Wednesday, 27 August 2014 00:00
Asserting that appointing a common candidate is the path to victory, UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake said that as a UNPer, he would be delighted to see a UNP nominee accepted by all Opposition parties; however, if that is not acceptable, there must be a sharing of opinion on how to pick that common candidate.“Anybody who can’t share that common candidate together is only an agent of the Government,” he emphasised, in an interview with the Daily FT, pointing out that to defeat President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is a potent political leader, the need of the hour is to think of a collective figure.“The collective Opposition can certainly defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa. The executive presidency at the moment fears abolition through a common presidency,” said Karunanayake, adding that the aim of fielding a common candidate is mainly to abolish the executive presidency and then to bring in a new constitution.Emphasising that the UNP and the combined Opposition must win for the sake of the country, Karunanayake charged that the Government is threatened by the common candidate approach and is using the “flirts” in the UNP to sabotage the move.Following are excerpts:Q: What are your views about the upcoming Uva Provincial Council election?A: There is a lot of renewed interest. People want to come out against the Government. The interest of the people is far greater than in any of the elections before. I think it is stemming from the fact that the Rajapaksas have overstayed and have overrun their promises, where delivery is a question mark. But how things will go is the question. There is a lot of distortion taking place as usual.
Q: People’s interest must be there but as the main Opposition, how prepared are you to face the election? A: We are prepared from the point of view of the enthusiastic response we have received. We have put up a good team. That is translating into votes. How the Government will activate itself to override this is the question. People are walking out of the Government. There has to be some meeting point.
Q: Do you have the support of all the factions in the UNP?A: There are only one or two factions. Factions are always a creation of people who don’t love the party as much as they show they do or it is an orchestrated move by the Government.
Q: Sajith Premadasa has reportedly vowed to support Ranil Wickremesinghe if he contests at the next presidential election. How would describe this move? A: He is just another member of the UNP. Their lack of support for the party all this time was in question. Harin Fernando has done an enormous service by resigning. His move has given renewed hope to the party. I don’t think anybody is required to take that step for anybody. Harin’s resignation has given a self-propelled enthusiasm for the election. If somebody who has been never there before comes to take advantage, then we have to think about that. Whether it is Ranil Wickremesinghe, Karu Jayasuriya, Tissa Attanayake or Sajith Premadasa, all that is required is to stay as one team. All of them are there except one. So there is no magic there.
Q: Who is this one exceptional UNP member who refuses to work as one team? A: The one that you asked about. He is the only exception. This is the heinous crime that is there. This is like the squeaky wheels that are getting the oiling.
Q: Are you saying the much-discussed reunion is not a genuine attempt? A: No, I don’t think these are genuine attempts. The UNP is the UNP – everybody is there; anybody who is not there is having ulterior motives. Today suddenly things are coming together and it is not for the love of the UNP – these are just manipulative moves.
Today there is a crying call to abolish the executive presidency. The executive presidency is a monster that was brought in. It was good when it was brought in. This was amended 18 times thereafter. The abolition of the executive presidency has become a problem. Every president who comes has stayed in it; Chandrika Kumaratunga twice and Mahinda Rajapaksa twice. President Rajapaksa has amended it so he can contest for the third time. This is illegal.
There is no way he can do it because firstly any entrenched clause in the Constitution on the universal franchise needs to get a referendum. And that referendum is not there. This is why I say it is illegal. However, even if he manipulates it to contest again, it shows that there is staying power for the executive presidency rather than abolishment. People are worrying whether it will actually be abolished. This is why we would love to have someone who will actually abolish the executive presidency. The UNP would love to have someone within the party. But if we are unable to find someone, we are compelled to think about a common candidate.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is a potent political leader. In order to defeat him we have to think of a collective figure. In the process we have got some vibrant parties – the UNP, JVP, Democratic Party and the TNA. When we put all these parties together, the collective Opposition certainly can defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa. The executive presidency at the moment fears abolition through a common presidency. We as UNPers would love to see that common presidency happening through our party. But if the UNP puts forward somebody and the other parties are refusing to accept that candidate, we have to get to the point of who that common nominee can be.
