Cooray ready despite obstacles
Former Mayor and UNP heavyweight Sirisena Cooray who was in political
wilderness for 12 years returned from Australia to battle the major UNP
bastion, Colombo Municipal Council with leftist firebrand Vasudeva
Nanayakkara. Cooray with a severe setback to his campaign after the
rejection of his nomination papers is now trying his luck as an
`independent' candidate, 100 percent confident of victory. In an
interview with Sunday Observer staffer Jayantha Sri Nissanka, Cooray
claimed that many obstacles placed in his path will not stop his
Q: How confident are you of your victory in the attempt to
contest on an independent list?
A: We are 100 percent confident of the victory. We have no
doubt about it. You have to analyse the voting pattern of Colombo and
see how we can win. Of course there are drawbacks with all unexpected
problems but nevertheless I feel I will get more votes than what we have
got in the past.
Q: Would you not think that UNPers who are acquainted with the
symbol 'elephant' may get confused with new symbol- 'spectacle'?
A: I am not contesting from the 'spectacle', but I am
supporting the candidates who are contesting that symbol. If you are a
SLFPer, you identify the party symbol 'Hand' but subsequently they
changed it. It was an all island exercise. My change is only to Colombo.
However, Colombo voters are more advanced than rural voters. They are
very keen at this election. UNPers feel they are deprived of their right
to vote due to various reasons.
Q: But I saw an advertisement of you on TV with your
photograph requesting the people to vote for number one of the
independent group contesting under the symbol 'spectacle'?
A: We are supporting them. It has happened so many times if
you study the past history of the SLFP. They initially contested under
the party symbol of Hand. Later changed to Chair and now another symbol.
This advertisement is purely to educate supporters.
Q: But the SLFP Secretary Maithripala Sirisena plans to take
legal action against you, for using the independent list numbers?
A: Did I request people to vote for me in that advertisement?
Even if I requested to vote for me, it is not illegal. Because my name
is not in the ballot paper. Mr.Sirisena at the same conference claimed
that we were wrong, but he admitted that they are contesting from a
symbol 'Book' that belongs to an independent group in Gampaha. There
can't be two laws in this country for the SLFP and UNP. They are
desperate and try everything possible to defeat me.
Q: Will it lead to an election petition?
A: They can go to courts, but nothing will happen. How many
times we went but what happened finally.
Q: UNP governed the CMC for many years but still the UNP has
failed to address major issues in Colombo?
A: It was the UNP which did major work in Colombo. That is why
the people always elected UNP to govern the CMC. UNP has done a lot to
improve the city infrastructure. Earlier, there were narrow roads, no
drainage facilities, bucket lavatories; half of Colombo had no water
supply, electricity. It was we who gave all these basic facilities to
the poor in Colombo.
Q: Do you feel that the rejection of the nomination list is a
severe set- back?
A: It is a drawback. But you must always try to build a
position when you are at a disadvantage. How far you can take a
challenge is the important thing. As far as I am concerned, I have faced
lots of challenges worse than this in my life time. So this is not a big
issue to me. Someone can say that it is a very short period and how
could I prepare for an election. But we have to plan and prepare to face
Q: What is the party's action for those who were responsible
for the initial setback?
A: That is a matter for argument to find out who was
responsible, whether it was a mistake. But there was no mistake.
This is an interpretation. I am asking you who are the youth? A
person after 18 years is eligible to vote. But what has happened is that
they have included a 19 year old boy according to the 2006 voting
register in the nomination list. He is entitled to vote. His name is
appearing in 2005 register too. Others argued that he should have been
18 by the 2004 electoral register. Remember, at the same time law says
you need not be a registered voter to contest. Look at the irony of the
Q: But your argument was totally rejected by courts not once
but twice. Your comment?
A: I wish to refrain from commenting on it. But I still
maintain my stand.
Q: Your main opponent Vasudeva Nanayakkara is vigorously
campaigning with an action plan. Unfortunately you were deprived of a
good campaign because of the initial set back. Do you think that you are
a good competitor to Vasu?
