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  Interviews  


Sajith adamant
By our Correspondent
The now apparent incoming leader of the UNP, Sajith Premadasa, says he is not interested in playing musical chairs with party positions thereby clearly stating that since they fought and won the battle to have elections to pick the partyís key leaders it should be so within the next 12 days.
On the devolution front, he says empowering all citizens of this country is more important than doling out powers and perks to particular groups or sectors of society, but that exercise should not drag on endlessly.
Therefore, on devolving of powers, the task must be undertaken with a strict time frame after consulting all stakeholders.

Q: Who was behind the legal coup attempt to block the holding of the much-awaited UNP convention last Sunday? One website had accused Ravi Karunanayake of being behind it, but he immediately denied it.
I was never behind any conspiracy to stop the party convention from being held, but I think it was a dastardly act, which was perpetrated solely to block the adoption of the new constitution, which in actual fact democratised our party to a greater extent.

The situation was that two or three people decided on the destiny of the whole party, which consists of six to seven million members.
I have no problem in two or three people deciding, but they were continuously, consistently and persistently were taking decisions that were favouring these two or three, while de-prioritising and downgrading the needs of the masses.
I believe the judicial intervention that was adopted was an attempt to subvert the process of holding the convention.

We are grateful that sanity prevailed and judiciary proved its independence and took a very laudable decision not to provide the enjoining order.
To come to your question as to who perpetrated it, all I can say is that we campaigned for the cause of change and reforms and it had been a decade old process. Because of two issues always the reform process went through stumbling blocks: one was either through distribution of internal positions and various other sweeteners, the reform process always stalled; the other one was that most of the reformers either through frustration or mere attraction or inducement through perks and privileges of position, they left this camp and went to the other side.

Now none of these things happened with this reform process, some would have jumped ship that is a different matter, but we carried on with our struggle and it came to the brink with this last minute attempted judicial intervention.
All I can say is that there were two sides: we were supporting the reform process, then there was another side who were calling it a hatchet job of the government and a contract for the government and in actual fact they feared the democratic provisions of this new constitution because they didnít have the support of the masses.
This fact was quite evident on the day of the convention.
So it is anybodyís guess as to who perpetrated the dastardly act. I can reveal to you the truth will come out soon.

Q: You promised a peaceful convention, but it was not all that peaceful.
It was peaceful.

Q: Some speakers were hooted.
There was no fracas. There was no fighting.

Q: In contrast you were given an overwhelming reception.
Since I have been very much in touch with grievances and expectations of the grassroots people both at rural and urban level, I was not surprised. If others are in cloud nine, how can they expect the crowd to support them?

Q: There are reports that the two factions are now negotiatingÖ
First of all, I beg to disagree with your categorisation as far as factions are concerned.
Obviously there is a process of exchanging ideas.
I am talking to very senior UNP parliamentarians, politicians, those still in politics and those retired.
I am trying to hazard and ascertain their thinking as to how we should go forward. So there are no secret discussions at all.
We are quite open about the fact we are exchanging ideas and information.

Q: Are you willing to accept deputy leadership to bring about peace?
What do you mean to bring peace?
We are not at war.
We won one of the major battles and that was not regarding allocation of positions or duties.
It has all to do with having a democratic and transparent system; a constitution, a structure that would propel our party to future electoral victory.
Please donít make the mistake of trying to interpret this whole exercise as an exercise in political musical chairs.

Q: MPs supporting you openly insist that party changes now must take place within 120 days, but another group of UNPers, primarily coming from the provincial councils on Wednesday, told the national media that the convention only adopted a mechanism to elect future leaders of the party, but not to change the existing party leadership.
Anybody with any minute sense of understanding, knowledge and intelligence would know what was brought in at the convention was a sea change.
A sea change from having the present leader in his present position up until either he is no more or up until he decides that he has had enough to a system whereby there would be a democratic approach for the five major positions in the party.
The constitution itself prescribes that these changes will take place within the next 120 days.
I am afraid these people have not read the provisions of the constitution prior to answering questions.
What is most important is that prior to you asking me questions you can go through the relevant CD, which you can get from relevant TV channels as to what actually took place within the four hours of the convention.

Q: From what we saw in the news...
Obviously what is being shown in the news will be edited because the convention went on for more than four hours.
But those who participated could fathom the actual whims and fancies, opinions and thinking of the party cadres.

