After a long break the forthcoming parliamentary elections seems to offer the UNP a great opportunity to build a parliamentary majority of its own. Here Minister Kabir Hashim, General Secretary of the party and Minister of Highways and Investment Promotion gives a breakdown of the efforts taken by the party to rejuvenate it.
Q: What are the steps being taken within the party and its extensive national organisational network to win as many seats as possible?
A: The party is focusing on re-building the confidence amongst the party cadres and making them believe once again that we as the oldest party in the country can win and return to power. We have already started membership drives around the country, and are bolstering our support bases on a daily basis. We also re-organising our youth branches to ensure we reach a greater portion of the first time voters. Our women’s front is being driven forward as well to encourage greater involvement.
Q: In which areas is the party’s grassroots’ network strongest and in which areas does it need to be built up again?
A: We are very strong at the polling booth levels and our organisational structure. We need to strengthen ourselves with relation to our affiliated organisations, this will only serve to spread our message to further reaches in the country.
Q: In the recent decade the UNP’s stronghold in the deep south, Galle for example, have become dominated by the main rival party, the SLFP. What is your strategy to regain these bastions?
A: The UNP faced a series of defeats in the last few elections.That was why our voters had given up. Now the party is revitalised, we are regaining lost ground all over the country. The South is not of concern, we are confident of winning the South in this upcoming election.
Q: The UNP once had a strong ethnic minority vote base but now this vote banks seem to have been taken over by several ethnic minority political alliances. Are you hopeful of regaining your own Muslim and Tamil vote banks or do your hope to build alliances with other parties representing the ethnic minorities.
The UNP faced a series of defeats in the last few elections. That was why our voters had given up. Now the party is revitalised, we are regaining lost ground all over the country
A: Yes, we have allowed our Tamil and Muslim vote banks to be eroded in the North and East of the country. But in the South the minority vote is still strongly with the UNP. We are also building up over support amongst the estate regions to further bolster our Tamil vote.
Q: In the event of the UNP emerging as the largest bloc in parliament but without an adequate majority, with which party do you hope to build a coalition to form a government?
A:We will certainly be the largest bloc and probably have a majority on our own. However, we are committed to forming a National Government and will work with all parties who are committed to good governance.
Q: How committed is the UNP today to the original, Presidential election promise made to maintain a National Government including all the major political parties for over a two year period after parliamentary elections?
A:The UNP is a party that keeps its promises made to the people, this was one of our promises and we will keep it.
Q: What are the policies that the party will offer for the parliamentary elections that will win the support of the other parties in forming a coalition alliance after the elections?
A:The party is committed to forming an inclusive government that will ensure the rule of law re-emerges in the country. We will be placing utmost importance on good governance, Democracy and freedom for the people in the real sense of the world.
Q: Does the UNP want the elections held under the reformed electoral system as envisaged by the 20th Amendment, or does the party feel that it can build a parliamentary majority better under the existing much criticised system?
A:The UNP is committed to electoral reforms. However, such reforms cannot be passed unless there is a majority consensus amongst the Parliament.
Q: Will the party support holding of the election even without passing of the 20th Amendment?
A: A majority consensus of the Parliament is needed to pass the 20th Amendment, the UNP pledged to hold an election after the completion of its 100 day program. If a consensus cannot be reached then we will still keep to our promise and hold fresh elections.
Q: Do you want to see the Constitutional Council formed and at least the Election Commission, Police Commission and Public Service Commission appointed and functioning before the elections are called?
A: The UNP was the biggest supporter of the 19th Amendment, which includes the Constitutional Council. It was our Prime Minister who asked the Speaker of Parliament to convene a special Parliamentary session today so as to finalise the Constitutional Council. However, it was the Opposition that have delayed proceedings and forced Parliament to adjourn without the Council being formed.
Q: In the current public mood that is so hostile to corrupt politicians, are those UNP politician with the past record whom you might leave out of candidates list for the forthcoming general election?
A: If anyone has a proven criminal record in the past then they will not be considered for nomination in the upcoming election.
Q: Also in the light of current public policy favouring more youth and women political participation, will you set aside a minimum quota for youth and women candidates?
A: The UNP will give nomination to all who the party feels can best secure the vote of the people in their electorate. An individual’s nomination will not be determined by their age, sex or race.
Q:While his brothers and other relatives seem to be facing prosecution for massive corruption former President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself seems to be untainted by corruption. Do you see Mahinda Rajapaksa has a formidable opponent of the UNP for the coming election.
A:The UNP defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa in January this year during the Presidential election. At the time he was in power and was able to misuse state resources for his benefit. We defeated him then, this question is no longer relevant.
Q: There are many UNP frontline politicians who have crossed over to UPFA and long functioned as frontrunners for Rajapaksa Presidenty – such as Keheliya Rambukwella and Mahinda Samarasinghe. Is there any chance of any of them being brought back to the party?
A: This will be decided on a case by case basis.