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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 Interview:

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 downfall?

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 inter-communal harmony.

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 community.

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 Council.

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 grassroots membership.

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 resources?

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 governance.

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