BY Zaharah Imtiaz
After a month full of television debates, interviews, meetings, rallies, posters and leaflets, election campaigning will finally come to an end at midnight today (14). As the final praises of each party are sung, Ceylon Today interviewed several contenders of the two major parties to find out what their prospects for the next five years are.
Excerpts of interviews:
Agreement with Volkswagen today – Akila
?. Kurunegala District is the highlight of the General election with the former President deciding to contest from there. You are the district leader for the UNP in Kurunegala and thus the responsibility of beating the former President is on you, can you take on a former President?
A. Definitely, Mahinda Rajapaksa will be defeated in Kurunegala that is for sure. Around 30 UPFA councillors from the district have already joined us. The people in the villages have left the UPFA and have turned to us. The economy is doing better and the people are prospering. There is no chance of the UPFA winning here.
?. UPFA Kurunegala District candidate Dayasiri Jayasekara alleges that the UNP’s deal with Volkswagen is non-existent, and that no factory would be opened in Kuliyapitiya. Is Volkswagen only an election promise?
A. Dayasiri is not a politician that can comprehend these things. The Prime Minister will be signing the agreement with Volkswagen tomorrow (14). We have already allocated 50 acres in Kuliyapitiya for the project. Volkswagen will be opening their factory here, no problem with that.
?. Though the UNP has highlighted its policy on education, you were the minister in charge for the last seven months. According to you what is the biggest problem in our system?
A. I think the concept of ‘Popular schools’ has been our biggest downfall. We need to get rid of that concept. We have proposed to build two schools for each Pradeshiya Sabha. These schools will be fully equipped and will have trained teachers. These schools will be built to the level of the current ‘popular schools’ so that the competition for schools will lessen. We will then introduce the model of children having to go to their closest schools and not flock to a few popular ones. All current 10,000 schools would be brought up to the same standard.
?. The former President has accused the UNP of not doing anything for Wayamba. What is your opinion on the matter?
A. I am disappointed by his statement. He should realize the fact that it was he, who was the President of this country for the last 10 years. Thus he needs to answer the question as to why no industries were brought here, why he did not solve the water problem in this area; he now talks of giving water to the Wanni, the very person who shot people at Rathupaswala when they asked for clean drinking water. He proposes to give newly married couples bonuses, but during his time, he increased the marriage license fee from Rs 500 to Rs 5,000. Mahinda Rajapaksa does not make promises, he offers bribes.
In Hambantota he built many ‘white elephants’ like the port and airport but for Wayamba he did not even do that! So how can he speak of what the UNP has done?
?. You have now come to the end of your campaign. Looking back, do you think the UNP has had a campaign successful enough to win a majority?
A. When it was announced that Mahinda Rajapaksa would enter the race and head the campaign many people thought it would be a threat to our campaign. But by now, it is very clear that our campaign is way ahead of the UPFA. The people who used to support Rajapaksa have left him, it is only those who were given employment by him who support him. They too seem disgruntled and fed up with it all, we see the signs when their meetings are cancelled and you only find a handful of people going from house to house campaigning. They look like cows taken to slaughter. The UPFA all these years have been used to elections with the maximum use of the government machinery. Without the assistance of the state machinery, government buses to bring the crowds to meetings and the state media to help them, they have become helpless.
Their defeat is inevitable.
?. Do you think that the former President would not even be able to get a seat in Parliament?
A. Oh no, I am sure he will manage that and that he will top the UPFA list in Kurunegala but the UPFA will not win the Kurunegala District.
?. It is said that if Mahinda Rajapaksa enters Parliament as an MP and the UNP is in government, he might create chaos in Parliament?
A. His influence is severely diminished. I don’t think he would even be made the Opposition leader. He is not a threat to us.
?. The UNP was in the opposition for almost 20 years, if the UNP were to win this election, how long do you envision a UNP government would last?
A. We would have a UNP government for a very long time. Ranil Wickremesinghe will create jobs, build the economy and establish independent commissions among the many other promises we have given. If we deliver on these promises, the people will not look to any other party to govern them. This is what people expect in a government. As long as we deliver, we will stay in power.
young man in the fray
Shaveen Bandaranayake, the son of former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, is contesting the general elections under Independent Group number 9. In an earlier interview with Ceylon Today he said even though he might become a politician in future he had no desire to contest under the same election system. We asked him as to what led him to change his mind suddenly.
Excerpts of the interview
By Gagani Weerakoon
?. In an earlier interview with Ceylon Today you said you will not contest an election under the same political culture. But what made you to change that stance and hurry into contesting?
A: There is a campaign for cleaner and competent candidates and they have initiated a programme where they asked citizens to nominate who they think should be in Parliament. Among many other names, my name has also been there, and the convener of the movement Naveen Gunaratne approached me. When he described it I too was excited about it and said I will help them in some way. Initially, my intention was not to contest. Since I have an advertising firm, I thought of carrying out their promotional work.
?. Then what made you to contest?
A: There were calls for the dissolution of Parliament. As it is, it will continue for some time. But it was dissolved sooner than we thought and with that we saw a few developments that shocked not only me but the majority of the people. Despite our hopes for good governance, we saw certain politicians given nominations and others attempting to contest. At that moment I realized that I cannot stay out any longer without joining the foray. And, here I am.
