“I am a new face in politics, but I have a brave heart”: Hirunika
Friday, 31 January 2014 00:01
Outlines political vision of developing education and battling drug menace whilst pursuing justice over father’s murder
Bold and beautiful Hirunika Premachandra believes she has a right to be a part of this Government simply because her late father has shed blood, sweat and tears to bring this regime to power. “We care about the President, we care about this Government. My family has always been with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. We feel he is a great leader. This is why I decided to contest under Sri Lanka Freedom Party,” she points out. In an interview with the Daily FT, the SLFP Co-Organiser for Colombo Central and daughter of late Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra spoke about her struggle to seek justice over her father’s murder, renewed bonds with the President’s family, motives of becoming a politician and her personal commitment for a drug-free Sri Lanka.
Following are excerpts:
Q: When your father Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra was murdered, you openly criticised this regime. Why did you decide to contest the upcoming election under the same Government?A:Nobody should think that my struggle to seek justice over my father’s death and my decision to enter politics are interconnected. I will continue my fight for justice over the death of my father. My fight will not end till those murderers are put behind bars. Yes, I criticised the Government and questioned the accountability and transparency of the legal process because during some instances injustice was done to us.
However, one should never forget that my father was someone who worked hard to build this Government. He fought for this Government. My father shed blood, sweat and tears to bring this Government to power. Therefore I have a right to be a part of this Government.
There are people who have joined this Government from outside the SLFP. They are the ones who receive most benefits from this Government. They are with this Government for their own benefit. They are not in the least bothered about the President or his administration. But we are not like that. We care about the President, we care about this Government. My family has always been with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. We feel he is a great leader. This is why I decided to contest under the UPFA. But I will never stop my fight. I will only stop when the murderers of my father are put in jail.
Q: Why did you decide to enter active politics? A: Since I was a little child I had dreams of becoming a politician. From morning till night all I saw and heard was politics. I adored my father and wanted to be like him. This is why I started liking politics. But I never wanted to enter politics this soon. If my father was alive I would not have started politics until I completed my studies. He wanted me to settle my life as a lawyer and especially as a wife and a mother.
But following my father’s death people in Kolonnawa expected someone from our family to get into active politics and carry out his work. My brother is not in Sri Lanka. If someone had to carry out my father’s work, it had to be me. My father had some dreams for Kolonnawa and for Colombo District. I feel that I have to take that forward.
I am against drugs, I am against corruption. The cost of living is high. People find it difficult to eat all three meals. The system in this country is corrupted. I want to fight against these things. I want to raise a voice. I know I am just a new face in politics. But I have a brave heart.
On the other hand, from the time I initiated the campaign over the murder of my father, I realised that without power we will not be able to do anything. We had people but people’s power was not enough. The other party has power; they are very powerful. This is when I figured out that if I want justice done for my father, I had to get into politics. I am not entering politics to take revenge from anyone. I only want justice done.
Q: As a young politician what are your policies and principles? A:The majority of the people got to know about me after my father’s murder. Overnight I became the talking point of this country. Some even call me a ‘firecracker’. But I am none of that. I have a political vision and I have plans for this country.
My father had a vision to develop education. My political vision too will be focused on developing education in this country. Minister of Education Bandula Gunawardena invited me and Maleesha Kumarathunga (daughter of Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga) to help him to carry out certain responsibilities under his Ministry. Based on the Mahinda Chinthana we are developing around 200 schools called ‘Lama Mithuru Pasal,’ which comes under provincial councils. We want to develop standards and facilities of these schools to match the leading schools in the country. During my election campaign I will take measures to promote these schools and especially make people aware about these schools.
It is sad what the youth in this country has to go through. From one end drug dealers are trying to trap them and ruin their future. Educated youth are unemployed. The problem of brain drain in Sri Lanka is worsening. If this trend continues, what will happen to our country? I want to stop this. As someone who represents the youth, I am confident that I will be able to make a change.
I invite the youth to join with me. Forget about political parties, it does not matter what colour you belong to, it doesn’t matter what your race or religion is. Let’s get together and let’s make a change.
Q: If you are against drugs, why did you team up with a Government that is allegedly protecting drug peddlers and also responsible for the drug menace in the country?A:There are allegations that the Government is allowing drug, ethanol and illicit liquor network to function in the country. There are rumours about casinos coming into the country. Tomorrow they will say they want to legalise prostitution too. As a woman and as someone who represents the youth, I am totally against these things. I want to stand up against these things. There are people inside the Government who don’t approve of these things. In other countries this is how governments collect their money. But I will never approve of such activities. If the Government is involved, this is my opportunity to stand against them.
Q: Are you saying you will be rebelling against this Government while being a part of it?A: As we talk there are people within the present administration who are fighting against certain actions of the Government. This is how governments work. I don’t know what their reaction will be, but I will stand for my beliefs. I don’t know whether the majority in the Government will agree with me. But I will raise a voice against the things that I do not approve.
Q: Your father’s base was Kolonnawa. Why are you contesting from Colombo Central? A:When I met President Mahinda Rajapaksa he wanted me to request from where I want to contest. He offered me Colombo East, Borella and Kotte; but I did not like any of that. Then he asked whether I would like to contest from Colombo Central. He had plans for Colombo Central because he wanted to gather more Sinhala votes. When I was given the task I agreed.
