Premadasa is the hope of the Opposition - Eran | Sunday Observer

Premadasa is the hope of the Opposition - Eran

24 November, 2019

The Sunday Observer met with Former Finance State Minister and UNP MP Eran Wickramaratne for his post-mortem on the recent Presidential election.

“We will iron out all differences and face the next general election predicted in March 2020, as a revived political force” he said.

Speaking of the defeat he said that Sajith Premadasa had to bridge a big deficit on a campaign, within three weeks, but the campaign had been long planned and implemented by his rival. He said, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya will take a decision on the question of Opposition Leader while ensuring that the nominee has the support of the Parliamentary group, and this decision will bring the party together for the upcoming general elections.

“Mr.Premadasa is not just the hope of the future, he is the hope of the opposition, his charisma and hard work galvanized this 5.5 million vote,” Wickramaratne said.

Q: What is your take on the Presidential election outcome where the candidate from the ruling party was defeated by the SLPP candidate - and by a clear majority too?

A. The New Democratic Front candidate came into the election quite late, we had to bridge a big deficit on a campaign that had been long planned and implemented by our rival candidate. That was an uphill task.Mr.Rajapaksa’s campaign therefore picked the 52% and was elected. The outcome was showing well before the election and Mr.Premadasa had very short time to narrow that gap. I think the campaign was not long enough actually to take further the momentum. And also to address some of the issues that the campaign had basically brought forward.

Q: But there were allegations that the NDF candidate did not have the blessing of the UNP leadership and the support (if at all) was half hearted ?

A. If you look at the reasons, we need to do a proper evaluation. One of the things that he had been battling with was that the incumbency of the government, so this was a cohabitation government which had habitation problems with the President, Prime Minister and the government.

Those issues weighed on decision making, on the 2015 mandate the people were expecting a more efficient government, but decision making was slow.

They were expecting more swift justice and judicial systems. There were various reasons including interference with the Judicial systems, investigations, and problems at the Attorney General’s Department. That whole process failed. How much of that was due to political deals is not known but certainly it came in below expectations.

Q: Don’t you think there were genuine concerns ?

A. The government servants had insecurity- that they were part of inquiries, etc. that these inquiries lead to many conclusions. They had to defend themselves and there was no legal and financial protection for them. And then there was the whole issue of the Easter Sunday bombing and security related issues, which was really a big problem for the government. The government had political responsibility for it, the professional arm also failed in responding quickly.

In addition, there was a created crisis, based on narrow nationalism, to instill fear in the majority population. It was done very efficiently by the then opposition. It was created based on political socio-economic and security related issues, that fear had so many dimensions such as -that the majority will lose their rightful place, and the constitution process is meant to make way for a federal system and thereby divide the country. Also a bogeyman was created of the MCC agreement with the US.

I would say it was a created crisis because the government was not accused of a single murder during our tenure. Independent commissions were functioning and the judiciary was free. Sections of the media were particularly responsible for creating this fear psychosis.

It has divided this country on an ethno-religious basis simply for electoral gains, creating a much deeper and long term problem.Unless the new leadership in the country is able to rise above this and really heal this situation - bringing about reconciliation and harmony, I would fear to think what could happen.

There is no debate about the real Socio economic issues, the future is to unite the country and create social harmony, and take it away from violence. The future is really about having a new, democratic, and strong opposition.

This opposition needs a new leadership also. The future is about creating a meritocracy and emphasis to move away from ‘personality politics’ to look at policies and processors and systems. This is where we need to take the country.

Q: You said a ‘fear psychosis’ was created by the rival camp, why didn’t you address it earlier, instead, don’t you think the key ministers of the government aggravated the fear with their own statements, even during the run up to the election ?

A. I would say that, politicians have a responsibility, when there are insecurities, we need to be extremely careful of our public utterances and evaluate what impact it will have on the society. But I think those were not intentional, whereas the fear psychosis was intentional.

Q: What is the NDF candidate’s future course of action. We hear that he has decided to quit politics after the disappointing outcome.

A. I can’t speak for him but I can only respond. It is natural to be disappointed with the result. On the other hand it takes comfort from the fact that people cross this country, had voted for him. Millions of the majority community have voted for him out of the 5.5. million. He can take heart in the fact that he has brought people together – people of different origin, cultures and religions.

If you analyse it carefully the candidate who won the election has 48% against him. A 5 % shift can alter the outlook of parliament completely. And Mr.Premadasa is not just the hope of the future, he is the hope of the opposition, because his charisma and hard work galvanized this 5.5 million vote.

Q: There seems to be a rift on the opposition leader’s post. While majority of the parliament group of the UNP supports Sajith Premadasa, the UNP General Secretary has written to the Speaker to name Ranil Wickremesinghe as the opposition leader. What is the tradition adopted for such a process? Do you have to follow standing orders?

A. There is neither constitutional reference to this nor standing orders for the appointment of the leader of the opposition. Therefore, it will be done based on tradition, precedent and in accordance with internationally accepted principles. The speaker will decide. The largest party represented in parliament will nominate the leader of the opposition. The largest party in 2015 election was the UNP.

Then he has to ensure the nominated individual has the support of the group. That will be taken into account. That has to be demonstrated to the Speaker.

The Speaker might ask the group to call for a vote within the group, and thereby resolve the matter. It is not up to me to decide how he should arrive at his conclusion. But these are some of the accepted means to make a decision.

He will satisfy himself that whoever is nominated has the support needed to lead the opposition group in parliament.

I have full confidence that the speaker will make the right decision after considering all these factors including, some of the precedents both in the Sri Lankan parliament, as well as other democratic parliaments.

Q: What will be your role in parliament during the coming months, will you hep the government?

A. If the government is acting within the framework of the law, we will support the government in all its progressive policies for the welfare of the people of this country.

Q: Has there been any discussions within the opposition parliamentary group to that effect?

A. We haven’t still had a full discussion but respecting democracy we resigned from our portfolios to allow the new President to appoint a new cabinet.

Q: Has there been any discussions on the upcoming general election, how you will face the next election ?

A. No major discussions apart from saying that the provisions of the constitution will be followed. After 4 and half years, if the president so desires he can call for a general election, that is after the February of 2020.

Q: There is a strong difference of opinion about the opposition leader post, can it lead to a split within the party before the election?

A. Difference of opinion is nothing new. But I am confident that once the Speaker arrives at a decision, people will work together.

Q: Former Minister Sajith Premadasa has shown that he is favored by UNP supporters and the voters in general. Will this be an impetus for his support base in parliament to continue their struggle to make him the next UNP Leader ?

A. Mr.Wickremasinghe has already indicated that there will be a change of leadership. The process has to be finalized. So we are expecting him to complete that process. In the past when the leadership question has come up, the past leaders, for example J.R.Jayewardene, has called for a vote. The Working Committee and Parliamentary MPs then decide who should be the leader. If many names arise, then there will be an election.

Q: If the leader is not ready to step down, can someone go to Courts, are there any provisions to seek legal redress on a matter like that ?

A. That does not arise at this point in time. Because Mr.Wickremesinghe has mentioned that he is looking for changes and he did not want to hold the leadership by force. And I can’t answer the question of whether there are any provisions for legal redress on such a matter, because, to my knowledge no one has looked into that possibility so far.