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Sunday, 15 August 2010

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No crisis in UNP - Thalatha Athukorala MP

UNP Ratnapura district MP Thalatha Athukorala made her entry into serious politics after the sudden demise of her elder brother, former Minister and UNP stalwart Gamini Athukorala, in January 2002. Although she was never a political novice per se, her only political foray then had been helping the campaign of her brother.

The Sunday Observer spoke to her on a range of issues including the UNP's internal crisis, the proposed changes to the UNP constitution and party reforms and UNP-Government talks on Constitutional amendments. The following are excerpts:

Q: The UNP is in a crisis over the leadership issue and other factors, after a series of electoral losses. What should the UNP do to resurrect itself and come to power again?

A: First of all I must say there is no crisis as such within the party.

What you see is merely a section of members raising their voices and coming out with suggestions as to what should be done to overcome the present situation and carry the UNP to a winning mode.

A committee headed by Joseph Michael Perera was appointed to look into the matter and they came up with sound recommendations to reform the party constitution. The Central body has decided to implement these recommendations.

A sub committee of lawyers was appointed at the last working committee meeting to look into the legal aspects, to decide upon new clauses to be introduced and to draft the new constitution.

Q: What are the major changes in the new constitution?

A: The main feature will be holding a secret ballot to appoint a new leader, in the absence of majority consent.

During the 1995 Party convention held in Kataragama, a resolution was passed permitting the leader to continue till his death, unless he resigns for some reason. This is going to be replaced with a new clause that ..says the leader will have to seek a fresh mandate every year at the Party convention.

The date for the next annual convention is expected to be fixed at the next working committee meeting, in the first week of September. The working committee meeting is generally fixed during the first week unless under special circumstances.

Q: Are you happy with the pace the reforms process is proceeding. The whole process seem to be dragging its feet?

A: I must frankly say that I am not at all happy. This whole process must be expedited before the local government elections. Our local government representatives need time to get ready for the elections. There is no reason to drag it on. At the end of the day it will affect our grass roots level representation. They have to face the forthcoming election. This is the view of the majority of the village level UNP supporters.

I would not want to say each and every UNP member holds my point of view. The grass roots level representatives keep on inquiring from us as to what we have done to settle the issue.

Q: Don't you think the staunch UNP supporter Algama who set himself ablaze flashed a red light that UNP is running out of time?

A: That was such a pathetic situation to be honest. If someone tries to take political mileage and sling mud over this issue, that will be very unfortunate. That will not resolve the problem. You must never let your feelings to cloud your rational thinking or let it rule you.

We must act according to our conscience. I feel sorry for this person. I can't imagine what made him to do such a thing. There are lots of stories surrounding his death but I don't want to believe them.

Q: President is in dialogue with the Opposition Leader over the proposed constitutional reforms. At the last meeting with the President, Ranil Wickremesinghe was alone. You think he will represent the majority opinion of the UNP? Are you happy with the way the talks are taking shape?

A: I am happy that the President is of the opinion the Opposition should be involved and consulted in the Constitutional reforms process. But prior to our leader's visit to the 'Temple Trees' last time, he did not ask for our views, opinions or proposals. In fact we got to know about it only after the meeting. He told us what was discussed with the President, subsequently at the working committee meeting.

Q: Two more MPs defected to the Government last week. Are you worried that there will be more such crossovers in the near future? Don't you think the internal strife is driving them away?

A: Those two were people from another party. They contested under the UNF banner of course. But we have no hold on them. The respective parties should deal with their defections. However, I think the President should have been more cautious in welcoming them at this decisive time.

I cannot agree with those who say they crossover to ruling party to serve their people. That is just absurd. If people honour principles and ethics they will stick with their parties and steer it to victory, without resorting to the easy option. Those other parties have different political agendas to yours. I think those who crossover are just interested in personal gains.

Q: Had your brother been alive, do you think the present crisis for leadership would not have arisen?

A: I have a very short reply to that. If my brother was alive, the UNP would still be in power. None of these problems would have come up.

The whole scenario would have been very different.

Q: Were you not involved in politics before your brother's sudden demise?

A: I was never in politics. It was just a matter of helping by brother's campaign. He was a Deputy Minister and a Minister for 17 years under UNP but none of my family members were involved in politics. We have not benefited a cent from being in politics.

My grandfather E.A.R. Athukorala was one of the founding members of the UNP. My parent's marriage was attested by D.S. Senanayake. UNP is my second home.

Q: Could you tell us a little about your family?

A: My father was a planter and we are in tea business. My husband too is involved in business of his own. I don't have children of my own but I became a mother to my brother's two children, the eldest is the boy. They were just two and one and a half when I took charge of them.

 

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