Q: What makes you suitable to be the Mayoral Candidate for the city of Colombo?
To present myself for this post I had to come down from my Provincial Council position. I also made an application, I asked the party to consider me with all the political experience I have for this position. And I thought that we could give the required political leadership for the CMC. It needs not just a political leadership but also an administrative leadership, which is lacking in the government’s way of running the CMC. Therefore I made a claim to fill this vacuum.
The party then interviewed various candidates. The interview board was made up of the cream of UNP leadership; party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, the two deputy leaders Sajith Premadasa and Karu Jayasuriya, the general secretary Tissa Attanayake and others—in all there were 12. All five candidates were presented to the interview panel, and then the leader addressed them and said, “You have now seen all five candidates, make your decision.” He then called for a secret ballot and said, “I don’t want to take responsibility I want the whole nomination board to take the decision”. They chose me unanimously and that was the first unified step in this political process.
My political experience and my past performance was taken into consideration; because I have contested the provincial council elections twice, the parliamentary elections, and among all those who had contested at previous Colombo Municipal Council elections, other than Mr. Wickremesinghe, I was the one who secured the most number of votes. Therefore the party decided that I was the most suitable candidate.
Q: What is your list of priorities, when it comes to dealing with the issues in the city of Colombo?
In the upcoming elections? If I win. There is no question of “if” I win, by the grace of God I will win. No force can defeat the UNP in Colombo; that has been tried and tested by the government and it has failed, on the last three occasions—the provincial council Elections, the parliamentary election and the Presidential election. All Colombo Municipal Council elections have been won by the UNP, even though the government concentrated all its efforts to defeat us. The government released all the underworld gangsters from prison and tried to suppress the Colombo voters and put pressure on the Colombo voters. However the people went to the polls and endorsed the UNP. The results were the same at the parliamentary elections , even though Mahinda Rajapaska won the presidential election. Likewise the candidate that the UNP supported Sarath Fonseka too won the Colombo vote.
Q: However the context is very different this time, the government has a former UNPer at the helm. More importantly the UNP has a severe leadership crisis and many feel that even people in Colombo are disheartened by this crisis and the condition of the UNP.
The first impression of this situation showcases the absolute weakness of the government. The SLFP and its alliances, the largest political organization in Sri Lanka, could not find a candidate of their party. The SLFP has to depend on a UNP defector.
Q: He didn’t defect recently, for these polls specifically; but he defected a long time before.
Whether it was recently or a long time ago, he defected. So look at his performance since then, you make a political assessment. When he contested from the UNP he secured 110,000 votes to enter parliament, which was a massive endorsement. But what happened to him after that? He then contests the parliamentary elections under the President; he secured 22,000 votes and within the Colombo limits its only 10,000. So do you mean to say that this has caused a huge rift in the UNP?
Q: What about the bigger picture, the rift in the UNP overall. Do you think this will have no impact on the Colombo voter?
No the leadership crisis is another issue. There was no dispute in selecting the Mayoral candidate.
Q: However it has been said that the Sajith Premadasa faction supported Imtiaz Bakeer Markar. Is there any truth in this?
This is absolute bunkum. Sajith Premadasa never proposed anyone’s name. They appealed to Imtiaz to aspire to the mayoralty. He never made a claim he never asked for it, he was not interested. You can say someone is interested, someone can propose someone’s name—but if he is not interested then what can be done? He never came before the nomination board. He never applied for it, he never asked for it. Even when his name was proposed he never gave an interview to anyone saying, “I’m also in the race”. He was never formally considered, his name was never there. Therefore there is no rift in that aspect. As far as I know, when he was asked by members who were loyal to Sajith Premadasa he said “no I am not going to contest”.
Q: But again looking at the whole scenario, it cannot be denied that the UNP is going through a leadership crisis. At the moment it seems patched up because of the elections. But people know there is conflict and this has caused them to lose confidence in the party as a whole.
Absolutely not. Various parties have their different opinions and views, but this CMC election is the first step towards a perfect unification of the party.
Q: The initial question was what would be your main priorities if and when you became the mayor? We haven’t seen your election manifesto.
Yes the party is in the process of formulating a new plan for the city and, which will be out shortly. It is not an individual manifesto; it has to be a collective thing. The party has been talking to various experts and the plan that they formulate will be our plan of action.
Q: What is contained in that plan, what is the number one priority?
Out primary concern is to ensure that all our constituents are treated equally. I am a man who has worked mainly in the grassroots’ areas therefore my main priority will be to ensure that these people are taken care of. Their living conditions are humanly impossible. For the last 20 years the municipal council was managed by the government and they were unable to take care of these people and provide them the basic facility of sanitation, water and the drainage issues. Therefore the welfare of these people is number one, when it comes to my priorities.
Q: When you say provide them with a better life, people in the shanties will feel that this means eviction; they will be removed from their place of residence and put up in an apartment building outside the city.
No these are two different things; eviction and giving the people a better life. You don’t have to evict people to give them a better life.
Q: So you won’t relocate anyone?
Absolutely not. The people will not be relocated by force. The UNP has handled this situation before; when we developed the slum areas and the ‘Keera Kotuwas’ (marshy lands). These were all muddy shanty lands. We put up apartments in these marshy lands and the balance land was developed. Look at the Ketharama stadium; it was built on slum land. We never forced people to be town out; before we acquired that land all those people were given houses in the same area, in apartments
Even if you look at the most developed countries, even in London you see on one side of the street high-rise buildings which are community housing projects and on the other side you have multibillionaires living.
Beautification is a must but it has to be enjoyed by all. We are all human beings; therefore beautification cannot be done at the expense of a group of people. I would say the government is trying to throw out the people and sell the land to the multinationals.
Q:Your intention is to work with the grassroots level people. However the beautification of the city of Colombo and thereby the relocations are being handled by the Urban Development Authority (UDA). As we all know there is a strong influence by the government in the UDA, do you think you can effectively work within this context to protect these people from relocation?
This is the wrong concept of the whole process. The urban development authority is a government institution that cannot dictate terms over and above the elected body of representatives. The people’s franchise will not be overrun by a bureaucratic mechanism.
Both Mayoral candidates from UPFA and UNP have stated squatters will not be
moved out of Colombo. What right do squatters have to occupy state land?
You can’t say both candidates are saying this; if you look carefully you realize that it is only a bogus claim that they are propagating to get the votes of the people.
Who is a squatter? If a poor man builds a hut then he is a squatter, but then what about multinational companies on state land are they not squatters? Don’t the poor people deserve to live?
What is the guarantee you can give us that you would not cross over to the winning party for your own benefit?
There is no benefit by crossing over. Crossing over is a betrayal of the people. You can stay in your party and support any good work that the government is trying to do. I signed an affidavit in front of the people and promised them that I will not cross over, they can take me to courts if I cross over.
a) You have been alleged in the past as being a part of a large scale casino operation? Being a member of the Muslim community and a representative of it what do you have to say?
When I have business associated from overseas, I entertain them. Gambling is the only thing that is prohibited, not being in these places. These casinos have been licensed by the government and they are legal. Beyond that I have not been involved in these casinos.
b) What are your plans to convince the majority Sinhalese that you are the right man for the job?
My house is open to anyone and I will work with any community, I have no problem. I am here representing the UNP not any particular community so I can work with any group. I have a plan to develop the temples and have Dham Pasal (Sunday school) in Colombo.
c) Are you relying on the usual UNP voter base which has seen a huge decline?
If so what are your plans to convince the floating voter and those who are supportive of the government to vote for you?
I am appealing to the floating voter to send a clear message to the government. The government has been involved in the abusing of power and corruption and voting for me would be a clear message to the government that they have had enough of the corruption.