Q: Do you have the backing and support of all members of the UPFA? A: Yes. I have the support and backing of all the Government. But the issue is there is a clash between A.H.M. Fowzie and Faiszer Mustapha; the two existing organisers of Colombo Central. The two are not on good terms with each other. Unfortunately I am getting trapped in this ongoing clash. I can’t take anyone’s side. I have spoken to the President about this. I hope we will be able to find a solution soon.
Q: During your meeting with the President did he assure you that the perpetrators of your father’s murder would be put behind bars?A: I do not want the President to get involved in this case. After all he is the President of this country. I told him that. I believe in the justice system. I will be taking oaths as a lawyer in another six months. Being a lawyer, I cannot question the legal system. All I asked the President was not to interfere in this case. I know very well that the other party went to the President seeking help and I know what the President told them. When I asked the President about this, he did not deny it.
Q: What was the President’s answer to the ‘other party’ involved in your father’s murder case? A: He (the President) had said that he is not going to get involved.
Q: Do you still believe justice will be done? Do you believe your father’s murders will be convicted? A: Yes. During the past we experienced injustice because we had no power. People who had worked for my father for 15 years changed their evidence. Today our house is full of people. Most of them didn’t even know that we existed during the last two years. They now come to see us daily. I feel things are changing massively because now we have power. That is what life is all about; that is how the system works and that is what politics is all about.
Q: You and Duminda Silva are members of the UPFA. How are you planning to work with him in future? A:I never had a personal conflict with the person who killed my father prior to that unfortunate incident. But I knew what he was doing. The entire country knows he is engaged in illegal activities. We know that he is destroying our youth. In Kolonnawa, out of 100 young men, at least 90 are drug addicts. Who is responsible for this situation? Therefore, from the beginning I was against him but that became personal after he killed my father.
On the other hand, I never killed anyone. I don’t have to be ashamed. I am positive that after this election a lot of things will change. If I win, I will change lot of things. I will not let this person ruin our youth. I will not let him engage in those illegal activities.
Q: Don’t you feel Duminda Silva has the backing and support of this Government? A: I don’t know. I don’t exactly know whether the Government is helping him. But I want to ask the Government why they have failed to take any action against him for his involvement in selling drugs. The entire Government is criticised because of this particular person. Why can’t they understand that?
I am confident that President will now look at this entire issue in a different way. The President too is in a difficult situation. Since I am in politics I am gradually getting to know about these things. When you have power, you have certain limitations. I feel the President too can’t take action due to various reasons.
Even if I become president, I would be like him. When you are in that ‘seat,’ you have to consider many aspects. You have to think about the long run, about the future. Not only your future but about the future of your government. After all nobody wants to lose power.
Q: Are you saying if you become the head of this country, you are ready to give up your policies and beliefs just to remain in power? A:If someone has helped you to be where you are today, we are under obligation. Let me give you an example. Every day I get people especially from Kolonnawa coming to meet me, offering me massive amounts of money to run my election campaign. I always ask them ‘why do you want to help me?’ These people think if they spend money to run my campaign, I will protect them when I come to power.
Q: You recently said you are an adopted daughter of the Rajapaksa family. Why did you make such a statement? Are you trying to gain political mileage by boasting about your connections with the Rajapaksas? A:Before my father’s murder, my family had a very close relationship with the President and his family. They didn’t have girls in their family. I was like a daughter to them. Their children treated me as their own sister. Madam Rajapaksa used to take me to classes too. Unfortunately everything changed after some unnecessary people got involved.
After my father was killed I started making strong comments. Then things changed. People who didn’t want to see our families so close and friendly took advantage and tried to make things worse between us. When I met the President, he told me that he was hurt and disappointed by the comments I had made. He also said that certain people had come to him and told that I was criticising the President. He named the people who badmouthed me. I told the President that if I had to criticise him I would rather tell him directly rather than talk behind his back. I also told the President that I wanted to talk to him privately. I wanted answers from him regarding certain questions that bothered me since my father’s death. This meeting ended on a positive note. Within a couple of hours all misunderstandings ended. I am extremely happy that things are back to normal between our two families.
Q: We see an increasing number of celebrities contesting elections. What are your views about this trend? A: I have taken part in some beauty pageants but that was before people got to know me. That does not mean I am a celebrity. People got to know me as an activist. Therefore, I reiterate that I cannot be categorised as a celebrity. What I feel about celebrities getting into power? Well, I think the voter has a responsibility here. Because this is a democratic country and anyone who wishes to contest can do so, whether they are rogues, drug dealers or celebrities. It is up to the voter to decide wisely whom they want to bring into power.
I know most of the celebrities who are already in power are not accessible because they forget about their promises and responsibilities. I strongly feel that if anyone wants to get into active politics, they have to be with the people 24/7. Imagine what the voter might feel if he sees the person he voted for running around trees or speak inappropriate things in Parliament or in a TV talk show?
Before my father’s death I was just a young girl discovering life. But during the last two years I have changed and matured. I am only 26 years old. I love to dress like any average 26-year-old. But If I do that people would criticise me. I love to hang out with my friends like I used to do before. I have made lot of sacrifices because I want to be a good politician.
Q: Who are your role models in politics?A:Margret Thatcher. She was a great leader and a good mother plus wife. There were failures in her life. But I admire her very much.
Q: Who is your most admired female politician in Sri Lanka? A: Rosy Senanayake. She is intelligent. She brings out people’s issues and talks to the point. She is a good politician with a great vision.