A: I can't blame him for his vigorous campaign. I must tell
you that I don't like to boast about my self. However, responding to
your question, remember, I have done many elections for me as well as
for others. I don't have to talk about my organisation capacity here.
Organising an electorate does not mean shouting at election meetings.
We have a block vote in the city. It is very strong. What we have to do
is to create awareness among our supporters about the change of the
symbol and why it happened.
Q: In the event your independent list wins, how confident are
you that those in the list who benefited by the UNP votes would resign
to make way for you?
A: In every game certain amount of risk is involved. Legally I
know what to do. There is a legal procedure for it. We have prepared for
a safe victory.
Q: You were earlier known as a good organiser and a seasoned
campaigner. But you have been so only when in power. Now you are trying
your luck as a man completely out of power. Can you prove yourself as a
winner this time?
A: That is a wrong impression. I have organised many elections
when not in power. In fact, I am the first one to win the first and the
last by elections after the UNP got defeated in 1970. That was the time
the JVP insurrection was in full swing. So I don't have to talk about my
Q: UPFA candidate Vasudeva Nanayakkara has come with a plan
for Colombo. Where is your plan?
A: You must measure the capabilities on the performance of
candidates. CMC is a huge institution with over 15, 000 people working.
It needs a person with administrative and political background to
operate the CMC. Then only you can succeed. It is very important. I
don't like to talk about others.
I would say that I am the most suitable Mayor because of the
background and the knowledge I have about Colombo. I was born and bred
in Colombo. I know where the problems are. I was the Mayor for 10 years
from 1979-89. I first got selected to the CMC in 1971.
Q: Do you have a plan for Colombo city?
A: People know that I will perform. I did a lot of planning
when I was there. We should plan not for tomorrow but for the next 10
years. At that time I faced lots of problem. We prepared plans for the
next ten years. If those plans were implemented things would have been
different. My plan for Colombo city cannot be explained in a few words.
Importantly, you must know what are the problems. These are not knew
things for me. Nevertheless, I know all the problems. There is nothing
you can't do. If there is a will there is a way. Garbage problem was not
there when I was the Mayor. I handled it well. At that time I collected
450 tons a day. It has increased to 650 a day now.
When I took over there was no garbage vehicles at that time. I did
lots of work without much publicity. Officials of the CMC printed a book
when I was leaving titled "Decade of Excellence". It itemised all what I
There area various ways of disposing garbage like producing
electricity, bricks, compost, gas, etc. Now we are using garbage to fill
lands. Land filling can't go on because there is a limit to it. So we
have to come out with some other programme. Compost is also not rich
enough as our garbage is 80% organic since it has more food stuffs. That
is why it is very costly to generate electricity. Other countries do
otherwise. At that time I was planning to introduce a Bailing Plant to
Q: More than 50% people in the Colombo City are poor and live
in shanties. What are your plans to uplift their living?
A: It was we who provided them electricity, land, jobs, water,
sanitary facilities to improve quality of their lives. I am asking
others what they have done for these people. They only talk of poverty
For example, take Colombo Central. It was the late Peter Keuneman who
got the highest number of votes at that time. A.E.Gunasinghe of the
Kamkaru Party was the second and a Muslim member was third. Majority of
people living in Colombo Central belonged to the working class. But over
the years, we kept changing their lives and gave them opportunities.
Then what happened? Mr.R.Premadasa got the highest number of votes
and Peter Keuneman second. Why, because Premadasa built houses and
improved the quality of lives. We gave two perches land ownership for
over 25,000 families who were in fear of being chased out.
According to Municipal Ordinance unauthorised people can not obtain
any service from the CMC. But we wanted to change it. Therefor we give
them lands. That is how these families still obtain services from the
CMC. Therefore, how do you say that we have not done anything? Actually
now the question is to move from this position. We will do our best. It
was I who implemented all the projects of late President R. Premadasa
except Janasaviya. I had differences over the Janasaviya programme.
Q: Finally, do you think that you face competition from Vasu.
The general opinion is that your fate as the next Mayor hangs in the
balance due to these uncertainties. How do you feel?.
A: I feel perfectly all right. Competition is there, but I
know I can win.