Differences more marked when in Opposition:
UNP makes steady progress – MP Harin Fernando
The United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party are the two
most formidable political forces since the parliamentary democracy was
introduced in the country. Both these parties have ruled the country
over thirty years apiece since independence under different leaders.
However, the United National Party had never remained stagnant in the
Opposition for more than one parliamentary term prior to 2001 General
Election. Since 2001 the performances of the UNP had been gradually
deteriorating at every successive election and at present their vote
base has dropped to a mere 30 percent.
The Provincial Council elections for the Western and Southern
Provinces are round the corner and the Sunday Observer had an exclusive
interview with the most loved and respected young parliamentarian of the
UNP camp in Badulla district Harin Fernando to ascertain the present
position of the party, its political activities, preparations for the
forthcoming PC elections and the future course of action with regard to
a major election which could be held in the near future. Excerpts of the
Q: Your party had done a great service to the nation since its
inception till about the beginning of this century, but during the last
number of years you had been bagged down in the Opposition with no sign
of a revival in the foreseable future. What is the reason for this
A: Yes, the UNP had rendered an invaluable service to the
country from the day it was formed by D.S. Senanayake.
All our leaders had worked for the economic, agricultural,
scientific, social and cultural development of the country through their
multifaceted projects while taking positive steps to establish
It is true that we are left in the Opposition for a number of years
mainly due to some particular reason. Our party under the leadership of
Ranil Wickremesinghe tried to solve the long drawn ruthless terrorism
through diplomatic means with the support of the international
It succeeded to some extent with Karuna and Pilleyan breaking away
from the LTTE. However, the UNP government was dissolved by Chandrika
Kumaratunga the then Executive President and we couldn't do much about
it. Then at the next Presidential election the JVP and a set of
unscrupalous political elements launched an aggressive campaign against
us claiming that we were a pro LTTE party and moreover Prabakaran did
not allow the Tamils to cast their vote and we were marginally defeated
at the Presidential election.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa too tried to negotiate with Prabakaran
and then resorted to military means and defeated the long drawn
terrorism in 2009 which had been a cancer to the entire country for
almost 3 decades. At the next Presidential election in 2010 it was a
cake walk for Mahinda Rajapaksa as the people voted for him irrespective
of party politics as he eradicated the terrorism. He got a
congratulatory vote too for the feat achieved from all unbiased voters.
In the case of other elections, under the Executive Presidency it is
extremely difficult for a non government party to emerge victorious
unless under exceptional circumstances.
Q: But the general belief is that there is no unity in your
party and it is divided into a number of groups such as Ranil's group
and Sajith's group and that is why the party's performance had been
pathetic during the past few elections.
A: Divisions are a common feature in any democratic political
party when stagnant in the Opposition for a long time.
Don't you remember what befel the SLFP from 1977 to 1994? It was
divided into a large number of groups such as Sirima group, Anura group,
Maithripala group, Kobbekaduwa group and so on.
Anura went to courts to settle matters with his mother. Even their
party headquarters was sealed on a court decision for a long time.
They lost even the Opposition Leaders post in parliament in 1977.
They were virtually driven to political doldrums for 17 long years.
However, when the right time came they again became victorious in 1994
under Chandrika's Leadership. Similarly with the present economic,
political and social situation in the country it will not be difficult
for the UNP to mobilise the masses against this government and form a
UNP regime if all UNP Leaders become united and work as a single unit.
Q: Your party formed a Leadership Council recently with the
intervention of Bhikkhu Front to reconcile matters among the front
runners of the party and to drive the party to victory at any future
election. But some members have not co-operated with it and there is no
significant change in the party mechanism. Your comments.
A: Yes, the leadership council was formed with great
expectations and some of us were very happy with it thinking that
everybody would shed petty differences and work as a single unit. But we
are shocked, sad and hurt over the latest developments of the Leadership
All leaders have their personal agendas and do not want to take
collective decisions for the greater good of the party.
Even in a company among the directors there could be differences of
opinion on certain issues. But finally they arrive at collective
decisions and work together.
That is how you prosper. But unfortunately our Leadership Council
will not produce the desired results as they have not sorted out matters
amicably to work as a single entity. But we, backbenchers of the party
constantly request them to sort out matters through consultation,
compromise and concensus.
Q: Your Nomination Board had to face lots of problems in
selecting candidates for the two provinces last week. Even your party
leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was virtually manhandled by Kalutara
district parliamentarian Thevarapperuma at the parliamentary complex
over a nomination issue. In this backdrop how can you pose a challenge
to the government at the PC elections?
A: Please dont forget the fact that these two provinces
consist of 57 electorates in the country. We had problems in choosing
candidates only in 5 electorates. In all other electorates everything
went on quite smoothly.
We know that there is a malicious media campaign launched by some
disgruntled political elements to tarnish the image of our party.
As the UNP is gradually and steadily marching forward some people who
resent its progress try to sling mud at us in order to demoralise our
Q: Your party began a membership recruitment drive last year
with the hope of recruiting 2.5 million new members to the party. Have
you achieved your target by now?
A: It is a continuous process and we are engaged in a morale
boosting campaign right now and I am sure that we will be able to
restore the lost glory of the party very soon.
Q: Do you think that your party could emerge victorious in
either province at the forthcoming PC elections?
A: With the present high cost of living and with the
innumerable problems in all vital sections which affect the daily life
of people our party should win both provinces unless the government
resort to undemocratic political tactics.
Q: Provincial Council system was a UNP creation to devolve
powers to the periphery and it was introduced with the 13th Amendment to
the Constitution, as a solution to the North East problem. Don't you
think in your hindsight that it was a waste of funds and human
A: It is undoubtedly a white elephant.
But since it has been deep rooted in political spectrum we too have
to contest elections until we form a UNP government and abolish this
system and empower the local government institutions to replace PCs.
Q: Has your party decided to abolish the PC system when you
come to power one day?
A: Not only the PC system, we have already formulated a new
Constitution sans the Executive Presidency, empowering the parliamentary
democracy and entailing a number of progressive measures for good