and make the UNP a party that is
electable. The people will give the answer.
As far as shouting down and creating mischief at the party
convention is concerned that is absolute rubbish.
I am a great democrat. I am not going to instigate any
process in any way to obstruct anybody.
I am a true democrat not just a verbal democrat.
I am a democrat even through action.
Q: Fear is that your supporters will shout him down.
I am not in the business of attempting to eradicate the
various emotions that political leaders may have.
If they have a problem in terms of fear psychosis they must
consult some specialist.
I am in this job to serve the 20 million people of this
At the most critical juncture the world will know who has
the numbers and what numbers they are.
My only objective is ensuring that the people of Sri Lanka
get a good service as far as us politicians are concerned
and to ensure that we have an authentic, modernised
methodology to alleviate the grievances of the people of Sri
Lanka and I shall strive to achieve those targets.
Q: Your father was known as a workaholic who would work
from as early as 3 am. What are your working schedules?
It is not a matter of what time I go to sleep or at what
time I get up. I may be one of the hardest working
politicians around. There again your past, present and
future achievements will exhibit whether you hard work has
paid off or not.
Q: How do you differ from your rivals?
My programme of reinvigourating, rejuvenating and
modernising our party is developmental political work.
It is not merely confining myself to political activity.
It is politics with development; politics with value
addition; politics with social service.
That is the difference.
This development-oriented political approach, which some of
these jealous personalities don’t like because they don’t
believe in politicians intervening to make sure you create
prosperity and well-being for the people of the country.
They believe if you enrich the richest in the country that
the perks, privileges and the various supports they have
will get percolated down to the grassroots.
I think neo-classical economic theories are rubbish. It
It has proven as absolute and total failure.
And I think people elect politicians to embark on a
proactive and constructive role to ensure that all citizens
of our country are able to achieve prosperity and a higher
standard of living.
In my approach, I have basically inculcated the basic human
needs approach of the totality of the country and not just
the needs of the elite and the rich.
Q: Your incumbent leader believes in free market forces
doing the job, but you feel the need for more than free
Market forces alone cannot reach national targets, but you
must not scuttle the market forces.
They are important as you cannot create artificial demand
The market forces are an important structure in any society.
In any economic programme, you have to allow the free market
to flourish, while at the same time we all have to be
cognizant of the externalities of the free market forces.
The various deficiencies, divergences, the positive and
negative discrimination processes that are implemented
through this free market process, those externalities have
to be eradicated through strict and thorough governmental