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We support Govt on national issues - Ravi Karunanayake MP

*I have sorted out minor differences with Colombo Mayor

*Disciplinary action against Beruwala incident

*Ranil will address Sajith's issue at correct time

*UNP brought the 13th Amendment

There is no internal party problem at all but just one person with a handful of renegades whose voice has no bearing on the forward march of the party. I firmly believe that the leadership will take action soon to stop this nonsense.

Colombo District Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake began his political career under the able stewardship of the late Lalith Athulathmudali who had left an indelible impression in the political history of the country.

Karunanayake was a trusted lieutenant of Athulathmudali from his young days and nobody would dispute the fact that the latter wanted to groom the former to be a promising politician in the years to come. Karunanayake was aggressively involved in the election campaigns of the late Athulathmudali in the prime of his youth and mastered politics within a short time.

A double qualified accountant by profession and an entrepreneur,

Karunanayake, aided also his personal charisma rose rapidly to the higher echelons of the political strata of the United National Party.

Following the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali, everyone's choice was Ravi Karunanayake to fill the vacancy in the Colombo district and he amply demonstrated his popularity and political acumen by emerging second only to Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Parliamentary elections held in 1994. Since then, he has been representing the Colombo district and was appointed Minister of Trade and Commerce by Ranil Wickremesinghe in the UNP Government formed in 2001.

The Sunday Observer had an exclusive interview with Karunanayake to ascertain the present position of the UNP and its future course of action with regard to the prevailing political situation in the country.

Q: Can you briefly outline the present position of the UNP with regard to the leadership issue? Has the tussle ended with the last Ex-Co meeting where you elected your office-bearers?

A: Everything was very clearly sorted out. All contestants realised who they were and the degree of respect they commanded among the membership.

Some people who were over-anxious and trying to manifest divisions would have been crestfallen with the outcome. I would like to reiterate the fact that there is absolutely no problem in our party. All members are working individually and collectively for the betterment of the party for a definite future victory.

Q: Sajith Premadasa still makes different statements to the media every now and then which is detrimental to the party's forward march. Why doesn't he compromise and work in unison with the others?

A: The Leader will address this issue at the correct time.

Disciplinary action.

Q: The recent incident at Beruwala resulted disappointment among the membership and the leader claims that it was initiated by the supporters of Imithiaz Bakeer Marker. Do you hope to carry out a full probe into the incident and take disciplinary action against those involved?

A: Wait and see what is going to happen. There is no point in claiming various things and remaining without taking remedial measures. Discipline is very important for any organisation to go forward as a formidable force.

Therefore, the Executive Committee of the party has taken a decision to take disciplinary action against anybody who does not abide by the rules and regulations, irrespective of their positions in the party.

Q: You lost marginally to Sajith Premadasa at the election for the post of Deputy Leader of the party. Were you seriously interested or was it an instant decision?

A: It was a situation where everybody was sulking to contest and nervous of taking it on. In politics you have to accept challenges with confidence and with a mind of your own. In politics you have to show that you have a spine and take up anything for the sake of your party.

The approach displayed by many was shattered by this and the reality emerged with the results.

Q: With constant conflicts among the top runners of the party, do you think the UNP would return to power, even at a future election?

A: No, No. Please note that there is no problem at all. There is just one person with a handful of renegades whose voice has no bearing on the forward march of the party. I firmly believe that the leadership will take action soon to stop this nonsense.

If there is anyone who cannot march forward in the direction the party is heading, he/she should be checked forthwith. As the most responsible party in the island, we have to do a lot for the people and particularly for our membership. We owe our people a lot which has not been adequately dealt with during the recent past owing to these minor conflicts in the party.

Now everything is settled and we will launch a vigorous campaign to restore democracy in the country.

UNP re-organising

Q: Has the party re-organisational work already commenced?

A: It commenced many years ago, but every time there has been an election, problems of this nature have come up and the re-organisational activities are a continuous process in any vibrant party. This time we are engaged in the re-organisational activities with an assurance to our membership of forming a UNP government at the earliest available opportunity.

Q: There are some electorates where you have not appointed chief organisers. What is the reason for this undue delay?

A: No, we have appointed organisers to almost all electorates in three phases. A few more are to be appointed which will be done soon, before the end of March.

Q: The new National Organiser and the UNP Leader have said recently that they will come back to power by 2014. How can they be so confident of returning to power when there is no election round the corner?

A: No. It won't take that long. Fuel prices increased by 30-35 percent; electricity by 40 percent and milk powder by another substantial percentage. Everything else will go up and people will have to undergo various hardships in their day-to-day life. Only the salaries will not go up.

Q: What made you shift from Kotte to the Colombo North electorate? Have you already consolidated your position there?

