President provides national leadership – Wajira Abeywardena | Sunday Observer

President provides national leadership – Wajira Abeywardena

4 June, 2023

Two key factors highlighted:

Bilateral ties between Sri Lanka- Japan strengthened:

Farsighted vision to face challenges :

The United National Party (UNP) Chairman MP Wajira Abeywardena said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe has endeavoured to safeguard the country’s future and save the country from its present crisis, by providing national leadership to the country in its greatest time of distress.

The UNP Chairman in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that the President has always reiterated the importance of implementing a National Policy. It is only through a national consensus that the country’s problems can be solved. Therefore, the people should be mindful and get the maximum advantage from the President who is considered to be one of the veteran and illustrious political leaders in Asia and the world.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: What is your view on the economic revival of the country under the leadership of President Ranil Wickremesinghe during the past nine months?

A: When you look at the countries which have been bankrupt, some of those countries were not able to turn into normalcy even after 8 to 10 years later. However, President Ranil Wickremesinghe during the past 25 to 30 years has declared a one particular policy regarding this situation. That is the path in which a country should move on nationally. In 2002, the President participating in the Tokyo Summit, Japan highlighted how Sri Lanka should move forward in collaboration with other countries.

On the other hand, the President also outlined how Sri Lanka’s foreign policy should move on. The other important aspect highlighted by the President was to handle the country’s economy in a manner which is more profitable to the people. As the foundation for this, the President stressed the need of formulating a National Policy framework which remains unchanged following a change of Government. The second fact is that Constitutional provisions should be made available following the consensus reached on matters of national importance.

These were the two key factors highlighted by the President during his recent official visits to several foreign countries. After President J.R.Jayewardene’s ruling in 1977, a stable national policy has been announced. The President has also stressed the importance of implementing laws in Parliament preventing the rescinding of agreements entered into with foreign countries, following a change of Government.

Earlier, some mistrust and misunderstanding had been created between Japan and Sri Lanka due to the suspension of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project. The President during his recent visit to Japan had strengthened the bilateral relations between the two countries and took measures to recommence the LRT project. The President could stabilise the country and do away with uncertainty. As a result of it, the people are receiving various reliefs and benefits.

Deputy Managing Director of the IMF Kenji Okamura came to Sri Lanka last week. When he visited Parliament, he said that he was very pleased with the speedy recovery of Sri Lanka from its crisis. Now, people should be very cautious when making their future political decisions.

If the people use their important vote based on grudges and hatred or take revenge from others, they will definitely drag the country towards a situation which cannot be recovered whatsoever. Instead of taking revenge, people should use their votes focusing on how the country should be uplifted in Asia and the world as well.

Q: It has been almost one year since July 9 when the country changed after the Aragalaya. How has the President changed the trajectory of the country from the dark days of 2022? Do you think if the President didn’t accept the challenge, the country would have faced a more critical situation than this?

A: Actually, President Wickremesinghe has a very good understanding about the economic situation. That is why, we always planned to stand with a leader who can rescue the country from the crisis. We decided to stand at the right point without looking at parliamentary seats. Most people thought how could UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe become the Prime Minister or the President as the UNP had only one seat in Parliament.

When former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made an open invitation to the Opposition to accept the Presidency, some didn’t accept the challenge due to lack of knowledge and experience. However, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe accepted the challenge which was rejected by all. That is mainly due to his confidence, knowledge and experience. The President with his vast political experience has given leadership to the whole of Asia.

The President who made an official visit to Japan recently said Sri Lanka would not be a part of a scheme to divide Asia. The President said he will stand by a foreign policy for Asia nationally and internationally. Even in the past, the President acted based on this foreign policy and he could bring all Western and Asian countries under one particular banner.

The President did the same thing when he visited Japan in 2002. Even in 2002, Ranil Wickremesinghe was able to work with the EU, Norway, Japan, USA, India and China in the capacity of Prime Minister. Sri Lanka also participated in the Aid Forum in 2002 but this was halted due to the change of Government in 2004. Thus the country lost around US$ 3 billion in foreign exchange. President Wickremesinghe’s preface to “Reawakening Sri Lanka’’ in 2002 states as follows: “

It is evident that if the poverty level is to be reduced to a certain level an increased level of economic development is necessary. During the past 30 years, Sri Lanka’s economic development percentage stood at 4.5 percent. If this were to continue it will be impossible to reduce poverty or to achieve the social and economic goals advocated in this program. The Government will take on the task of building an economic framework to build the foundations of a lasting peace and to uplift the country’s economy. Without this foundation, the hope of peace or economic development would become empty premises.” This is a clear testimony since those days the President had the experience and a farsighted vision to face these challenges.

Q: There have been defections from the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) to the Government side, some like former SJB Vice President P.Harrison openly and others more covertly, but do you think that many more SJB MPs will cross over in due course, perhaps at Budget time?

