No room for nepotism under Sajith, says Imthiaz | Sunday Observer

No room for nepotism under Sajith, says Imthiaz

27 October, 2019
Imthiaz Bakeer Marker
Imthiaz Bakeer Marker

Former Vice President of the UNP and former Media Minister Imthiaz Bakeer Marker, who had a stormy relationship with the present UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe but had always been a party loyalist, in an interview with the Sunday Observer pours his heart out on why the New Democratic Front leader Sajith Premadasa should be the next President of Sri Lanka.

Q: The election manifesto of the SLPP candidate was launched last week. When will the NDF manifesto be released?

The manifesto committee is headed by Minister Eran Wickremaratne and comprises Minister Champika Ranawaka as well. It has been a lengthy process, with a series of public consultations and expert inputs. At this stage I can say our manifesto is almost complete, and once approved by the leaders of the coalition it will be released.

Q: You were not seen in active politics for some time, would you like to describe the factors that brought you back to the UNP stage?

I did not walk away from the UNP, I was very much with the party but from time to time I was unceremoniously dropped from the working committee. I was removed from the Vice-President post and that was life during the past years. It has been a bitter sweet experience.

But now my conscience has summoned me to take up a leading role in this Presidential campaign. I believe the biggest fight is between Sajith and Gotabaya. If you compare their vision, objective, path and their past, it’s not difficult to make up your mind as to who you should support. We live in a world where they talk of a fifth technological revolution and where are we today?

Sajith represents the youth, a vision for the future and a clear plan of action.

One should remember how the military bulldozed homes in Slave Island and the people were chased out. War Heroes’ headquarters was uprooted to build the Shangri La Hotel. Our lands were sold to foreign companies. Not just the land but even the sea was sold to foreign capitalist entities. They were namesake patriots.

If we don’t make the right decision now, we will regret as a nation.

Q: RecentlyState Minister Wasantha Senanayake wrote to Premadasa questioning his stance on several issues. He said he fears that Premadasa has been caught in a trap. He has demanded to know who will be the Prime Minister under a Premadasa Presidency?

I have not read his letter yet. What’s at stake here is the country’s future. Wasantha Senanayake must decide his stance at this crucial juncture. We must not deviate from the main path.

As far as the next Prime Minister is concerned, the person who commands the majority support in Parliament will be the PM. It is clearly spelt out in the 19th Amendment.

Q: Senanayake said the election campaign of the NDF candidate is now headed by politicians with extremist views?

The voters are disappointed in our traditional politics. I know there is frustration, it is not confined to UNP supporters. The entire country is disappointed with this political culture.

The UNPers who had been in deep slumber, woke up with the nomination of Sajith Premadasa as the Presidential candidate. It was like rain after a long dry spell. He is the hope of many. I will not demean it with statements like why Rishad is helping him and why Patali is helping him.

We can learn lessons from the past. When D.S. Senanayake was leading the independence movement, the British rulers said, “Sri Lanka is a divided nation. If we declare Iindependence you will kill each other.”

History teaches us a lesson. We should not divide ourselves as Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims.

Q: Why do you think he has the support of polarised communities?

Before the UNP working committee took a decision, and the majority of UNP parliamentarians wrote to the PM urging him to nominate Sajith, all party leaders representing different religions and ethnicities, Mano Ganesan, Radha Krishnan, Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Bathiudeen and Champika Ranawaka steadfastly maintained that we must field Premadasa as our Presidential candidate.

It sent across the message that he is a leader who could unite this country against all communal and other divides. We have to decide, which path we want to tread on, the path led by Gotabaya or the moderate path led by Premadasa.

Can you recall how Gotabaya secured his nomination? It was a collective decision by the Medamulana family – the wives, children and fathers together chose the SLPP candidate.

When Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidacy was subsequently challenged in a court of law, the next choice of the family was Chamal Rajapaksa. They hurriedly made cash deposits for his candidacy. Did they consult party leaders - Dinesh Gunawardena, D.E.W. Gunasekera,Udaya Gammanpila and others before making this decision?

The NDF candidate was chosen in an entirely different manner. Until the last moment there were heated arguments and consultations within the party. However, finally democracy won.

I think we should not fight over petty things. The NDF candidate is coming with a social democratic agenda. Our fight is with a man who has a tarnished past and who will lead the nation to a fascist dictatorship.

Q: Was there an internal discussion on the points State Minister Wasantha Senanayake raised? As a UNP loyalist what is your message to him?

I call upon him to join us to rebuild the country. Don’t be misled. Do not create a situation which will help our rival candidate and pave the way for military rule.

He must recall how media personnel fled this country fearing the wrath of the former regime, how journalists were assassinated and what happened to Keith Noyahr and Poddala Jayantha. That era should never return.

Q: The biggest accusation against Premadasa is that he is a puppet of the sitting Prime Minister, and that he will be a powerless name-board once elected. Your comments?

We elected our own candidate to the office of President as far back as 1988. I am ashamed as a UNPer that our party could not get a state leader elected for 32 years. Premadasa has risen from the ashes and he has lived through the worst times.

He represents the lowest strata of society. He could have easily won elections in Colombo where his father is still revered by party supporters but he went to Hambantota, a remote area, to represent the underprivileged.

Within the party there were people who strongly opposed his candidacy. We were uncertain of his nomination until the last moment. Premadsa overcame all odds to stand where he is now. But he did not breach the party constitution, his patience has paid off. He has the blessings of the working committee and the majority of the UNP parliamentary group. It is hilarious to claim that he is a puppet.

Our opponents fear Premadasa, for the huge wave of support he has been receiving from the common masses as well as party-men. Those accusations are just dead ropes, and they cannot stop his forward march.

The same way Premadasa senior rallied the less privileged around the UNP, Sajith is recreating history. We are building a common man’s wave of support to ride him to victory at the upcoming election, like in 1977.

Q: The opposition claims the NDF candidate’s political campaign is led by people accused of the biggest corruption case in the present government. What is his stance on the accused? Is it of concern for him?

Have no fear, he will not be led by the corrupt. No one who was penalised for corruption or other offences is associated with the campaign. Our only candidate is Sajith Premadasa.

He will perform his duties immaculately as President. When he was appointed Housing Minister he had a limited scope under his purview. He was not given housing in the urban, estate, fisheries and Northern sectors, where the biggest projects are implemented. I was the Housing State Minister. But he has fulfilled his duty to the fullest. There will be no room for nepotism under his leadership.

Q: Votes of Tamil and Muslim communities represent a significant percentage in the UNP vote base. The TNA has already put forth a set of conditions to safeguard their interests. Will your candidate be influenced by these conditions to win the election?

We have to deviate from this communal mentality once and for all. The country is in the current predicament due to these racially driven sentiments. The Sinhala Only Act is to be blamed too. How many thousands of lives did we lose? People living in Tamil speaking areas must have a right to get a response in the Tamil language to a letter written in Tamil. We have not resolved these issues even after the 13th Amendment. Why do we talk of Tamil and Muslim votes and drag the country backwards. Once elected he will be the President of Sri Lanka, representing all communities.