The United National Party (UNP) is preparing to face the Parliamentary election at a crucial time, not just for the country but also for the party.
A number of UNP members defected from the party and formed their own political alliance resulting in UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe taking in several new faces to contest the polls.
UNP Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake told the Colombo Gazette the UNP has placed its confidence on the new faces in the party and will not look to unite with the defectors.
Extracts of the interview:
The UNP has put forward an election manifesto focused on several key areas. Can you explain the thinking behind the manifesto?
The intention of the new manifesto that we have put forward has been a kin to what we had done previously, but taken certain things that are of importance today at a time where the economy has been put into peril and into a downward trend with the coronavirus that has affected the people.
We have given confidence on how we can resurrect this economy back again. We have said that the economic growth resurrection is absolutely imperative. The youth have been focused saying that they are the ones who have been distraught the most, so as a result they need to be refocused and the refocusing will be done on policy oriented proposals.
The next is that we have said that the country is having too much of import and trade. We want to manufacture and export. We want to bring in certain qualitative controls that are there. There is a wrong notion that neoliberalism was what we were espousing, which is the wrong case. We are pro-people centric and all we’ve got to do is to ensure that we manufacture, export. And look at the agriculture at the epicenter. The service industry is a must. 70 percent of the GDP is on the service industry. So we bring it back by giving all the required confidence factors that are there. Banking system, the insurance, the tourism (even though it may take time) and the IT industry. Then we come to the agriculture. To move it from the olden day approach of agriculture and leapfrog to the very developed agriculture. Then use that as a base for your export-oriented agriculture policy and make the conversion the industrial area through the agricultural revolution. That has been our main task.
Then with the coronavirus, we have taken that as a subsection and given saying we have to do certain things like testing, be prepared for the future and equip ourselves. We were the ones who allocated almost a 300 percent increase from previous allocations for health. We were equipped, were foresaw but we never saw this type of approach.
It is not a blame game on a Government, but certainly coronavirus is one thing but running the post corona with the economy is completely another thing.
And the UNP manifesto also spells out on Sri Lanka should deal with the international community. There is a concern how successive governments, including this government, has dealt with certain countries. What sort of position will the UNP take on international relations?
We always believed that Sri Lanka was inside the world and not the world inside Sri Lanka. So here again we have very clear emphasis that we want to be friends with all and enemies with non. But this government seems to pursue it differently.
We should not walk away from every single international institution. We need to convince then that what we are doing is right and what they are enforcing on us is wrong. That is how we must navigate it. That is the intention we have been pursuing and will pursue.
Now look at the MCC agreement. They made such a fuss on the MCC. It was a storm in a teacup. Now, the same people who basically opposed and said this is life threatening and that you will need to get a visa to go from Columbo to Anuradhapura and if you do this the country will be sold to America are now saying 95 percent or 85 percent is good. What a bunch of hypocrites they are.
So we are telling them either you accept before the election this is wrong and tear it, if not you accept on that day what the UNP has done is the correct thing.
And you individually will be facing a lot of competition at this election. What are you offering the voters that maybe others are not?
Well competition that cannot stay within a party and face that music is no competition. So I guess their competition is going out and making character assassination as their or focal point. I guess that type of thing is acrimonious politics seem to be virtually waning off of the system. So my intention is to get the message across to the people. It is the people that we have got to be centric around and get the younger generation and be policy oriented. So competition that is coming in is a mythical exercise. Our last candidate, when he was told lets take it at another time, was so insistent and ever has the UNP lost to this magnitude. So it only shows that the Pied Piper is as good as much as his followers are. You can’t have a Pied Piper without the people following.
And the UNP is bringing in a lot of new faces at this election. Do you think that they will perform really well at this election?
I think so. I think we are faced with the same situation where JR Jayewardene faced in 77 where he was faced with 8-10 in the previous Parliament and ended with 140. Likewise, we believe we are on the correct track. We know we have made mistakes, in the sense the approach of the people who wanted us in. And that approach needs to be corrected. We think the freshness that is there would yield in the result that is expected of us.
As UNP Assistant leader, do you think the defection of certain group from the party would impact you at this election?
What we thought earlier was, certainly there is a disturbance, but that disturbance is not life threatening, it is a wakeup call. And that wakeup call has basically brought up people who estranged us to suddenly feel this is not what they were expecting. We are remolding the party. But this has gone well beyond. Those boundaries are basically lost out to different levels.
Do you see room for these two factions to come together in the future or is it now done and dusted?
It’s done and dusted. You know, you can basically be seeing this, that and the other. But you have a situation where you have two parties that are operating. And the architects of such a departure from our party cannot be tolerated. This is not a rest house or something that you can come and go to. It has principles.
When you were Finance Minister, you had also raised concerns about the manner in which certain officials in the Central Bank were operating. And now we see the President also seemingly taking the same stance. Do you think that he is also now falling in line with what you had said back then?
It was the obvious correct thing. It was not something personal. The economic crisis of this country is nothing as but the creation by the Central Bank itself. Government has its monetary policy and it has its own fiscal policy. But the monetary is executed by the central bank and they basically have their own way and that conflicts with the Government policy.
And as someone with experience and knowledge in managing finances, do you agree with the opinion that China has forced Sri Lanka into a debt trap?
Well if anybody has forced them it is then those who govern who have been duped into it. As for us, I think it is not a fair statement to say, whatever country, whether it is India, China, US, Europe or Japan. So it was such people that were desperate to get from that. But we undid certain things. There were well ill-affordable things done with port of Hambantota. But what we did was that we placed it back unto them and got them to pay the same amount that was there and told them to do the job and ensure that the dividends, the money is made out of it. It was not a sale. It was only a lease.
Would a UNP Government look at redoing agreements with foreign countries?
Unlike other parties that are not intentionally bound, we are. What we say is that it is like a relay. You cannot wake up today and suddenly say you are going to run in the reverse direction. So it is a onward movement. But obviously you need to have your eyes open on many things. When we took Government we only corrected certain things.
Can we sustain ourselves by not depending on foreign funding and just depending on local industries?
Well our decision making has to be much more efficient, much more decisive, much more nation oriented and not be just caught up with the white skin phobia that policies that come from overseas are the ones that take you forward.