A: Actually, we would like to provide materials to build that bridge but we don’t want to destroy it. In Parliament history and world political history, a veteran politician who has one seat in Parliament is acting to win over the confidence of the majority of Parliamentarians with the help of his five decades of political maturity. He has never engaged in politics with hatred, grudge and jealousy. He is a person who engaged in politics with generosity. Therefore, he could secure the votes of those who were suitable and unsuitable in Parliament and became the President. The SJB is a political party based on hatred. If they meditate for half an hour and think as to why they formed that political movement, then it will show them the path to correct themselves. The group in the SJB is also very vital for this forward march.

We cannot reach a consensus on a national policy framework without them. Therefore, they have no reason to get away from this process. If the SJB attempts to project yet other falsehoods to mislead the people, it’s like committing suicide. This is a situation which should be handled carefully. I personally know how certain groups in the SJB secretly had cast their vote when the President was selected. The previous night they met the President at my residence and pledged their support. Of the 225 MPs, there are no political parties in Parliament which didn’t vote to elect Ranil Wickremesinghe as the President. Therefore, whatever insults and criticisms are levelled, we should not distance or reject the SJB group. Definitely, we all should work together and that is the victory of the Sri Lankan people. We believe they will act with dedication based on national interest.  

Q: If the majority of SJB MPs join hands with the Government, will it pave the way to create an issue regarding the Opposition Leader post?  

A: I think we can go for a national consensus without letting it happen. We should work on behalf of the nation without depriving the positions of others. We should act in a manner where all can be happy and satisfied. We believe that it will be useless if the SJB group provides their silent support to this process of national consensus. They should come forward and raise their voice to take the people in the proper direction.

Q: Has any final decision been taken by the UNP either to contest under a common symbol or separately at a future election?

A: So far, we don’t even think of it. Most probably in politics, we have to make decisions on those particular occasions. We have to join hands in an election campaign which would help to take the country and the nation forward. As a Government, we are trying our level best to reach a national consensus on behalf of the people. The political background should also be similar to that. Therefore, we should go for an election with a national consensus. At present, President Wickremesinghe is making efforts to change the mindset of all to realise this goal. It is our responsibility to strengthen that path.

Q: What is the progress with regard to the party restructuring program?

A: We will complete the formation of Balamandalas countrywide by the end of July. The President intends to change the UNP Constitution and that change will be made to suit the national consensus. In 1977, J.R. Jayewardene became the President and introduced the Executive Presidency by changing the party Constitution. It said that if a UNP member becomes the President, he should become the Party Leader. However, President Wickremesinghe hopes to change the party Constitution in keeping with the national requirements.

Q: How do you view the attempts by certain elements to create religious disharmony among the people?

A: It is a common phenomenon that a small number of those who belong to some religions attempt to strengthen their religions in those countries. Steps should be taken to control those who resort to such acts illegally including Sri Lanka. There are such fundamental religious groups in Sri Lanka as well. Our Constitution is different. After 1977, our Constitution stated that we are bound to protect and promote Buddhism and steps should be taken to safeguard other religions as well. We have to act according to the Constitution. In 2019, the UNP deprived the opportunity of ruling the country due to certain decisions which were irrelevant to governance.

I see those as foreign conspiracies. Sri Lanka’s political parties should move forward without getting caught in such conspiracies. If our political parties attempt to stand by some political parties in foreign countries due to money, the nation would collapse and go down the precipice. Both, the people and political parties should be aware of it to prevent such adverse trends.  

Q: There is an allegation that the former Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) Janaka Ratnayake is trying to achieve his political gains by making the Government and the people uncomfortable. Your comments?

A: The PUCSL was formed during the tenure of the UNP. The PUCSL or any other Commission has no powers to handle the directive principles of state policy and fundamental duties. That has to be done in accordance with the Constitution. According to clauses 27(1) up to 29 in the Constitution, no Commission has been given powers whatsoever to draft national policies. These Commissions have only been given powers to look into whether the relevant national policy framework introduced is being implemented properly and also formulate necessary rules and regulations to implement it. However, some Commissions have gone beyond their limits due to lack of understanding on their functions. What happened at the PUCSL recently was mainly due to the appointment of a person who is not capable of handling that position.   

Q: The Opposition has raised concern on the proposed Broadcasting Authority Bill alleging that the proposed Bill aims to suppress the media. Would you like to comment?

A: I think first they should get an understanding about the Broadcasting Authority Acts in other countries by doing away with their narrow minded and hatred political practices. Most of them are talking about turning Sri Lanka into a Singapore, Malaysia or China. They should read the broadcasting rules and regulations of those countries. Newspapers can be read via television channels in Singapore but if any reference outside that news item is made, a fine of 100 Singapore dollars is charged for it.

We should not give undue democratic freedom to deliberately insult and discredit the people in an illegal manner. In Sri Lanka, we have not formulated the relevant laws in this regard. Even today all private media institutions are managed under the Rupavahini Act. This channel system was introduced by the then UNP Government in 1978. Those days then President J.R.Jayewardene was highly criticised for introducing this channel system. Some of those who levelled such criticism have become the owners of some private media institutions today.