A: It was a party decision since there was a visible erosion in the Colombo Municipal Council area. I proved myself at the last CMC election by winning the area comfortably for the party.

Q: It appears that you have problems with the Colombo Mayor on various issues.

A: No, not at all. Whatever minor differences we may have had been sorted out and now we work quite cordially. I have nothing personal against anybody and we discuss matters and arrive at amicable decision for the greater good of the party.

Q: Unless you project an entirely new image of the party, there cannot be any ray of hope of defeating the UPFA at the next election. Is there any blueprint for this? Is the party serious about getting back to power?

A: This is question which many UNP loyalists also ask us. That is why we are stunned as one or two people are playing to the agenda of the government and doing hypocritical things which affect the morale of the UNP. That is the problem.

When the entire party is marching in one direction, one person with a couple of renegades trying to go the other way only brings disrepute and disunity among the membership. That needs to be corrected. We are a loyal, solid and united party. You could see that at the protest on November 29.

It shows that there is a necessity among people for leadership which has to be given. Anybody who saps that morale needs to be taken to task.

We have a concerted plan, we have a team and we need to take that forward on behalf of the people and we will do that. Wishful thinking won't take you anywhere. You have to honestly demonstrate your desire to work for the needy and our party has done that in the past and presently our firm intention is to educate the people and mobilise them for a future election. Our party has withstood political tremors, undergone different kinds of misfortunes but displayed our capabilities and our caring attitudes towards people. We are quite positive that people are prepared to rally round the UNP as they are faced with various hardships.

13th Amendment

Q: What is your party's stand on the controversial 13th Amendment in the context of devolution of power? Do you want to strictly limit to the 13th Amendment or go beyond it?

A: Well, we have made ourselves clear. We have been stressing that there is a necessity for a political dialogue, necessity for a political discussion and necessity for a politically acceptable solution. Now, when that happens, what does the government say? The government says that the only way forward is the 13th Amendment. Who brought the 13th Amendment? It was

the UNP. This was introduced 25 years ago. After 25 years only, people have realised the validity and importance of the 13th Amendment. They should have the courtesy to accept that the UNP introduced it 25 years ago.

As a responsible Opposition, we will always support national issues, but we will not support if the Government head towards a dictatorship. While we have displayed our stand on the particular situation, we also called on the Government to appoint the LLRC. They have made their recommendations and now the government position should be adopted and implemented.

Q: There is evidence of possible move by the US and the United Kingdom at the forthcoming UN Human rights Sessions against Sri Lanka on accountability issues. Are you not duty-bound to support the government as it had crushed a terrorist organisation?

A: The government has not spoken to us on this issue as yet. We have not taken a document and gone to Geneva, as it happened in 1989. On national issues we are ready to extend our support. This is our country as well; it does not belong to one party or to a set of people. On this issue also, the Government is trying to defame and disrepute the Opposition as it had been

doing over the years.

Q: Are you attempting to gain political advantage of recent anti Government protests?

A: Now the time has come for us to mobilise the masses and gain power.

Q: The Government was compelled to increase fuel prices due to soaring crude oil prices in the world markets. Don't you think any county which does not have petroleum resources will have to face this bitter truth?

A: This is the miracle of Asia or Ascharyamath Sri Lanka. When the world petrol prices go up by 4 to 10 percent, there was no need to increase it more than that. The Government has increased all varieties of fuel by an unprecedented margin. See what has happened to the Rupee today?

Non-cooperative

Q: You were not very co-operative with the government even during the latter stages of the military operations against LTTE terrorism and never encouraged the Security Forces.

But now you visit Sarath Fonseka in jail very often and clamours for his release. What is the reason behind this exercise?

A: The question that you asked is mischievous because it is far from the truth. We supported the Armed Forces the best way possible when we were in the Opposition. We, as a responsible Opposition, can't keep our mouths shut. Fonseka was former Army Commander and he is in jail. We will do our best to get Fonseka released as early as possible.

Q: People say that your leader has got a new lease of life recently and has become unusually vibrant and attacking the government on every opportunity he gets and that if he had worked or acted like this during the past elections, he would have resurrected the party. What is the reason for his sudden change?

A: There is no change, his leadership was always there. There were three or four people who were dancing to the tune of the government agenda, making a noise and that was exposed during the recent months. Within the House, if you say there is a problem it automatically leads to a problem.

But all we want to show is that there is solidarity in the Opposition today, to work together to defeat the Government.

Our job is to protect the people and not the government. Some time they say the UNP hierarchy is helping the government, the next day they say we are in cahoots with something else. Finally, I would like to state that we are a vibrant, forceful and people-friendly Opposition which will carry out our duties to safeguard the interest of the entire nation.

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