?. What if someone suggested that your hatred towards a certain family or a particular person made you to take a naïve decision to contest from an independent group?
A: As a son of parents who were subjected to political revenge at an unbelievable level, it is true that I was angry at one point. I think it is quite normal for a son – the only child – to feel like that. In my opinion, anger is not something bad as long as you take positive action. I do not think it was a naïve decision to contest from an independent group.
?. Are you confident of winning?
A: I think people know how all in the mainstream political parties deceived them over the past several decades. Those who do not want to see crooks in Parliament will vote for us. After all we are not power hungry.
?. People have come across many who get into the foray saying they are not power hungry. But once in the game, their principles change. What’s the guarantee that people have to distinguish you from the rest of the clan?
A: If I were power hungry and determined to win a seat in Parliament so badly, I would accept one of many invititations from the main political parties to contest on their ticket. Even though, I have nothing against any of them, I still think those in the main political parties are not genuine. I contest from an independent group where only a flawless group of professionals are contesting. The message that we must stop sending corrupt, uneducated, undisciplined group to Parliament calling them our representatives.
?. We are a South Asian country and our political culture is such that the majority of the people vote for those likely to give the maximum amount of benefits. So, what do you promise? Do you have a plan as to how the education, health and industries in the country should be developed?
A: That is what we are fighting for. We must change this culture of voting any evil character based on perks he pledges to give. Instead, we must create a culture where they would vote for the integrity and policies of such trade unions. We have come up with crucial amendments to the Constitution which, if implemented, would even enable voters to remove their own representative who are found guilty. Even a long journey begins with one step and this is it. We can open a dialogue in society about the matter and make people at least think before voting. That is our primary target and not how many seats the group will win. In that case I think our contesting symbol, ‘torch’ also appear to be symbolic.
After all, what we are doing this time is emitting light for others to find the path.
Get rid of family politics – Dilan
By Cassendra Doole
?. There were several reports stating that the President did not give consent to print posters carrying his picture?
A: The advertisement and the posters that we published, was done with the permission of the President and in fact we have got his complete consent regarding it. However, it was brought to my notice that the advertisement which had the President and the Prime Minister on the cover did not have the President’s consent. We have consent for ours.
?. With the campaign coming to an end, what do you think of the UPFA’s chances at the election?
A: It is as certain as the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow. I am 100 per cent confident the UPFA will win by a majority.
. How many seats do you think the party will get?
A: We think we can win 14 districts and out of the 14, 12 districts would be won handsomely. The remaining two would be a very close fight but we will win those too. So alltogether, we will definitely get about 116-120 MPs.
?. The former President held power for almost 10 years. Apart from winning the war, what is the greatest achievement that was accomplished during his rule?
A: Well, he managed the economy well. When President Rajapaksa took over as President, the GDP was 25 billion US dollars. Within nine years of which four years were spent on finishing the war, he tripled the GDP to 75 billion US Dollars. These are facts that I quote. The IMF and World Bank categorized Sri Lanka as a low income country for 67 years until Mr. Rajapaksa took over as President. After Mr. Rajapaksa took over, we managed to fall under the category of middle income; a successful State. So that itself is good enough.
?. Of the two Presidents, President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which President do you think is better?
A: Well it’s hard to compare the two presidents because President Mahinda Rajapaksa is a very strong President whose charisma is somewhat similar to the Kings of the Old. The image of President Rajapaksa is sort of a father figure, a leader who will lead from the front and a doer. And he will go all out to do it.
President Sirisena on the other hand is more of a brother figure. He is a very simple leader, a leader who belongs to the calibre of leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. He is a leader who is always willing to give up power. He does not want to hog power, and he wants to show the other leaders that one way of leading is to actually give up power. He is a leader with unique qualities.
So in that case, we have two very unique leaders.
?. So with both these contrasting personalities, do you think the former President can work with President Maithripala Sirisena if he becomes Prime Minister?
A: President Sirisena is the President of our party and the President of our country, whereas President Rajapaksa has shown the world that he talks big and also acts on it, so I think this is the ideal combination. President Rajapaksa has also proved that he can work under a leader when he was Prime Minister. But Mr. Wickremesinghe has shown that he cannot work under a leader. So I think our combination is ideal.
?. If there is something you could redo in the last 10 years, what would it be?
A: I think I would legalize a set of ethics with regard to nominations. It is high time we set some standards when giving nominations and these should be made law. It’s also high time that we do away with this family politics, which has now become a fashion, not just in our country but other countries as well. It should be limited. I mean we can’t completely remove it, because we have had the Bandaranaikes, the Rajapaksas especially, and then the Senanayakes. We must however see that we allow outsiders to get in too, and not just family.
?. What would happen if your party loses the upcoming General Election and Ranil Wickremesinghe does become the Prime Minister?
A: Well if that is the peoples’ verdict, we will have to agree to it. But as I said earlier, our victory is certain as the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow. Ranil Wickremesinghe will try to challenge us by collaborating with his JVP and TNA friends to form a coalition to get the necessary numbers. But he can only do that if the UPFA doesn’t get the magic number of 113 and I am very confident that that will not happen and I don’t think this question will arise.