‘There is a "Heen Sereye" of discontent, which will help turn tables’ - Karu Jayasuriya

Far from being the dullest poll, the upcoming parliamentary election is highly reminiscent of the 1977 general election, which enabled the UNP, led by J.R. Jayewardene, to come to power, amid a backdrop of intense discontent among the people, born of grueling hardships and suffering, UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya told this newspaper in an interview.

He said, though, that ‘there is no equal ground for a free and fair election’ on account of the fact that the government is misusing state resources, the state machinery and the state media ‘to harass the Opposition’; all of which contravenes the regulations laid down by the Elections Commissioner. He said that if the conditions are established for a free and fair poll, the UNF would emerge victorious.

Excerpts of interview:

Q: Why is the April 8 general election, considered the dullest poll so far?

A: Well, I wouldn’t call it the dullest poll. I feel we are seeing the same scenario as in 1977, when J.R. Jayewardene was the Opposition Leader and Sirima Bandaranaike was the Prime Minister. Then too the country was suffering and the government was engaged in numerous propaganda exercises. But the people gave a very silent verdict.

There is what could be called a ‘Heen Sereye’, going underground, and the people will give the correct verdict at the poll. The people are suffering but very understandably they don’t want to come out openly but they will do the needful if there is a free and fair election and they are allowed to exercise their vote freely. Under those conditions, they will come out with the correct mandate.

Q: Would you say that the level of violence is less this time than at the presidential poll?

A: Compared to the presidential poll, there is a decline in the level of violence, although now you find more intra-party confrontations. But we don’t see a level field for a fair and free election. The government is misusing all the state resources, state machinery and the state media to harass the Opposition and carry on their propaganda work; all of which contravenes the regulations laid down by the Elections Commissioner.

It is for this reason that even today we went before the Supreme Court in a fundamental rights case. We want the Elections Commissioner to adhere to certain guidelines which the joint Opposition drew up in consultation with him. We could avoid some of the loop holes in the system. For example, the Police are not allowed to carry out their duties independently. Those Police officers who carried out their duties independently at the last poll have been labeled as supporting the Opposition, and have been suspended or transferred. The same happens with public servants. You have to toe the government line if you are to survive.

Massive state funds are being used in propaganda work. If you look at the level of funds that are being used by some of the candidates, some are going up to more than 300 million rupees. This is the most costly election. The so called socialists are also spending heavily; this is what we can’t fathom.

Given a free and fair election, there is no doubt that the people would give the right mandate and the government would not be able to secure what it expects. We are confident of a victory, given those circumstances.

Q: Has this been the most costly poll for you also?

A: In my case, I don’t use posters, cutouts or banners. So my expenses have been very low. But I have had to spend on a lot of traveling, I have had to send my representatives to the electorate. I do direct campaigning, rather than use posters, banners and cutouts. But expenses are high this time in comparison with the last occasion.

Q: Are funds coming in freely to your party?

A: In the flow of funds there has been a marked decline. It is probably because of the economic climate. The cost of living is also high. Also many businesses have collapsed. In my view, people don’t have money to support any political activities. In comparison to government candidates, however, our expenses are negligible.

Q: There were some UNPers who were not satisfied with your coming back to the party because you had joined the government earlier. Now that you are back and have been reinstalled as Deputy Leader, do you think they are reconciled with you?

A: I didn’t leave the party as such. I decided as a matter of principle to support the elimination of terrorism, and for that reason I decided to support the government. Especially after the blockade of the water supply at Mavil Aru, and the attack on the army headquarters, in which the Army Commander narrowly escaped, the country was agitating for some sort of national consensus to end terrorism. It is in that context that I decided to support the government. But I never left the UNP or joined another political party. I never attacked the party or its leader.

For the short period I was with the government, I was able to completely reorganize the public sector and I also take pride in the restoration of normalcy in the Eastern Province. The ‘Neganahira Navodaya, for instance, was done under my purview.

The UNP leader and I right along had a cordial relationship and he understood my thinking and that is why the UNP leader and the Working Committee decided to invite me back to the party. I reentered the party through the front door.

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