By Subhashini Gunarathna
Former Education Minister AkilaViraj Kariyawasam says “We educated the people about the politics of Rajapaksa. I led a very good election campaign throughout the district to defeat him”.
? Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in some electorates in which he registered victory in the presidential election held in January. What is UNP’s magic in the past six months to achieve such a victory?
A: We were able to build up trust about our programme in the district. We educated the people about the politics of Rajapaksa. I led a very good election campaign throughout the district and we could achieve this result because of that.
? You have held a Cabinet position only for six months and you had to face the challenge of a President who was in power for 10 years.
A: Not only him, two Chief Ministers had been nominated by United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). The SLFP secretary was also in that list. The former President appeared as the Prime Ministerial candidate. We considered all this and conducted our election campaign targeting the right nerve point. We canvassed home to home in every village. We had good understanding about the problems in our district. We used a network of connections which we had built up by working hard. We had youth around the district.
? But the wave was with the former President.
A: He did not have a wave. It is crystal clear now. You could have monitored the number of young people who visited our offices every day. They were in the campaigns in each district. They worked on their own and not because of arrack and cigarettes. I had invitations for thousands of meetings but time did not permit that much of meetings. We covered the entire district as much as we could, and if we had two more weeks we could have changed the difference of the 15,000 majority votes.
? Even though the former President led the campaign, UPFA lost two seats and UNP won two seats compared to the 2010.
A: That was our cleverness. Neither the former President nor the 10 ministers were a problem to us. We worked with determination to achieve the result. We slept only about two hours per day and addressed 40 meetings a day.
? Didn’t you really have a fear when you were informed that the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was to contest against you?
A: We had no negative feeling. Everybody who associated with me knows it. Our morale was high. We believed we were right and anything could be done if we were determined.
? Campaigners for Rajapaksa say that they were defeated due to money pumped by the Western embassies including the US Embassy. Did the UNP organization in Kurunegala also receive such money?
A: We did not receive a cent except the assistance rendered by the common man. We spent little but UPFA spent massive sums of money. Most of our expenses were for the newspaper advertisements.
? Did the former President Rajapaksa come to the Kurunegala District from his home District Hambanthota to achieve this outcome?
A: He thought Kurunegala was the most advantageous district for him. He had achieved the best result from Kurunegala in some elections. But he forgot that this was the election we contested. People were eagerly waiting to send us to the Parliament.
? Do you mean that former President both achieved and lost from Kurunegala District?
A: He erred because he decided to contest from the Kurunegala District and trusted the leaders of that district.
? Do you mean that he was misled by his team?
A: We respect him as the former President. He took a wrong decision and contested from Kurunegala.
? In the final result, the turnout of the presidential was 6.2 million and it collapsed to 5.8 million in this election. What weaknesses did you see in the election campaign of Rajapaksa team?
A: They failed to match with our campaign. Our campaign was so strong and we were able to defeat them. They were used to manipulate the State assets for election campaigns. We knew the way to organize a campaign with meagre resources. People trusted the leadership and the programme of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. People have endorsed the opinion that we can cohabit with President Maithripala Sirisena. UPFA will lose its base further and will collapse to three million in the upcoming local government election.
? What was the role of President Sirisena behind the screen for the victory of the UNP?
A: H was also a great strength for us. We elected him as the President. On the other hand, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was a great strength to him. That harmony is very good for people.
? Do you believe President Sirisena helped the UNP victory?
A: No. People believe the country can be developed under the leadership of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. That is why we could achieve such a victory.
? Although the President said he would be neutral as the leader of the SLFP, his activities helped the UNP.
A: No. He only supported the good cause. He showed the correct path to the country. He thought of the country. He did everything to assure the victory achieved on 8 January.
? Hours ahead of the election, the secretaries of the SLFP and UPFA and central committee members of the SLFP were changed. Did UNP profit by those moves?
A: No. It could have some effect but we had already launched our operation.
? None of the parties could get a majority. How is the UNP going to build up majority in Parliament?
A: We can get two thirds majority if we want. It is simple because all the MPs and ministers know that the future belongs to a UNP Government. Many will come forward to help it. I think many have already joined.