United National Party Media Spokesman Mangala Samaraweera under heavy fire from Party reformists for his recent comments on the Party leadership and his criticism of ‘spoilers’ within the Party; maintains that leadership changes are sought by those seeking to ‘strengthen the government and nothing else.’
‘There is no question of new leadership now. There is no need to challenge the leadership now. This question doesn’t even arise because there is simply no vacancy. If my comments upset anyone, that is because of their own agendas and shows their political immaturities. I’m merely speaking the truth’ he tells HARD TALK.
Firm on the conviction that the reformists; threatening the Party leadership were targeting the wrong enemy, he stresses that instead, the Party needs to act as a responsible Opposition and spearhead a campaign against the government.
He maintains that the present moves were ‘only helping the government. Until they realize this and unite to defeat the government they are merely playing in to the hands of the government. We have to unite against the common enemy- it is neither Ranil Wickramasinghe nor Sajith Premadasa. My political struggle is against this corrupt government taking Sri Lanka in to international isolation. Let’s first identify the enemy!’ he adds.
He attributes the Party’s recent defeat at the Local Govt. polls to the complete disillusionment of the Party loyalists with the electoral process of the government. ‘The average voter wonders what use there is in voting. This sense of frustration was added by the dissolution of the independent commissions under the 19th amendment. This doesn’t mean that these people have joined the government side but they see voting as an exercise in futility,’ he charges.
PARTY LEADERSHIP – WHO’S PROPERTY?
‘If my comments upset anyone, that is because of their own agendas and shows their political immaturities.’
Q:Your comment that the Party leadership was not anyone’s private property to be handed over has come under serious criticism from the reformists groups.
Did I say something wrong? The leadership is not the property of even Ranil Wickremesinghe. That is a decision for the Party and the Working Committee. This question doesn’t even arise because there is simply no vacancy. If my comments upset anyone, that is because of their own agendas and shows their political immaturities. I’m merely speaking the truth.
Q:The same people are also accusing you of attempting to destroy the UNP, and allege that there is much about the Party you still have to learn. How factually correct are these claims?
Now I am a fully fledged member of the UNP. One need not be here for years! I’ve more experience and have been in politics longer than those who accuse me. To say only UNPers can criticize is wrong. Any citizens of the country can criticize the UNP if their expectations of it as the Opposition are not met. And as Media Spokesman I have every right to do so. Unlike those who display their immaturities I have never under the strongest provocation spoken against any individual in public!
WHY THE UNP LOST
‘The rank and file of the Party is completely disillusioned by the electoral process of the govt.’
Q:What in your opinion went wrong for the UNP at the recently concluded polls?
We have to analyze the results not in terms of the present regime’s strategy of staggered elections against all democratic norms and misuse of state resources during the campaign. Collectively between the March 17th and July 23rd elections the UNP has secured a little less than 34%. In terms of a pattern of course throughout the last several decades there has been a disappointing trend, but any Party in government does extremely well.
The SLFP itself even lost several of its strongholds when Chandrika Kumaratunga was the President of the country. So in that context 34 percent is quite respectable. But if you look at the last 2 elections and the 22 percent secured at the last election one can argue that this was a significant reduction from the March election.
However if you analyze the ground situation one key reason is that the rank and file of the Party is completely disillusioned by the electoral process of the government. The average voter wonders what use there is in voting. This sense of frustration was added by the dissolution of the independent commissions under the 19th amendment. This doesn’t mean that these people have joined the government side but they see voting as an exercise in futility. But this is not the only reason.
Q:he UNP certainly seems deep in its internal squabbles, a defeatist mentality within the membership and loss of confidence in the loyalists. What is really the way out for the Party in your opinion?
Honestly speaking, the UNP voter is depressed and demoralized by the internal squabbles they hear of in the media. That feeling has only become more acute. After March there was relief in the membership that the Party will be reunited and this optimism saw members in a large percentage voting. But unfortunately what happened afterwards with Party unity cruelly dashed these hopes, with legal proceedings, open criticisms of opponents within instead of accusing the government on the serious levels of corruption taking place. So there was no surprise that there was a drop. So instead of blaming the leadership we have to turn the torch inwards and ask ourselves if we have done our job well. Have we successfully reorganized the electorates, women’s wings or youth groups? Instead of trying to destroy the Party we must bring our collective talents together for victory. This is a Party full of talented efficient people. This is why I joined this Party a year ago.
FACING DESCIPLINARY ACTION
‘Let’s have an inquiry. But these are only helping the government.’
Q: The reformists within the Party demand disciplinary action against those they claim responsible for ‘underhand’ dealings contributing to the defeats. Is there any justification for these allegations?
There are all sorts of allegations against everyone. Even against Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe but he is a truly committed person. Likewise, there are those who meet senior most people in the government on a daily basis and pass on information and live off the government. If the people want, let’s have an inquiry. But these individuals are only helping the government. Until they realize this and unite to defeat the government they are merely playing in to the hands of the government. We have to unite against the common enemy- it is neither Ranil Wickramasinghe nor Sajith. My political struggle is against this corrupt government taking Sri Lanka in to international isolation. Let’s first identify the enemy!
Q:Nevertheless a leadership struggle has again come before the Party. How would you weigh the leadership qualities between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Karu Jayasuriya?
I wouldn’t! But I know Mr. Jayasuriya was an asset to the Party and was personally very happy that he decided to rejoin it. He is a hands-on vigorous personality. He is a great asset to Mr. Wickramasinghe and I know Mr. Wickramasinghe admires his qualities. In fact he was the one who initiated his return despite opposition from within. So this is not a matter of one or the other, but that both will make us extremely strong. And is the perfect combination to fight the government’s path.
THE STRATEGY FOR VICTORY
Take on the challenge of the govt. and mobilize the grassroots
to this end.’
Q:The reformists claim they have a strategy to help the Party move out of the present crisis.
Sajith is a dear friend of mine and I’d like to reflect on some of my experiences with the SLFP on this. I don’t find the internal fighting as serious as made out to be because the SLFP in the 1980’s at the time I joined was in tatters. But what I learnt was that instead of trying to fight four of us decided to let those fighting for the leadership do that but we carried out our fight for victory against the govt. This helped the people forget about the in-fighting. Likewise we need to now take on the challenge of the govt. and mobilize the grassroots to this end. 2012 is our year of protests which will take the Party forward.
The other lesson is that if you really want the Party to win you don’t really need positions to do that. When Chandrika became PM she was a mere member- not even a Vice President. She only became leader of the SLFP in the 3rd year of her Presidency. This is a lesson for those seeking personal glory. New leaderships can come at the right time.
Q:What do you believe is the right time for such change?
I don’t think this is the right time. It is only 3 months since the new office bearers were elected. Those asking for them are playing the role of spoilers and only strengthening the government and nothing else. There is no question of a new leadership now. There is no need to challenge the leadership now.