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
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
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
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
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
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
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
We are quite open about the fact we are exchanging ideas and
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
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
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
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
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
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
We are just sounding out as to what the party seniors are
thinking. What the prominent people in the party are
We want to have a united approach.
We want to have less disagreements, less internal conflicts
I promised the party to have a united approach and we will
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
I got the statistics from the UGC website.
Those who formulated this budget are at loggerheads with
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
Once again it is not my policy or Ranil Wickremesingheís
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
Houses are not being built, roads are not being constructed,
the schools system is dilapidated, and the health structure
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
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
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.