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'Will prove myself at a General Election':

Hirunika says she did not parachute into politics

Young, ambitious and outspoken politician Hirunika Premachandra speaks of her dreams in her political career in an interview with the Sunday Observer.


Hirunika Premachandra
Pic:Wimal Karunatillake

Q: The death of a politician is now a qualification and short-cut by kith and kin to launch a political career, even by those who lack dedication, interest and the will to serve the people. Can you differentiate yourself from this category?

A: In countries like - India and Sri Lanka- this is a common means of women entering politics. But leaders like Margaret Thatcher, a former British Prime Minister, had no such background. She was a powerful leader.

As for me I must admit my father's untimely death was instrumental in my commencing a political career this early. The fact that my father was killed and I was compelled to continue what my father started and that is something I cannot deny.

But how I establish myself in this male- dominated field will be my own work. I will have to work hard and I know the path ahead is not easy.

Having said that I should also add that I am from a political family. I have lived with politics as a child. My father did not keep his political work away from home. Our home was his supporters 'home'. Politics is nothing new to me. I have not parachuted into unknown territory and claimed something that I have no right to claim.

As for my educational background I have done Political Science and I am currently pursuing a legal career. I don't want people to see me as a celebrity, I am an activist. After my father's death I fought for justice. I maintained and still say those who are responsible, must be brought to book. I think people admired me for that and I earned their recognition and affection.

I never hoped for a political career in this manner, I did not want to make an entry as the daughter of slain Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra. My ambition was a different one altogether. My father wanted me to establish myself as a lawyer first. He said I needed to get married, become a mother and think of a political career when I was mature enough. That was his expectation. Everything changed overnight with my father's sudden demise. Now I have started my political journey and I cannot stop.

Q: Some people criticise your move to join the UPFA. In their opinion you should have joined the Opposition ?

A: My father was one of the few people in the party, who supported President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his journey to become the President. I did receive invitations from other parties to contest the election but I do not think leaving the SLFP will do me any good in my quest to seek justice for my father.

It is not proper to criticise the entire party for the actions of a few. That is not done. I have a right to be with this Government.

I believe that if I show my strength to my father's party and to the people, then the mere 'passengers' in the party, will someday fade away. But I will remain and be there to protect the party. I feel I took the right decision. I will stand by my policies. If I join another party and start criticising the Government, I will not be helping our people.

Q: There is speculation that you will be offered a provincial ministerial post if elected. Is this true?

A: No, no one said anything to that effect to me. I too, heard that new councillors would be considered for ministerial posts this time. But that is just a rumour. I have not been promised anything. I have to win this election and make my mark first.

Q: You will be contending with experienced senior politicians. Do you think you will win the most number of preferential votes in the Western Province?

A: I never said I am the only one who can get the most number of votes. True, I believe in myself and my people. I know they love me and have a good impression about me. There are strong candidates in the Western Province. They already have a vote base which is not the case with me. I have to speak to voters and make my presence felt. Still I do not know where I stand. To understand my strength, I have to face this election.

Q: Suppose you get the most number of preferential votes and if the Chief Ministerial post is offered to you, will you accept it?

A: There are seniors who have given their everything for the party. I cannot match their experience. I just entered politics, I do not believe in unrealistic dreams. I will work hard to do my best in this election. This is not an easy game, the UPFA has fielded an outstanding team this time. I may not stand a chance in securing a higher number of votes. But I will aspire to be among the top scorers.

Q; How do you see women representation in politics in Sri Lanka?

A: Women represent 52% of the population in Sri Lanka but only a disappointing fraction of them are in active politics, if I am right the number is less than 3%. I feel this is a kind of discrimination.

I believe more women should enter politics and that they should be given a fair chance. For a country which has produced the world's first woman Prime Minister and a Woman President, the situation now is rather disappointing.

We need to change the mindset of women and their attitudes while creating awareness as to how important their contribution for the future of this country. I represent the women and the youth and I intent to set an example. I hope they will be more courageous and willing to make a difference.

Q: What is your ambition, vision and expectation in your political career?

