- Drawing The Battle Line For The Hustings
By Waruni Karunarathne
As the politicians have fiercely entered their political campaigns ahead of the upcoming general election, some seem to have changed their stance merely based on party politics neglecting the interests of the country. After a series of internal discussions and plotting, everybody is determined to play the best trump with less in mind for people. While the two main political parties are targeting to form the next government in whichever way they possibly can, the minor parties are determined to secure more seats in parliament in order to gain more power. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, several political party members, including the UNP, SLFP, JVP and TNA expressed their views on the upcoming election and showed confidence to face the election.
The UNP has buckled down to secure a majority in parliament and has confidently declared that they will secure 115 seats in parliament without difficulty owing to the split in the SLFP. The UNP has announced that several Tamil parties have already agreed to contest with the party under the elephant symbol and they also invited anybody who wishes to contest the election with the UNP under the elephant symbol to join them. UNP Minister Lakshman Kiriella said that the UNP is quite confident of forming a very stable government after the next general election and will form a national government afterwards with the idea of approaching the problems faced by the country together.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: Do you think this is the right time for an election? Is the UNP ready to face an election?
A: Definitely. There is a new President now and you need a new parliament. Earlier Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President and after the last Presidential election, a new president came into power. Now we have to form a new parliament. The UNP is very well prepared for the election. At this point, people want a government that can build the economy. Now the war is over and terrorism has been crushed. We are grateful to the Sri Lankan armed forces for doing that. The youth want jobs and connect to the modern world. The previous government was living like frogs in the well. They were looking inwards not outwards.
Q: Do you think the UNP will be able to secure a majority in parliament?
A: Definitely, we will get at least 115 seats in parliament. After the parliament election, the UNP will form a stable government and lead the country down a new path towards success and prosperity.
Q: At the Presidential election, the UNP managed to form an interim government under the President’s mandate with the support of many minor and minority parties. Given that, how confident is the UNP of winning a majority by contesting alone?
A: Several minority parties have already agreed to contest under the UNP symbol For instance the All Ceylon Makkal Congress led by Minister Rishard Bathiudeen, the National Workers’ Front led by Palani Digambaran, Democratic People’s Front led by Mano Ganesan will contest under the UNP symbol. We are willing to accommodate any party who wishes to contest with us under our party symbol. Even SLFP can contest under the elephant symbol if they wish to come under the UNP umbrella.
Q: If the UNP fails to secure a majority in parliament, would you form a national or coalition government?
A: The UNP will never fail to secure the majority in parliament. We will definitely have 115 seats. We came up with the idea of a national government not because we don’t have a majority in parliament. The purpose of a national government is to approach the problems faced by the country together. It will be a national government and as our Prime Minister said, he wants to turn the entire parliament into a government.
Q: If you form a national government, do you think there is an absence of an opposition? Would that be healthy for the country?
A: That I do not know. But definitely there will be a very strong national government in the country.
Q: Do you think you managed to achieve your targets during the 100 day programme?
A: Yes, we have brought down the prices of many essential goods. We have brought down the fuel prices, increased the salaries of the public servants, we have increased the Samurdhi by 200%. With reference to those, we have done well. We have brought several bills to the parliament. We passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Despite UNP having only 45 members in parliament, we somehow got others to vote for the 19th Amendment.
Q: However, among many that were promised during the 100 days, the government failed to bring in the Right to Information Bill and take actions on many corruption allegations. How do you explain that?
A: We could not bring in the Right to Information Bill because we did not know what the opposition would do Even the 19th Amendment, they diluted it by proposing 119 amendments. Towards the end, only a diluted version of the 19thAmendment was passed in parliament. When it comes to corruption allegations, for us to investigate, all these institutions have to be independent For instance, the Police and Attorney General’s Department have to be free from political pressures. Only after 19th Amendment was brought, these institutions received some liberty to act independently. Now that the 19A is passed we have to appoint the independent commissions. We are in the process of appointing independent commissions. But in order to appoint the independent commissions, the constitutional council has to be appointed first. When we proposed three names of the civil society members for the constitutional council, the opposition objected. The opposition clearly does not want investigations into corruptions. They have been trying to block the constitutional council and establishing independent commissions. But after the parliamentary election, we will implement the constitutional council and appoint people into those independent commissions.
Q: People seem to be a little disappointed about the amount of work done during the 100 days even in terms of corruption investigations and murder investigations into journalists?
A: What have we not implemented? We are a party committed to the rule of law. Unlike the previous government, we cannot take them in white vans. Do you want us to take actions in that manner? We cannot tie them up to trees and punish them. The legal process takes time People are with us and they understand that the legal process takes time. We haven’t had an independent legal system or investigation system for at least 10 years. We are trying to make the judiciary, police, Attorney General’s department and public service independent and free them from political pressures and influences. Once the constitutional council is appointed and independent commissions are established, they will be independent.
Q: At a press conference last week you mentioned that a UNP government will bring back the era of 1977. What do you mean? Would a UNP government consider taking loans to develop the country?
A: We will not take loans. Previous government took loans. We are looking at investments. If you borrow you will have to pay back. For instance previous government borrowed from China for the projects including harbour, Norochcholai power plant, Mattala airport etc which the country will have to pay back. On the contrary, investments are where people from other countries come here and invest their own money. There is a clear difference between those two UNP will go for investments.
We want a modern country and transform the country like the era after 1977, the Mahaweli Era where the UNP government introduced free trade zones, foreign employments opportunities, Mahapola, garment factories etc. We established 5 power plants, generated employment, developed the agriculture sector. We did all that with funds not loans. The opposition does not have plans to build the economy or as to how they can address unemployment issues and generate employment A government needs to have answers for those young people want a better life. It is UNP under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe who can revive the economy and bring young people closer to the modern world.
During the interim period, we did not have the majority in parliament so we could not get approval for certain activities which we intended for development. The opposition failed to think of economy and opposed those activities.
Q: The UNP has appointed a committee headed by Karu Jayasuriya to look into nominations for the upcoming election. How many seniors will come to parliament in the national list? Who are the seniors who will contest the election? And will there be new faces?
A: There are 16,000 applicants seeking nominations to contest under the UNP ticket. There is still time for nominations and the list of those who will be coming in the national list and those who will contest the election will be decided in time.