Former General Secretary of the United National Party (UNP) Tissa Attanayake was of the opinion that the reason the UNP collapsed after four and a half years in Government was because he was not with it.
What is the party you represent now?
A: I represent the UNP. But in the past four and a half years I was just another citizen who watched the party deteriorate from the outside. This is a crucial moment and I think working for Sajith’s victory is a national duty and that is why I came back, not for any other political objective.
What is the reason for you to withdraw your support to the Rajapaksas?
A: I never joined them. In January 2015.
I helped them due to two things. One is the elongated internal conflict within the UNP caused by my attempt to make Sajith Premadasa the deputy leader of the party. The second is my belief that a UNP leader should be the candidate of the party for the Presidential Election. I did not agree when the party decided to make Maithripala Sirisena the presidential candidate in 2015. It was not fair on the party members. Therefore, I took that decision according to my conscience.
In 2014, you were the UNP General Secretary. Did the Rajapaksas manipulate you and discard you after they got what they wanted?
A: I did not indulge in any political activity after the 2015 Presidential Election. It was my decision. Actually, I respect the political acumen of Mahinda Rajapaksa even today. He invited me to come back to active politics several times. I did not consent because I was fed up with politics.
But you actually lost your old position as well as your future hopes isn’t it?
A: I reject that statement. I had a choice. But I did not agree to join either side. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chairman Kabir Hashim, General Secretary Akila Viraj all invited me to return to active politics. But I was not in a hurry to take a decision.
Do you consider yourself to be a revolutionary politician?
A: I think so. I feel it was because of my capabilities that I was selected by Sajith Premadasa.
But the side you choose to back generally loses elections, isn’t that the truth?
A: I can see why you would say that. But don’t forget that I was the one that got the the UNP ready for the 2015 victory. I chose 12,000 organisers and with that the UNP was re-awakened. I dare say the reason for the 2015 victory is that foundation. The road to victory was rough. They always say there are many fathers for a victory, but the defeat is fatherless.
I think the UNP collapsed in the past four and a half years because I was not there.
You have made many political calculations before elections in the past. What is your calculation for the Presidential Election this time?
A: I have calculated that Sajith Premadasa will win.
But your calculation was wrong in 2015.
A: No. I did not cross over for that. Please understand that. It was a sudden decision. The reason was depression caused by internal pressure exerted by the party.
You were the General Secretary of a leading party in Sri Lanka, but as a result of wrong political decisions, you lost your way, isn’t it?. You were arrested too. Are you frustrated about what happened to you in the past?
A: Not now. I work happily now. My primary goal is to ensure Sajith Premadasa’s victory. I wished for a UNP leader becoming President for a long time. I struggled for it within the party as the deputy secretary and then the general secretary. 1988 was the last year a President was elected from our party.
Who do you support? Sajith or Ranil?
A: I am a person who has understood that Sajith Premadasa is the need of the moment for this country as President. In 2015 also, I took the stand that Ranil Wickremesinghe should be the party’s candidate for the Presidential Poll. I opposed the appointment of a non-UNP candidate. I pointed out that either Sajith or Karu needed to be the candidate. But it did not happen.
Do you think Ranil Wickremesinghe is an outdated leader?
A: I don’t want to insult him but I think everything has a expiry date. It is good that it was he who named Sajith as a the party’s Presidential candidate.
Did he give in or did Sajith take it with great difficultly?
A: I don’t think it was given easily. Sajith had to apply pressure on him.
If Ranil was the candidate, would you support Gotabaya Rajapaksa?
A: No. I will not support any side. But I believe I might not have returned to active politics if Sajith Premadasa was not the candidate.
What were the reasons for you to be thrown out of politics after you joined the Rajapaksa camp?
A: What I went through following the 2015 Presidential Election was very tough on me. I was detained at the Welikada Prison for two months as a political prisoner. Charges were not framed against me. Later they withdrew the case. I was silent for four and a half years. I saw that Sri Lankan politics needed a lot of changes. I expressed my views in a book, entitled Untold Story.
The SLPP and the NDF have a lot of policy differences. Don’t both parties sweep the people’s actual problems under the carpet?
A: I see it like this. Sajith has included certain policies to his manifesto according to his conscience. I see many guiding principles such as alleviating poverty, corruption and assisting women, youth and children. He is passionate about these things in particular. He does not want to cheat people. Many past policies were not implemented. People lose trust because of this. I believe Sajith will change this perception.
Don’t you think that your candidate is subjected to sarcasm, insult and hatred by many?
A: There are instances when he is forced to face sarcasm and criticism. But he made those statements with good intention. He does not read his speeches off a teleprompter or memorise them. He speaks to people honestly as an ordinary person. People have the right to express their views. But, I believe he tries to depict the true situation in each of his speeches.
Are you ready to make a special revelation before the Presidential Election date?
A: We have no doubts about our victory. This is an opportunity for people to decide whether we move forward with a energetic, young leader or stagnate as a nation. I see the need for an energetic leader for this country. We are still lagging behind and we need a leader who has a long-term vision for this country. The leader must not be changed every five years. He must be a wise leader who works for the country for a period of time.
What indicators do we have that Sajith Premadasa is that person?
A: I believe it 100%. I have observed the way he works. I praise him for the way he carried out his ministerial duties during the past four and a half years.
He did not act to stop the actions of this government that were detrimental to the country. Additionally, he never spoke a word against his opponent Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Parliament. How can such a person lead the country?
A: He handled his responsibilities as a leader. He is not much of a talker when it comes to the public or the media. However, he worked within Parliament as part of a team. I know him as a person who speaks only when needed. He attends debates like all other members of Parliament as a member of the Cabinet and within the working committee of the party. But he always respects the idea of collective responsibility. Some utter popular words and later deny them. Sajith is not like that.
