"The reform process is not finished yet…" - Sajith Premadasa

by Sajith Premadasa

Following Monday’s stormy UNP working committee meeting, the story circulated that the UNP’s reform movement which had been gathering momentum was stymied by an alliance between Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa. Sajith Premadasa took strong exception to such reports. He made the following comments in an interview with C.A.Chandraprema yesterday.

Q. There is this belief that you struck a deal with your party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and scuttled the attempt to have him moved out of the leader’s position…

A. Never in my political life have I ever negotiated with anyone in the UNP hierarchy to sacrifice my beliefs and principles in return for positions within the party. I have never done that and I will never ever do that. I refer to yesterday’s headline story in The Island, and I am sorry to say that the story that I struck a deal with the leadership is a total falsehood. It’s a subtle attempt to malign my political character which I have attempted to keep clean throughout my political career. There are some mischievous forces who are trying to interpret whatever that took place before, after, and during the various parliamentary group and working committee meetings that took place. Let me tell you that I am, have been and will be, a person who is absolutely and firmly committed to promote constructive progressive reforms within the UNP, with a view to making our party politically victorious. I have been a vociferous, vocal proponent of such reforms and I will continue to be that in the future as well.

Q. Do these reforms that you envisage also include reforms in the leadership?

A. Reform entails reform of the party structure, the party machinery, the grassroots level organization, the outlook, the image, and most importantly, policy substance. Reforms do not entail doing one single thing. It’s an integrated programme. In terms of what transpired at previous meetings of the working committee, I think there is progress. But if you ask me whether I am happy with the level of progress, of course I am not. There has been some progress. Some power has been devolved, but I think something much more substantial has to take place if our party is to champion the cause of the common people of our country. My main focus in party reforms has been in promoting democratization. I am a very firm believer of the view that within the party structure, the party machinery has to be constructed in a transparent manner where those who are talented are given the chance to perform. There are many such people within the party. Now how do we go about choosing these people? I think the best procedure to get these people who are popular, capable, and determined to reinvigorate our party is to have internal elections within the working committee. We have to elect rather than select the office bearers.

Q. Including the party leader?

A. Yes. Not just the leader, but the deputy leader, the assistant leader and whatever other office bearers there may be. This is a view that I have propagated ever since I have been in the UNP and especially in 2004 in the aftermath of the parliamentary election defeat. The lead story in yesterday’s Island, specifically states that I negotiated for a position that was going to be created within the party structure. How can I negotiate with anyone when I have been saying that such positions have to be filled through a democratic procedure of internal elections? If you are to do deals, you have to have the assurance that you will be selected. I have always been a strong proponent of the argument that whatever positions are created, those who hold those positions should be elected and not selected. So how can I do deals?

Q. How would you explain Dilip Wedaarachchi’s proposal that was brought at Monday’s working committee meeting, that you be made senior assistant leader?

A. Dilip Wedaarachchi is my political colleague, but I was not a party to that proposal that was brought up suddenly at the end of the working committee meeting. I have never signed any of the documents that were being taken around. I don’t believe in the taking of signatures. Yesterday’s headline story in your newspaper goes totally against everything that I believe in.

Q. Dilip Wedaarachchi’s proposal would have been the main basis of that article. Did you take up issue with Wedaarachchi for making such a proposal without consulting you?

A. Yes I did. After an arduous six hour working committee session when there was a compromise - that there will be a limited devolution of powers to the working committee, the political affairs committee and the deputy leader - there was a consensus and I thought we would all get the chance to go home. Then suddenly there was this mighty fracas with my name being suggested for the post of senior assistant leader and I was absolutely flabbergasted. I had no part to play in any of that. I can say that I do believe that the reform process should go on, I do believe that new positions have to be established, so that the capable people in the UNP get a chance to perform. I firmly believe that such positions must be filled through an elective process.

Q. Are you for the creation of a senior leader’s post to which Ranil Wickremesinghe should be re-assigned?

A. The party chairman Gamini Jayawickrema Perera and general secretary Tissa Attanayake met with the parliamentary group and they were instrumental in setting up that eight member committee of which I was a member. The report of that eight member committee was unanimous. But that was only a set of recommendations. That set of recommendations were forwarded to the leader and deputy leader and they discussed the matter between them and they informed us of their opinion. The members of the working committee were happy that they had come to a certain arrangement and the whole affair ended up with the slight changes that took place on that day. But I have to tell you that this event is not an end. There will be a continuous reform process. There are more changes that have to take place, and those will take place and I think positions have to be created within the party, so that the talented, the capable, the popular figures have a chance of contributing.

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