Q: You have said you will have an organised take over and nobody will be left out.
I never said that. Here on, if you want to know how I am going to behave it will be first and foremost party unity, togetherness, brotherhood. All those will be prioritised, while at the same time we will move towards the process of victory, rather than continuous and persistent defeats.

Q: It was interesting to note that at Wednesdayís UNP media briefing, where it was said there would be no leadership change, there wasnít a single elected MP. So how many MPs out of the 43 UNP elected parliamentarians are with you now?
Those questions you have to direct at members of parliament.
I am not in the business of providing score cards.
I am not a petty politician.
If the United National Party parliamentary group and working committee members were there on that occasion and I believe most of them were there and if they observed the accolades various personalities received one can come to oneís own conclusions.

Q: What would be the fate of those who worked against you to the very end like Mangala Samaraweera and Ravi Karunanayake under your leadership?
First and foremost, I have to explain that I am not the leader of the party, but if you had attended the meeting or at least go through the speech I made there you would have observed that I said from the leader of the party downwards everyone is an asset to the party.
I am not in the business of removing, sending people away or making some people pensionable.
It will be a collective united effort to make our party victorious.
So people like Karu Jayasuriya, Mangala Samaraweera, Ravi Karunanayake, Ranil Wickremesinghe and the rest they all have a productive role to play in the future success of the party.
This is not a game where you exclude people.
It is an all inclusive process.

Q: What is the position you have in mind for Ranil Wickremesinghe?
I donít have any position in mind for anybody because I am not in the business of allocating positions.
The only position I am thinking of is making the citizenry of our country prosperous and victorious.

Q: In Singapore they have made former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew a Minister Mentor. Will you all create something similar for Wickremesinghe?
We have not had any discussions as far as allocating subjects and functions, as far as who is going to get what positions.
We are just sounding out as to what the party seniors are thinking. What the prominent people in the party are thinking.
We want to have a united approach.
We want to have less disagreements, less internal conflicts as possible.
I promised the party to have a united approach and we will have that.

Q: In other words you will have all the changes in place before the local government election.
We donít know when the local government elections are to be held. If you go by certain newspaper reports, there is even disagreement about relevant electoral system that is going to be adopted; the voting procedure for the local government election.
Everything is up in the air.
Whatever happens, all I can tell you is that we will have a united approach to party activities.
We will do our very best; will strive to do the utmost to make our party victorious at all future electoral competitions at all levels.

Q: What will happen if the working committee refuses to take up the issue of electing a new leadership since it is yet all powerful?
Any committee is there to uphold the constitution.
The present constitution of the party stipulates that within 120 days either through a consensus approach or through some sort of a secret ballot, a democratic procedure, you will have a situation whereby five those suited will be allocated the positions.

Q: According to some people close to the leader he is quite confident of winning a secret ballot for leadership. How confident are you?
I am confident about the membership of our party and I am confident of the citizenry of our country.
Whoever who takes decisions-- I hope since the decision-making body is small, parliamentary group and working committee -- they have to decide whether they are going to reflect their own personal tendencies and proclivities or they are going to reflect the views and opinions of the party membership. Either way I am a winner. At the end of the day, I am willing to go by the party line.

Q: We understand that soon after the convention party general secretary Tissa Attanayake and your chief rival Ravi Karunanayake have gone abroad. Is it to show their neutrality now?
They are not my rivals.
They are colleagues.
You will have to talk to them. I have no idea.
I donít know what motivated them to make their trips abroad.

Q: How did you manage to win all these people over to your side?
We are all on the same side.
We are all UNPers.
Loyalty comes from the heart.
There are large numbers who like me and there are some detractors.
My capabilities will not merely be decided on the large numbers that I show as far as those who are supporting me.
My capabilities and the efficiency of my activities can only be decided upon how I manage to persuade my detractors to join the path that I am treading.
I am willing to do that.

