|UNP makes steady progress - Tissa Attanayake|
Most Asian countries which were governed under the British Empire for over a century regained Independence from their colonial masters in the mid 20th century.All these countries, after regaining Independence adopted democracy with the political party system to govern their countries, influenced by their former masters.The United National party was formed by its founder Leader D.S. Senanayake in 1946 and formulated a Constitution for the party, assisted by legal luminaries of the day of the calibre of (QC) S. Nadesan..
Accordingly, three main positions were introduced in the party constitution - Leader, General Secretary and Treasurer, besides committee members who were vested with particular responsibilities. The first UNP General Secretary was Sir Ukwatte Jayasundara.
The position of General Secretary of the UNP is a very powerful institution which wields enormous powers with regard to the entire political mechanism of the party.
Starting with Sir Ukwatte Jayasundara, there had been 10 General Secretaries with the incumbent General Secretary being Tissa Attanayake from Kandy who was actively involved in political activities in the party from his student days at the Kelaniya University.
He became a member of Parliament representing the Kandy district in 1989 and was appointed Minister of Higher Education and Central Provincial Development and then the Minister of University Education.
He functioned as Cabinet Minister of Central Regional Development from 2002 - 2004 under Ranil Wickremesinghe's Premiership.
Attanayake had been a vibrant party activist who remained loyal to the party leadership right throughout his career and to compensate for his unblemished services, he was unanimously elected General Secretary of the party at the Annual Convention in December 2006.
The Sunday Observer had an exclusive interview with Tissa Attanayake to ascertain the present position and activities of the party and its future course of action with regard to the general political situation in the country.
Excerpts of the interview are as follows:
Q: The UNP had been a very powerful political force since its inception. However, during the last few years, its performance in national politics has been very poor. What is the reason for this gradual deterioration?
A: Ups and downs are common in any political party. Since independence our party had governed this country for over 30 years in different terms under different leaders, executing a large number of socio-economic development programs for the benefit of our countrymen.
(It's true that we have been in the opposition for some time now, but I must tell you that we were never reduced to 'abysmal levels such as that of the SLFP in 1977.
Q: Consolidation and integrity of a political party largely depend on the role of its General Secretary. Some dissident UNPers criticise your role as one of the major causes for the present debacle of the party. How do you respond to this allegation?
A: I categorically reject this allegation. I know that some people who support the present regime spread these rumours. A true party loyalist will never make unfounded allegations of this nature against me or my party.
We know that some parties are also involved in a malicious campaign to tarnish the image of our party by spreading remours as they are worried about our steady progress achieved among the last few months with the reorganisational activities island wide.
Q: Have you sorted out the internal conflicts of the party with regard to high positions?
A: Yes, in 2009 and 2010 we had some problems with regard to the leadership of the party. Now we have amicably resolved all such minute problems and everybody accept Ranil Wickremesinghe as our leader and all senior members are working as a single unit based on party policies and principles with the firm commitment of forming a government of ours at the next general election.
Q: Have the dissidents been marginalised by the party hierarchy?
A: Let me put the record straight. There are no dissidents now. As I told you earlier, we had a problem in 2009/2010. It was sorted out and now everybody is working together.
It is quite natural that when you are in the Opposition, internal conflicts of this nature arise in any political party. Can't you remember what happened to the SLFP after the 1977 general election? It was divided into a number of groups such as the Sirima group, Anura group, Maithripala group and Kobbekaduwa group. Sirima and Anura went to courts to settle matters.
Their party headquarters was closed and sealed for some time and the entire membership was fully disintegrated.
However, they managed to come back to power after 17 years. Our party has not been reduced to such abysmal levels in its history and we are fully confident that we will bounce back to power at the next general election under the able leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Q: Has the membership recruitment drive that your party launched sometime ago been completed?
A: Our target is to recruit 2.5 million members around the end of September. We have already achieved about 60 percent of our target and the response we receive is very encouraging from all over the country.
Q: Your party was talking about re-organisational activities sometime ago. Have you started it, and if so, what is the progress being made so far?
A: yes, we have been involved in re-organisational activities for a while. Re-organising is a continuous process to assure the future victory of any political party. We have identified our lapses of the past and taken concrete measures to overcome those lapses.
The grass roots level membership is our strength and we have taken all measures to garner their support. We have already completed the establishment or formation of party branch units, youth leagues and Lak Vanitha Units in all electorates, covering all Grama Niladhari divisions.
Some of our former supporters were not readily prepared to support us, thinking that they would get some relief from this government by way of employment for their children, Samurdhi benefits and so on - But now they are completely frustrated and have come forward to support us openly since they have realised that this government is unable to fulfill their aspirations.
In a nutshell I would like to sum up that our re-organisational activities are extremely effective and we have consolidated our rural vote base quite successfully to face the challenges at a future election.
