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Sunday, 12 May 2013

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Will leave no room for recurrence:

We have identified our lapses in the past - UNP MP, John Amaratunga

John Amaratunga, the senior Parliamentarian from the Gampaha district who enjoyed the rare honour of being first appointed as a member of Parliament under the new Constitution by President J.R. Jayewardene in 1978, continuously, represented the Wattala electorate holding a number of ministerial portfolios under four of the previous party leaders. He presently functions as the Chief Opposition Whip in Parliament.

As one of the most respected Parliamentarians, perhaps he could be second in command to the Presidency in a future UNP government.

The Sunday Observer had an exclusive interview with John Amaratunga with regard to the present position of the United National Party, its future course of action and some political issues of the day.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Don't you think that it is time to take an introspection into your past and re-arrange your priorities to woo the voters if you seek a victory in 2016?

A: We have assessed, studied and enumerated everything in respect of a comprehensive re-organisation sometime back and right now we are in the process of doing it. We have identified our lapses in the past and we shall not leave any room for their recurrence.

We have taken all steps to strengthen our grass roots level membership and the party headquarters constantly communicates with the electoral organisers, providing information with regard to strengthening party from the grass roots level.

The entire party machinery is fully engaged in development activities of the party, targeting a national election which may take place before the due period is over.

Q: The next election is due in 2016. On what grounds does your party high command say that you would form a government in 2014?

A: Even though the term of the present Government ends in 2016, we are quite positive that with the rapid deterioration of their popularity, they will be forced to go for a snap election very soon.

The United National Party has already drawn up its election strategy which we will execute at the correct time and we are quite confident that we will win any national election in the near future.

Q: What is your main election strategy?

A: It is not possible for me to disclose all minute details and intricacies involved in our election strategy. Generally, I would say that we hope to educate the public about the Government's lapses in handling crucial issues. We hope to educate the public over these vital issues and to rectify this to create a just society under a UNP regime. We shall ensure security of life to all individuals irrespective of any differences and shall mete out justice and fair play to all. The United National party had formulated its new policies to ensure complete freedom, to all citizens irrespective of any differences.

Q: Do you still follow your foreign policy of the 70s and 80s when today's geopolitics have radically changed in character and direction?

A: Certainly not. Our foreign policy will be reformulated to meet the emerging trends in the 21st century; to sustain the goodwill with other countries, whether they are socialist or capitalist countries so as to obtain the fullest benefit and support from all countries in the world to meet the challenges Sri Lanka is facing today.

Q: The United National Party is said to be a well-disciplined and people-friendly party with no room for internal dissension specially with the advent of JR's stewardship during which controls were further tightened. How is it that such a party has got mired in the political wilderness for nearly two decades?

A: Yes, our party is the most disciplined political party in the country which had done an invaluable service to the nation from its inception way back in 1946. However, when false promises and assurances are given, it has been the practice of Sri Lankans to support such regimes as in the 1960s when Sirima Bandaranaike agreed to give free rice and people supported her and burnt their fingers.

We have been experiencing a similar situation during the last few years. The Untied National party never gave false promises and bogus assurances to hoodwink the masses at election times. That had not been our practice and neither would we resort to such cheap tactics in future to win elections.

At the same time, now we are determined that we would not allow anyone to hoodwink the masses with false promises and assurances any further. We will go before the public and educate them not to be victimised in future.

Q: The 1978 Constitution which is JR's brainchild has caused more rifts in the Sri Lankan body politic than consolidation. Don't you think that it has failed to fulfil its mission in the larger interest of the country?

A: The 1978 Constitution was the most suitable for the problems which existed during that period. President Jayewardene would have thought that those who take over the reins of government after him would be leaders of his mindset.

Q: Voices are strong in the country that the UNP, being the main Opposition in the country, has failed to play its legitimate role in not taking an active part on crucial issues that affect the poor people. How do you meet this argument?

A: I do not agree with that.

We, as the main Opposition, is constantly involved in all vital issues and express our views and reservations. Right now, we are engaged in an aggressive campaign against the tariff revision of electricity which affects the cost of living of all citizens. We believe that the ruling party is very arrogant and is going against the people as they have a considerable majority in the House. But they should not forget that even stronger governments have collapsed when the tidal waves of public opinion started gushing against them.

We hope to increase our agitation against the Government in the near future on human rights violations, right to information, media freedom, independence of the judiciary and mostly on the unbearable cost of living.

A number of other political parties have already agreed to work closely with us and a large number of trade unions, voluntary organisations, pressure groups and independent thinkers of the country have agreed to join us to defeat this administration at the next election.

Q: The leadership crisis in the party, though an internal matter, has distracted even the traditional supporters especially in village areas. As such, the party has to be reorganised from its village base. Is there a program to be launched in this regard?

A: There is no leadership crisis as such in our party. The leader has been elected by the popular vote of party members and its rank and file. We know there is a sinister campaign being carried out by some politicians to project a wrong picture to the public using unscrupulous media to tarnish the image of our party. They have engaged in this exercise over the last few years and now the people have realised it. It is quite evident by the new crowds rallying round us whenever we go for our party propaganda activities.

We are at present conducting a membership recruitment drive island-wide, and we focus our attention mainly on rural areas where our vote base had declined sometime back. We are very happy as the response has been extremely good with some of our new organisers and we hope to increase our membership to two million by the end of next month. We have taken a lot of measures to strengthen our rural vote base by providing guidance on a regular basis to the local organisers who in turn educate our members at grass roots level.

Q: In the recent past, most UNP candidates had failed to project an image more acceptable to the voters. Unless you put the right man at the right place, the party will perish. Your comments?

A: With our re-organisational work, we have made some changes. We carefully scrutinise the performance of each electoral organiser and we shall be fielding a winning team at the next election.

Q: Your party is committed to devolution of power, in favour of the 13th Amendment. Don't you see the danger involved in land and police powers being devolved when the LTTE's notorious expropriation of State land and its own police force and court system are still fresh in the public mind?

A: If the government is strong and capable of governing the country to the satisfaction of all its subjects, irrespective of caste, creed or race it needs not withhold any rights of people to whichever community they may belong. When such withholding and deprivation of rights of the people take place, then that section of the people will revolt against the government. At the same time, the ruling party should maintain writ authority over the periphery so that divisions will not take place among the communities or territories.

Q: There is no democracy in the UNP, instead there is a gerontocracy by a few old timers of the party is the criticism levelled by some people today. Your comments please?

A: That is also yet another malicious campaign spread by bankrupt politicians. Any sensible person who knows the activities of our party will see the responsibilities allocated and delegated to young and upcoming politicians in the party.

I must also tell you that the senior members of the party are quite proud of youngsters' degree of commitment to the party activities and their personal abilities.

The United National Party is the only party which has a youth wing and a student movement. Our national organiser is also a comparatively young person. So how can you say the party is run by old timers? These are baseless allegations of unscrupulous elements.

Q: What would be a future UNP government's contribution to democracy, good governance and the rule of law?

A: We will certainly re-establish all fundamental aspects of democracy which have deteriorated badly. We will appoint all commissions and give due recognition to them to function on their own. Fundamental human rights, media freedom, rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are quite vital in re-establishing a just society.

The United National Party has taken a close look at the recommendations made by the LLRC and we would advocate the implementation of those recommendations to ensure good governance in the country.

 

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