“People in Kurunegala have already rejected Mahinda Rajapaksa. They will not vote for a once-defeated politician who is accused of corruption and malpractice,” said Akila Viraj Kariyawasam Minister of Education and United National Party Group Leader of Kurunegala District.
Kariyawasam is confident of defeating Rajapaksa and securing all 14 seats in Kurunegala. “I will defeat Rajapaksa. He is not a challenge. He has been parachuted to Kurunegala. He has no link to this district. He needs to go back to Medamulana.”
Following are excerpts of an interview with the
Minister of Education and UNP Kurunegala District Group Leader Akila Viraj Kariyawasam
Q: How challenging is to compete with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa?
A: There is no challenge at all. Rajapaksa is in a disastrous situation. So far his campaign has been a failure. He is struggling. A rally was organised in Kuliyapitiya a few days ago and there were hardly 1,000 people for that rally. Rajapaksa is rejected by the people in Kurunegala District. He has been parachuted to Kurunegala. He has no link to this district. He needs to go back to Medamulana. He knows this situation and that is why Rajapaksa didn’t even come to hand over the nomination papers. The UNP will win the election in Kurunegala District and we will defeat Rajapaksa from preferential votes too.
Q: Can you defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa?
A: Yes I can. As the UNP Group Leader, I take the challenge of defeating Rajapaksa. We will defeat him with over 100,000 votes.
Q: Kurunegala is not a UNP stronghold. How can you be so certain of your victory?
A: One cannot come to a conclusion based on previous results. People’s choices and decisions change very fast. Many years ago Kurunegala was a strong UNP base. Unfortunately during the past years this situation changed. But after this election Kurunegala will once again be a strong UNP base.
We have a good side. We are prepared to give a good fight. Last week we had a rally in Yapahuwa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe too participated. There was a massive crowd. SLFP Treasurer and veteran politician S.B. Nawinna joined us and that was a very good start. A provincial council member from Kuliyapitiya who had secured over 19,000 preferential votes has pledged his support to us. More than 10 SLFP provincial council members joined us. The SLFP campaign has collapsed. Rajapaksa’s campaign is unsuccessful. They already act as they are defeated by the UNP. A considerable number of rallies have been cancelled due to poor organising and lack of support.
Although we are in power we have not misused that to carry out our campaign. One may think what I say is a distortion of the real situation, but anyone who comes to Kurunegala will agree with me. They can clearly see that Mahinda Rajapaksa is a non-entity here in Kurunegala.
Q: But the SLFP has a very strong team from Kurunegala; Mahinda Rajapaksa and Dayasiri Jayasekera are loved and respected by the people. Do you agree?
A: They may have been strong politicians loved and respected by people in the past, but they are no longer in the hearts of people. When people got to know how corrupt these politicians are, how easily they could change their policies and principals for mere political gains and how they have played out the people’s money, the love and respect people had for such politicians vanished; whereas our side has politicians loved and respected at present.
The best example for this was postal vote results of Kurunegala District at the last presidential election. We don’t have thugs, ethanol dealers or commis kakkas on our side. We have intellectuals, businessmen, farmers and young politicians with potential. We are a good side; a strong side ready to put our best fight.
Q: How many seats do you expect?
A: We will secure all 14 seats in Kurunegala. I can assure that. It will be a clear victory. If you take the entire country, the UNP’s campaign is strong and successful. We are doing very well in all the areas. According to studies, the UNP has a better chance this time. We have three more weeks and we will definitely win this election.
It is a known secret that the last presidential election was the one with highest abuse of State power and State resources. They had the Judiciary and legal system under their control, but with all that they were defeated. Mahinda Rajapaksa who won the 2010 election with a majority of 18 lakhs was easily defeated.
No one should underestimate what we are capable of. We know what needs to be done and when to do it. We will not misuse State resources, we will not bribe people, and we will not threaten people to vote for us. During the 100 day program we were able to reduce prices of a number of essential goods, we reduced fuel prices and the price of a domestic gas cylinder. We increased Samurdhi relief by 200%. We were able to bring good governance. In the education sector we have made some significant changes. There is a new political culture in the country. All this we have done in five months.
Q: But a serious allegation against the Maithripala-Wickremesinghe administration is that the development work in the country has come to a halt. Your views?
A: Soon after the government change, we had contractors who supplied various things to projects carried out by the Rajapaksa regime coming to meet us in numbers. They provided us bills and invoices amounting to billions of rupees which were outstanding for the last three years. Then we decided that until we study these projects and come to a final decision, we will not commence any new projects.
However, we have identified projects that are useful for country’s development work and we have taken measures to restart those projects. We have also allocated money for those projects, especially road construction work in rural areas. Foreign investments are coming into the country. If we can have a majority in Parliament, we will be able to allocate more money for development projects. No one can say we have stopped the development work.
Q: Do you think the UNP can form a government?
A: Yes we will form a UNP government. There is no doubt about that.
Q: How can the UNP form a government when several parties that pledged their support at the presidential election have decided to contest the upcoming election alone?
A: Although Maithripala Sirisena contested the presidential election, it was the UNP that carried out nearly 90% of the campaign. We organised the rallies; we walked from house to house. However, the JHU and P. Digambaran’s party will be contesting with us. We will only lose the JVP votes. We have people contesting in the north too. When we secured 62 lakhs of votes, Mahinda Rajapaksa had only 58 lakhs. During the past four to five months, more people have joined us and pledged their support to us. We can win this election.
Q: There is an accusation against your Government that for the first time in the history an election was scheduled clashing with Advanced Level examination. As the Minister of Education, what do you have to say?
A: No, there is no truth in this accusation. There have been similar situations before. Actually there is some national level examination taking place almost every day of the year. The Ministry of Education will not have any exams on the day of the election. On the other hand, most rallies take place in the evenings and the exam is usually held in the morning hours. We have also instructed not to carry out any election campaign work in places where the exams are held. We have taken every possible measure to ensure the examination will be held without any disturbances. These are false accusations of the Rajapaksa camp.
Q: If the UNP forms a government, what measures will be taken to improve the education system in the country?
A: Our foremost priority will be to make the nearest school the best school. We will take steps to train the principals and teachers so that the standard of all schools will be equal. We will improve facilities in these schools. In the next budget we are hoping to increase the amount allocated for the education sector. These are just a few of the proposals that will improve the education system and we have many more.