There are various inroads in the party today, bringing names and various positions to defeat the common candidate approach. We see the media attacking people who are for the common candidate. And most of them like Malik are in the morning with the UNP and evening in the Government. We have to ensure the UNP and the combined Opposition must win for the sake of the country.
Q: Ranil Wickremesinghe has said he will contest the next presidential election. Your comments?A: He has not said that. The party has not taken a decision yet. Let me reiterate; we like to see an UNPer contesting, but if the other parties do not agree with our nominee, we have to take a decision. If they say our nominee is not good enough, we must bring in that a candidate who is considered good enough. This is what the Government has got scared of. Unfortunately the Government is using the flirts in the UNP to come into this position.
Here we have a situation where people want a change. And if that ‘want a change’ does not crystallise into what the people want, that is a crime. We want to get all the political parties together. Thereafter get the executive presidency abolished in two or three months and then form a government later. When forming the government, everybody who helped to abolish executive presidency must be made part of the government. It will be a combined effort.
Q: Unfortunately we don’t see any seriousness in these talks about fielding a common candidate?A: I agree with you. Being an active UNPer for 20 years, I see that a sense of urgency and sense of seriousness must come in. I would love to see my party bringing in a nominee for the presidency. But to defeat, we need 50 plus one percent. This is where we need the common Opposition. That seriousness must be brought in.
Q: It is believed that the presidential election will take place in January, so don’t you think it is high time you decide on the common nominee? A: Why should we do so when there is no date fixed? It is like somebody wanting to get married without a bride. This is just speculation. President Rajapaksa is putting his head into an unknown area and trying to see whether his head can get cracked. The President has not declared. He is just looking at it; probabilities are being discussed.
Officially it is November 2016. If the President brings it forward, it is either because he is shaky about the future or he is able to take huge advantage of the present moment. He is unsure about both. As the Opposition we must not get caught flatfooted.
To face an election, firstly we have to see whether it is legally possible. There is a huge lacuna in the system. According to the Constitution, nobody can contest more than two times. Now that is taken out. But there is a legal problem.
The next question is how we are going to face the election. I believe a common candidate is a victor. Now who that common candidate will be is being looked at. Being a UNPer, I would be delighted to see a UNP nominee accepted by all Opposition parties. But if that is not acceptable there must be a sharing of opinion of how to pick that common candidate. It is not that you can’t; whether you don’t want to is the question. Anybody who can’t share that common candidate together is only an agent of the Government.
Q: Sajith Premadasa has stressed that the UNP should field the common candidate from the party. Your views?A: If he said that six years ago and acted on his own belief, this problem won’t be there. Until two months ago he was saying the UNP was in a mess and Ranil Wickremesinghe must go. He has suddenly changed his stand. This is what the Government wants to be told. Why this sudden love for the person who wanted to be chased out just two months ago? This is the Government’s intention. If the other parties want a common candidate and they don’t want to support us, since we don’t have the 50% and in order to secure that we to agree with the other Opposition parties. We don’t want to lose again and create mayhem in the party.
Q: Are you saying Ranil Wickremesinghe is not a winning candidate? A: No, I am not saying that. I am only answering your question. It was Sajith Premadasa who said that Ranil Wickremesinghe cannot win an election. This was just two months ago.
Q: The JVP and TNA too have said they will not support Ranil Wickremesinghe. Your views?A: Because of people such as Sajith Premadasa, who has continuously said Ranil Wickremesinghe cannot win, an opinion has been created. We have been there putting the party forward and keeping it together. Suddenly reality has dawned on them now. But now it is too late. That is why TNA and JVP are saying so. If we want to abolish the executive presidency which everybody wants, then what have we got to do? Do what everybody wants – look for a common nominee. We want to abolish the presidency; there is no question about that. Human frailty shows that even if I get elected I may not abolish it. This curse must go. The best thing is have somebody who will not rely on it.
Q: Do you have a common nominee who has the qualifications that you have described? A: I do not want to spell out the issue before it happens. I am a loyal party member unlike others who basically take internal party matters outside and make a mess of it. When people like Harin Fernando resign and as a result the party is flourishing, some people are trying to take advantage of that to fulfil their personal agendas. We don’t have skeletons in our cupboards. We don’t have forged notes to be protected or Government-given cars for usage.