A: There are 22 national schools in the country which are under the purview of the Central Government the balance over 10,000 schools are under the purview of the provincial authorities. Minister Bandula Gunawardena has invited me to make a contribution in the education field. I believe education is the key to anyone's future and I like to play a role in developing the education sector with the blessings of the President and the Minister.

I will play a role in the 'Mahindodaya' and 'Lama Mithuru' schools projects of the Education Ministry. It will be a pleasure to represent the children and education in the Western Province. I will not forget what happened to my father. The fight for justice for my father drove me prematurely into politics. That goal will never leave my mind. These are my immediate goals and expectations.

Q:You said you came to politics to seek justice for your father. Don't you think that this objective undermines the faith voters will have in you, they need a representative to fight for their rights?

A: My political career and fight for justice for my father will go parallel but on separate paths. I will not mix the two and be a disappointment to my voters. But I will make sure that my father's death would not be in vain. While not interfering in the judicial process, I will make my contribution to seek justice.

I did not venture here to seek revenge but to seek justice. As a believer in law I am keenly following the court proceedings. As a person training to be a lawyer, I must have faith in the judicial system.

My father had a vision to serve his people. He became the voice of poverty- stricken people who struggled to live. He was a friend not only to the Sinhalese but Tamils as well as the Muslims. I will continue from where he stopped.

Q: Where will your political journey lead you?

A: I don't want to end my political journey here. The provincial election will be my starting point and it will help to test my strength. In a few years time a General election will be held and I have to work hard in the mini election to think of a bigger future.

Q: Have you been given the green light by the UPFA to contest the next general election?

A: Actually my nomination to contest the general election will depend on how I fare at the provincial polls. I have not been promised anything yet.

Q: Due to the violent political culture in Sri Lanka, women and professionals shy away from active politics. Your comments?

A: I do not believe in violent politics. My campaign is definitely going to be a peaceful one. I have asked my supporters to strictly adhere to the election law. I keep telling them that my campaign is not a chance to seek revenge from our opponents.

This is a chance to prove our people power.

People no more vote for rowdies and thugs to represent them in public office, they look for educated and well behaved people.

Q:We saw many film stars and celebrities line up to receive nominations from the UPFA and the UNP. How do you see this trend?

A: I don't have a personal issue with them. But do they really have good intentions to take to politics? Most of the film stars venture into politics using their popularity.

But at the end of the day people are disappointed. Film stars hardly have time to serve people. Being a people's representative is not a part time job, it is a 24/7 job. There are no off days, half days or short leave involving this job.

Hoping to split time between a political career and a busy acting career is a joke. You cannot say that you are in the middle of shooting a film when a supporter needs to contact you or your presence is urgently needed to settle an issue.

We have seen actors and actresses such as Jayalalitha and Gamini Fonseka becoming successful politicians. It was not a part time job for them.

Politicians have to be accountable to voters. People expect their representatives to be role models. I am still 26. I like partying with my friends and wearing fancy clothes like anyone else in my age. I like to lead a carefree life. But such things are behind me now.

I want people to look up to me. My dress code has completely changed. The moment I decided on a political career, I knew it was the end of my carefree life.

Q: Who are your campaign sponsors. How can we say that you will not become a puppet of your sponsors once elected ?

A: It is true, there are many people who want to support my campaign. Many come offering different types of help and support. I try to uncover their ulterior motives before accepting any sponsoring. I do a strict background check. That way I try to keep miscreants at bay.

I make it clear that I will not do 'favours' in return. I have asserted that I am not willing to bend the law to reciprocate their support in my campaign.

Such people did approach me, I did not entertain them. The genuine people who helped my father before had also come forth and I have no fear in accepting their support.

Q: What are the shortcomings in the Western province as a whole and your seat - Colombo Central in particular as you see it?

A: The biggest shortcoming is the disparity in wealth distribution among the people here. While a minority of rich people get wealthier by day, the middle income people who constitute the majority in the Western Province have been deprived. This has to change. I too, belong to the Middle Class, so I can relate to their problems. The 'eat what you get and do as you are told' attitude of people must change.

Q:What is the support you get from President Mahinda Rajapaksa ?

A: His support had been a great courage. I often update him about my campaign. I am no stranger to the President's family. He keeps a close watch over the campaign and helps me when I need it. I hope that this will continue in the future too.

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