In the report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Easter Sunday attacks, it was revealed that another violent act could occur for political gain before the Presidential Election scheduled for 16 November. Can such a thing happen?
A: I too noticed the spread of rumours about possible violence as the election date nears. In some cases, these rumours are related to schools and religious places of worship. Security must be beefed up if that is true to prevent such an occurrance. I think these can be rumours spread by a party with the aim of gaining an advantage in the election.
You want to stop the spread of rumours. However, your party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe once said we needed to focus more on security at election time.
A: The Government is duty bound to provide maximum security for an election. We are not in the Opposition. The Opposition can commit any conspiracy. They can spread rumours. But I think they must act ethically.
Will you gain the Sinhala Buddhist votes in the South?
A: With the advent of Sajith Premadasa, our greatest achievement is a massive section of the UNP who were previously in hibernation have awoken from their slumber. Sajith Premadasa is a citizen respected by Buddhist monks. He has great acceptance. No one can predict how the votes of Sinhala Buddhists will be divided. There is a thought that Sajith will suffer in this regard. But I think it is different this time round. Anyway the UNP usually receives a majority of non-Sinhala Buddhist votes.
However, no one can forecast what will happen this time round. We can predict the voting patterns in the Northern and Eastern Provinces but not the other Provinces. Forecasting the result is not easy. All in all Sajith Premadasa is at an advantage this time.
Can the winning candidate obtain 50%+1 votes?
A: This is another discourse. We estimate 13 million people will vote this time. In the previous elections, 12 million people voted. Each time a President was elected with a margin of 10, 12 lakhs of votes. I am sure the winning candidate will get at least one vote more than 50%. We are not afraid of even the second preferential vote being counted.
But the voter has less understanding about the second preference vote isn’t it?
A: I don’t expect the use of second preference. Many voters have no understanding of it. No political party seems to be encouraging the use of a second preference vote. We don’t trust the second preference vote. We will get the necessary number of votes to win in the first round itself.
Therefore, the second preference is not important to us.
Persons like Azath Salley, Sajin Vaas and Mervyn Silva who were subjected to serious allegations are now supporting the NDF. Is it not disadvantageous to you?
A: Two of them work on a voluntary basis. We did not invite them. But we cannot chase them away. I remember I met Azath Salley. He represents a party and announced that they would back Sajith. Anyone who supports us is special. However, Sajith Premadasa has clearly outlined that no corrupt individual will get positions in a government under him. He has vowed not to safeguard any corrupt individual. Anyway, the delivery of justice is not up to us. It is the task of the judiciary. Some try to pronounce judgment on people from political stages. Sajith Premadasa clearly says that he will not interfere with the judiciary.
The main slogan of the 2015 Presidential Election was punishing thieves and taking back the usurped property. However, the two main candidates have conveniently dropped that slogan during their campaigns. Is it because corrupt elements represent both parties?
A: People expected the government appointed in 2015 to deliver on their election promise of bringing those who were corrupt to book. In my opinion the government failed to fulfil that obligation. That is a severe drawback. People did not expect both parties to unite and act as they did to cover their tracks.
Is it then a coalition of thieves that are contesting from both sides?
A: Not everyone are thieves. Both sides have corrupt elements. However, I don’t say protecting them is the correct thing to say. The President and the government got a golden opportunity in 2015 to act to bring crooks to justice according to the mandate they received from the people.
Did you not think about the Bond scam before you joined the party. Don’t you feel you approve of what took place by joining the UNP?
A: I admit that a Bond scam has taken place. It is no secret that certain parties tried to safeguard the culprits. I neither appear for the culprits nor safeguard them. I am against it. I think the chance to act against the culprits has now been missed
The UNP vowed to develop the country within 100 days of coming to power. But they failed to deliver anything concrete in terms of development during the past four and a half years. Do they have a moral right to ask for re-election?
A: Those persons have not asked to come back to power.
But it is a single team.
A: You could say that. However, this was a unity government. President Maithripala Sirisena should take most of the blame. He was in the Rajapaksa camp until he became the UNP’s presidential candidate. Now a new leader has come forward to contest on behalf of the UNP. We trust that he will not let past misdemenours be repeated. His vision and policies are different. He always highlights that his Cabinet will comprise of clean politicians. Let us wait and see. People were misled repeatedly. But they will not be cheated in 2019 if they make the right decision.
You made a controversial statement that the UNP and the TNA had formed a pact. Do you still take that stand?
A: I actually spoke about a rumour that was circulting alleging that such a pact had been entered into by the two sides. It was not my creation. I only mentioned that the UNP leader needed to make a statement and tell the people whether it was true or not. Instead of investigating the matter, the law was implemented against me. I think they had some understanding. TNA MPs repeatedly talked about it. I am not aware of those internal matters. I believe today we do not have such a pact with them. We do not hope to enter into one either. We just trust they will do what is right at the upcoming Presidential Election.
Five Tamil parties representing the TNA, TELO, EPRLF and Vigneswaran set forth 13 proposals as conditions to support a candidate. Vigneswaran recently said no Sinhala candidate has understood Tamil woes. What is your view on this?
A: It can be Vigneswaran’s opinion. However, people of the north are free to think and vote as they please. I believe they trust Sajith Premadasa. As a minister, he spent over 40% of his ministerial budget for housing and development in the North and East. People appreciate such a gesture and I believe the Tamil people will vote for us irrespective of whatever they have been instructed to do by their Tamil political leaders.
(Source: Ceylon Today – By Anuradha Herath)