Q: What is your vision for the party here onward?
The present government has basically taken upon themselves to go on a neo-liberal approach to solving the countryís problems.
They have basically warmed themselves to neo-liberal ideology and I believe that is not suited to our country.
I believe in the social democratic approach, which provides primacy to the market forces as the mechanism to generate wealth for the country, but also takes into account equitable and fair redistribution of wealth, resources, perks and privileges with social justice as the upper most goals in mind.
Also have a redistributive network, which is emphasised and promoted by positive state intervention. Now that is social democracy, a mixed economy.
That is the most appropriate and propitious approach for the United National Party and for the country.
With the convention of the 12th, the remnants of the neo-liberalism have evaporated from our party and I invite those who believe in such ideologies to join up with the government who has absolutely messed up our country. Go through this CD of my speech in parliament on the budget.
This government is unable to come up with authentic and truthful statistics.
I will give you some important examples. Take Page 24 of the budget speech. It states that 1.1 million pregnant mothers are in our society. It is wrong, we have only 374,300 pregnant mothers. You calculate the number of pregnant mothers by dividing the population the proportion of live births per thousand. That is 19.7 million divided by 19/1000.
Those who formulated the budget speech are unaware of the numbers of pregnant mothers.
How can you run a country like this?
Another example is in Page 14. It says that 50,000 who have qualified to do higher studies. That figure too is wrong.
One hundred and thirty thousand get qualified to do higher education in our country, of which 22,000 become university students.
I got the statistics from the UGC website.
Those who formulated this budget are at loggerheads with reality.
The government that is doing a statistical jugglery in trying to hoodwink the people of this country; whereas the approach of the new UNP is to have a hands-on approach that will free up the shackles that are preventing private entrepreneurship and wealth-creating mechanisms of our country. Free up the shackles and make sure that our country is prosperous, but the government will intervene to make sure that prosperity is for all and not for a selected few.
The various imbalances, various injustices that are created by the present neo-liberal approach will be redressed by the social democratic approach that the UNP will adopt.

Q: Does your foreign policy differ from that of Ranil Wickremesinghe?
Once again it is not my policy or Ranil Wickremesingheís policy.
It is the United National Partyís approach.
Ours is a very, very patriotic approach that is not merely confined to words, declarations and proclamations, but a patriotism that enhances and ensures that the civil, political, economic and social rights of the citizens of our country are protected and promoted.

Q: Where do you stand on the ethnic issue?
Talking of the recent past, I am extremely happy that LTTE terrorism was brought to a halt, but LTTE does not equal Tamilians and Tamilians do not equal LTTE.
Firstly, of all we have to get that thing right.
Secondly, as far as the war victory is concerned I am very happy about the victory in the battlefield, but I am extremely disappointed and I think it is not in the national interest, when you look at the lethargic approach that this government has adopted as far as promoting resettlement, rehabilitation, and the recovery programme.
The relevant infrastructure that is necessary for the resettlement process to reach fruition are way behind schedule.
Houses are not being built, roads are not being constructed, the schools system is dilapidated, and the health structure is crumbling.
The work is being done, but I am not happy with the pace.
I am not happy with the amount of resources allocated.
I am not happy with the approach the government is taking as far as speeding up the process is concerned.
Why not have a presidential task force which has both opposition and government as members and let this group go around the world, canvass for funds, canvass for support and have an all-party approach to rejuvenate and reinvigorate the North and East.

Q: The stumbling blocks to a settlement are the Tamil demand for police and land powers to provincial councils.
As far as critical empowerment is concerned it is an issue that has to be discussed with the various stake holders, parties, and actors representing all groups. - Tamils, Sinhalese, and Muslims all these sectors have to be consulted.
Rather than hoodwinking both domestic and international communities, there has to be a time-targeted approach.
There have been so many discussions, so many workshops, so many conferences, but nothing has come up.
We have to have a time targeted approach. Letís say four months and within these four months all the stakeholders will be having discussions with the political hierarchy of the country and the opposition. Then come to an overarching overall approach.
Why canít we do that instead of just having seminars, workshops, all-party meetings, Mangala Moonasinghe report and Tissa Vitarana report? What have we achieved?

Q: Where do you stand on crucial stumbling blocks?
Nothing should be done that would impact detrimentally upon the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and the unity of our country. Within that framework, I think all efforts must be made not to allocate perks and privileges for any particular sector.
We have to empower the citizenry of the country be Tamilians, Sinhalese, Muslims, Burghers and all other communities of various ethnicities, political persuasions, religious backgrounds. We have to go on an overarching integrated approach of making the citizenry of this country empowered rather than saying these people should get this. These people should be put down. These people should be prioritised. I donít agree with such thinking because we are all citizens of Sri Lanka.