Q: Some say that loss of UNP vote base at previous elections was largely due to the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) signed by your leader with Prabhakaran. Don't you think that it will affect the UNP at future elections too?
A: I do not agree with this view because the CFA was instrumental in weakening the LTTE movement. It was split in to factions; especially Karuna Amman broke away from the LTTE as a result of the CFA signed by Ranil Wickremesinghe. President Mahinda Rajapaksa could militarily crush the LTTE movement as it was weakened by the Cease Fire Agreement signed by Ranil Wickremesinghe. However, Mahinda Rajapaksa's government fully enjoyed the public support at subsequent elections.
Q: What is your party's stand on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution?
A: We have expressed our views to the public already and we are fully committed to the implementation of the 13th Amendment. Soon after the eradication of terrorism, the Government went before the international community, especially India, and agreed to implement the 13th Amendment and go further. However, with the narrow-minded political ideologies of some of the constituent partners, the Government is on the reverse gear, making different statements with regard to this most crucial issue, thereby antagonising the international community.
Q: How do you view the Indian factor in the controversial 13th Amendment?
A: It is not possible for Sri Lanka to completely ignore the Indian influence on this very crucial issue.
Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka's Northern community have a cultural bond spanning decades. Moreover, there is a large number of Sri Lankan Tamils who sought refuge in Tamil Nadu during the latter stages of the humanitarian operation.
Q: 13 A was foisted on Sri Lanka by the then Indian government without consulting the public through a referendum. Therefore, would it not be legitimate for any Sri Lankan government to amend, repeal or make any changes to it?
A: This agreement was signed by the two Executive heads of both governments as they felt that it was the best solution for the long-drawn conflict. It had been observed in Sri Lankan politics that there had been oppression and obstacles for any progressive measures taken by the government to address vital issues.
Haven't you heard that when the British rulers agreed to grant Independence to our country, some Sinhala politicians of the day objected to that also, saying that we are not matured enough to govern our country on our own. No leader can satisfy all people on any matter in a multi-ethnic country where democracy is practised based on party policies.
However, the rulers should be strong enough to weather any political storm and take steps on vital issues for the larger interest of the majority of countrymen.
Q: What made the UNP draft a new constitution when its own 1978 Constitution with Presidential Executive was supposed to be the panacea for all ills by its architects J.R. Jayewardene, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake?
A: Well, J.R. Jayewardene was the greatest visionary in the recent history of the country and wanted to revolutionise the socio-economic standard of its people based on neo-liberal economic policy.
To realise his dream, he wanted a stable government on a firm footing and that is why 1978 Constitution was drafted by his able lieutenants. It's time that enormours powers are vested with the Executive Presidency by the 1978 Constitution, but J.R. Jayewardene never misused the powers and squandered national wealth to promote his personal image. It may have been slightly different with Ranasinghe Premadasa.
Chandrika Kumaratunga started misusing powers of the Executive Presidency. Kumaratunga pledged to abolish this Constitution prior to elections and it is in the Mahinda Chinthana Idiri Dekma too.
We have not drafted a new constitution as yet. We have only proposed our basic features and hope to entertain ideas from all political parties, voluntary organisations, pressure groups and religious dignitaries before drafting final document.
It will not be a UNP constitution, but a national constitution fahered by the UNP.
Q: Some of the front-runners of your party say that the UNP would form a government in 2014. How can you say that when there is no election scheduled for 2014?
A: The Government is not in a position to continue till 2016 as they are confronted with an unprecedented number of problems. Corruption, mismanagement and favourism are the order of the day at all institutions. There is no law and order in the country.
Take the vital sectors - Health, Education and Agriculture - what has happened to them? The future of our nation depends mainly on them; these three crucial areas are in a mess. the cost of living has sky-rocketed. Unemployment is rapidly increasing; With all these problems, we shall not allow them to further burden the masses.
Q: Although you say so, the Government is steadily going ahead with its mega-development projects. Your views?
A: Yes, the Government is going ahead with development projects sans benefits to the public. What is the use? Some projects have already proved futile.
The government had drawn enormous amounts of funds from foreign banks on high interest rates, sometimes seven-eight percent, payable within short periods. I do not have to tell you why they are interested in big projects .
Some politicians and high officials have ventured into certain projects without even scrutinising the environmental impact assessment reports. They have been forced to spend huge sums of money to rectify the shortcoming and lapses.
Finally, everything will be added to the ordinary taxpayer's account who will be driven from the frying pan into the fire.
During our regimes, bigger and better multi-purpose development projects were carried out and the people were immediately benefited by those projects.
With the cost of living and all other problems, people are impatiently marking time to see a change and as the main Opposition, the United National Party is prepared to take over the raign of the country under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe