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Unity in diversity : the hallmark of the UNP An interview with Ravi Karunanayake

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interview_with_RaviLet’s start with the Leadership Council. What exactly is the idea behind it?
Well it is an attempt to demonstrate the element of unity in diversity. There has been such a lot of bashing and finger pointing about the UNP labelling it is a party with no future. However, the UNP has been and to this day remains a reservoir of talent. Ever since D S Senanayake’s speech post-Independence, the UNP has treated this country as one for all its citizen, whether they are Sinhala, Buddhist, Tamil, Hindu, or Muslim, Burgher or anything else. This is a hallmark of the UNP. So this (Leadership Council) is an attempt to put the best foot forward and go ahead.

How many positions are there in the Leadership Council?

Nine at the moment. I personally feel that this is far too much. But we must start somewhere and there has to be meaningful representation. Once the Leadership Council has started working we can fine tune its composition or size and everything associated with it. But for the time being what is important is that there is a lot of sincerity that is coming into this initiative.

Who are the members of the Council today?

There is Karu Jayasuriya, Sajith Premadasa, Tissa Attanayake, Lakshman Kiriella, Mangala Samaraweera, Ruwan Wijewardena, Kabir Hashim, Thalatha Athukorala and myself.

So tell me how does the Leadership Council take an idea forward?

Well they would discuss among themselves and then present their proposals to the Working Committee. It is the Working Committee that can make the proposals come to fruition.

How many member are their in the Working Committee?

Ninety four.

So what is going to be the first steps of the Leadership Council?

Well the first step is to bring confidence back into the membership and the citizens at large. There is a general belief that this is a manipulative process and that Mr. Ranil Wickeremesinghe has it all. There are many who feel that this is a leader’s group and that belief has to be put to rest. So whatever we do, we are aware of the sentiments and naturally we are very focused and united in our objectives. So it is important for us to bring this element of confidence back into our membership and all those who are today seeking a solution to this oppressive government. It would be key to take decisions that have not been taken in the past.

How do you hope to achieve this?

First we should take decisions that are good for the party and not the individual.

Where is the task and role of the Leadership Council?

It is written and it will be incorporated into the constitution at the Convention scheduled for December 21. Its mandate has to be solid where interference from no one should be tolerated.

Is the UNP constitution a public document?

Yes. I will give you a copy before you leave.

How were the members for the Leadership Council chosen?

Well first of all the clergy and I mean religious dignitaries from all groups – who suggested three names. Then there were three ex-offico members - Party Secretary, Media Secretary and the Chairman and then there were three that were selected by the working committee.

How is an amendment to the party constitution made?

First it is submitted to the working committee as a proposal, then it is debated, voted on if necessary and then unanimity is obtained and finally it goes into the convention.

So in other words the Leadership Council is still answerable to the Working Committee. Is that right?

That is correct. These are checks and balances. Just like in the macro environment, the country’s president has to rely on parliament for law making. The Leadership Council is answerable to the Working Committee and at large to the Convention to ensure that there is general consensus on matters that affect the party.

How many of the leadership council are in the Working Committee?

All of them.

Would there be or could there be conflict of interest here?

The answer to that is `no.’ These are all weathered hands on politicians. All of them have a very good feeling of how things are happening on the ground. This specifically is an attempt at giving the decision making process a pluralistic form.

So are you saying this is an attempt at a participatory approach?

Precisely. You see earlier it was thought that decisions were made by one person even though it was not. Earlier decisions were discussed but people did not see the checks and balances so clearly. Now the process makes that much clearer.

So do you think that the Leadership Council is in essence a proper mechanism for broad-basing decision making?

Yes. The Leadership Council has taken away an enormous amount of power from the leader. For instance if there is an issue that requires voting down, specially a person like me would stand his ground. If anyone does not stand for the greater good of the party, then he is either not interested in getting involved in the process or does not want to support the process (because he) is either not a UNPer or is an agent of the government.

What is your opinion on the current Budget?

This is a lackluster budget lacking vision and innovation. There is nothing about increasing exports and does not address the reduction in exports and the need to reduce imports.

How would you describe the Central Bank’s hand in this?

The Central Bank is a ‘simple disaster’.

How would you sum up this government’s agenda?

I will use one example. When we handed over power in 1994.there were 11,300 public schools. Today there are 8,980. In 20 years they have closed 2,320 or 20.5% of public schools. I think this example alone will tell you how much this government cares about the people. Education should be free. Free education should not be touched and it must be the people’s first choice. The people deserve to have this choice. Anything else must come after improvement of the free education system. All the cosmetic garnishing in the budget cannot hide this fact. This is what the people should look at. This is also indicative as to where this government is taking the people.