Q: Several names are already in discussion for the common candidate position. Who will fit the bill?A:Why speculate? Let’s get onto a common platform and then take it on. Why put your trump cards out before? This is what the Government wants to know. Give us an exact date, then we will give the answer. Our party people are saying some negative things on behalf of the Government. That is the most alarming thing.
Q: How hopeful are you of regime change? A: I am very, very hopeful. I think everybody such as Ranil Wickremesinghe, Karu Jayasuriya, Tissa Attanayake, Mangala Samaraweera, Lakshman Kiriella, Kabir Hashim and Ruwan Wijewardene, all of us want the party to win. Anybody who doesn’t want it to win is only an agent of the Government.
Q: What is the aim of fielding a common candidate? A: Mainly to abolish the executive presidency and then to bring in a new constitution.
Q: Why do you want to have a new president to abolish the executive presidency? Why can’t you do it with the existing president? A: Well, the onus and challenge is on him. Why has he taken 12 years to do so? He did nothing but amend the Constitution to contest for the third time. If he does it, well done.
Q: There is another allegation that without amending the present electoral system, the abolition of executive presidency will be detrimental to the country. Do you agree? A: These are lame excuses given to delay the process.
Q: There is a belief that fielding several candidates could break the President’s 50% mark and on the second count there is a possibility of getting through. How would you describe this theory? A: That’s again a Government theory because they want to break the common candidate approach. These are the devious plans of the Government. But we will not fall prey. This can be one or two of our party people who are talking for the Government.
Q: How would you describe the country’s political situation? A: The political situation is mirrored by the actual economic situation. The economic situation in the country is precarious. People are unable to live; they are suffering. They are saying per capita income is $ 3,600. Which is the family that is getting Rs. 30,000 a month today? Almost 70% are well below $ 4 a day. The economic situation is so precarious and that is exactly why they are looking at elections.
Q: But there is a 50% growth in FDI compared to the last first half, there has been constant 7% growth for the last five to six years, foreign reserves have gone up to 9.2 billion and the trade and budget deficits are coming down. How can you say the economy is not doing well? A:All that you mentioned is based on three factors; one is GDP, an inflatable figure. You said foreign reserves have gone up from four billion to nine billion. But what has your debt gone up? From 1.7 billion to 7. 9 billion, that is four times. Have your reserves gone up four times? No way. You say the budget deficit has gone down and that is because the GDP has been inflated. The third factor is; if your earnings have gone up, why have your earnings compared to GDP dropped? The Government is using these distorted statistics at its disposal. We can see development taking place but that development must basically percolate down to your purse. There is no point having a port that doesn’t have ships coming in or an airport where planes don’t come. There is no point telling a hungry man who is unable to feed his children that the roads are carpeted. That is a joke.
Q: What are your remarks on the recent foreign outflow?A: I have seen a disturbing trend of movement out. I have not studied this issue to give you a frank answer. But the trend I have seen is not a healthy one. Today budget deficits are covered through foreigners coming and investing in Treasury bills, who can basically drop the economy in a couple of minutes. Foreign dollars going into Treasury bonds is extremely high. If those people decide to pull out their money and move out, we are in danger.
Q: What do you think about the upcoming Budget? A: It will depend on the Uva elections. If the elections are not in favour of the Government, then there won’t be any looming elections in the future. Then the Budget will be less glamorous. But if it is the other way, if the people don’t realise the suffering they are undergoing and they live on what Rupavahini and ITN is trying to show, then it will be an election-oriented Budget.
Q: There were media reports that Sajith Premadasa will be reappointed as the Deputy Leader of UNP and the Leadership Council will be abrogated. Any truth to it?A: It is sad that people who stoned the UNP are wanting positions and people who supported the party are not getting rewards. Some newspapers have Government agents who manipulate stories and become a mouth piece of the Government. They are character assassinating Ranil Wickremesinghe and Karu Jayasuriya and myself.
The Leadership Council has given a new lease of life to the UNP. It has given a broader image to the party. It has given a new look to the party. Anybody who is a true UNPer will agree on that. There were members who were appointed but did not take up the positions. It is unthinkable for a person who cannot take up a party position to take up anything else.