UNP cannot celebrate May Day ignoring Premadasa commemoration -
Imthiyaz Bakeer Markar
Imthiyaz Bakeer Markar, a former Media minister in the 2001-2003 UNP
Government, is a popular political figure among Muslim, Tamil and
Sinhalese voters alike. The Sunday Observer met him last week to inquire
about his future political career with news circulating that he has
disowned active politics and has declared that he will not be contesting
any future elections.
Imthiyaz Bakeer Markar.
Pic: Rukmal Gamage
Q: What is your ties with your party now?
A: When Ranjith Madduma Bandara was appointed National
Organiser, the doors of the executive - committee were closed on me. I
was stripped off all the positions I held within the UNP. But I am not
interested in positions. I will work according to my conscience. And
that is enough for me to be happy. I do what is right and good for the
country and my party.
Q: What have you been doing lately?
A: I have begun addressing UNP supporters in an islandwide
campaign to create awareness. The objective is to salvage the party from
its current predicament. Never before in the history have we recorded
such a humiliating defeat, to this extent and unfortunate depths. As a
person who cares, I cannot remain idle and let it be destroyed. My
efforts will be for the future of the party and the country. I want to
do the maximum within my power to salvage UNP.
Q: You have declared that you will not be contesting any
elections in the future. What prompted you to take such a decision?
A: I took that decision, when I became a project minister from
a state minister. My father had contested from Beruwala since 1946. I
followed in his footsteps. We have been contesting and representing the
Beruwala people for 50 years. It was a decision taken after listening to
my conscience. I felt someone new must be given the opportunity to
represent the people of Beruwala. I wanted to step down and clear the
path for a newcomer before my voters grew tired of me.
When I was promoted as project minister I had the confidence that the
UNP was going to win the next election and after that I would be
appointed a Cabinet minister. I took that decision to let the other
candidates to come up. It was not a hasty decision.
Q: You are still a popular politician. Don't you think the
voters will feel abandoned?
A: That is not how I see it. We need to move away from family
politics. I felt strongly that I have to allow others to shine. You need
not go to parliament to serve people. Numerous other ways are there for
someone who is genuinely interested in serving people, to do so.
Q: Is that an implication that Imthiyaz Bakeer Markar will not
be seen in parliament if a UNP Government is elected in the future?
A: Yes. Parliament is not a priority for me. But I will
certainly be within the Party's organising structure and make my best
effort to restore UNP's lost glory. Therefore, my work within the party
Q: The two factions of the UNP seem to be in a row over
holding of the May Day rally, with the party leadership announcing
Jaffna as the venue while the Sajith faction seems to be asking people
to join Premadasa Commemoration in Colombo?
A: The UNP is holding just one May day rally. I think that is
I don't hold any position in the party Executive-Committee; therefore
I cannot make an official statement on behalf of the party. What is
organised in Colombo is the usual event, the President Premadasa
commemoration. We don't need to fight over these two events, people can
participate in the event that is most convenient to them. Let it be the
decision of the party supporters.
Q: But there seem to be an apparent opposition from the party
leadership to the Colombo event. This is obvious by the way that
conditions are being imposed on party organisers.
A: That is most unfortunate. If you feel that the party is
trying to block the President Premadasa commemoration from being
successfully held, that they are making attempts to sabotage it,
imposing conditions to deter supporters, I feel that is most
unfortunate. The party is going to benefit if the event is held as
planned and if it becomes successful.
On the other hand the UNP cannot celebrate May Day forgetting
Premadasa Commemoration. He was assassinated by the terrorists when he
was actively engaged in organizing the UNP rally. He was never a leader
to arrive in time for garlands. We lost him because of his true
policies. He believed people came first and his security could assume
the second place.
Q: In your opinion, why did the party take a decision to hold
UNP rally in Jaffna, is it because the party has lost badly in the South
or because people there seem to be willing to listen to the UNP?
A: I don't know how or why the ex-co concluded that the May
Day rally this year should be held in Jaffna. I cannot comment on the
basis of their decision. I am not in a position to do so. It is not
clear if they consulted the UNP trade unions, or the membership at the
grass roots before the Jaffna venue was selected. Their objectives too
are unknown to me. But one thing has to be understood, the message that
you intend to carry to the masses by way of choosing a particular area
for May Day rally, is as equally important as the message you propagate
via party policies, the mindset, our actions and our statements in
These are paramount in winning the confidence of communities. The
UNP, as a popular right wing political party always commanded the faith
of minority communities. This was true since 1950s when minority voters
in the North helped UNP candidate Nadesan to enter parliament defeating
Federal Party leader S. Chelvanayagam. They did not believe in racial
politics. They had faith in the UNP.
But by 1956, there was a setback since the party was overshadowed by
rising extremism. The UNP too was carried away by this black tide,
adopted 'Sinhala only policy'. I have seen with the report containing
the speech Nadesan made at the UNP ex-co subsequently. I am sure he
would have made that speech with tears in his eyes. He said, 'as one of
the founding members of the UNP, I cannot be happy at the way it has
been deprived of its founding policies. If I remain within the party
under the current state of affairs, I will become a traitor in the eyes
of my supporters.' That was the beginning of the racial politics in Sri
People can't be won over by the venue you hold a rally. The yardstick
to judge a party is by the way you make your contribution in resolving a
national issue. These are the things the UNP must address.
Q: Although they try to show solidarity with Northern people,
the UNP is not participating in the Parliamentary Select Committee that
discusses a solution to the issues of the North East people?
A: True, but the Government should also be genuine in their
There will not be long life to this initiative if their aim is not
Our people are not gullible; they are intelligent, unlike other
countries, we had been enjoying franchise right since 1930s. The
ex-leaders of the UNP D.S. Senanayake, C.W.W. Kannangara, A. Ratnayake
and T.B. Jayah, R. Premadasa were the people who gave this country the
free education, free health service, free housing projects, Janasaviya,
free text books and uniform material. There is a big question why a new
PSC is needed.
There had been committees, APRC of Prof. Tissa Vitharana, LLRC; why
do we need more committees. We could implement their recommendations.
Q: UNP is currently factionalised beyond any hope of near
revival. Do you believe the party can still pose a challenge to the
A: The Government has been successful in fractionalising the
UNP. The same plight has befallen the SLMC, JVP, Tamil parties and
A good section of party supporters know this internal strife is a
creation of outside elements. That is why we want to find a leader who
is genuinely interested in leading the party to victory and not dance to
the tune of external forces. This is not an issue of personalities, it
is a problem that concerns the party's policies as a whole and its
current course of direction which majority think is not right.
The UNP leader has linked the party with an international
organisation which herald extreme rightist, neo liberal politicies.
Some of the other members of this alliance are US's Republican Party,
Sarkosy's party in France, Christian Democratic Party and Conservative
Party in England. Such actions have far reaching consequences, this is
not the path the past leaders of the UNP has taken. This allegiance
could only contribute to our downfall. Almost all the other parties
within this alliance are riddled with crises.
They are against pro-people policies. I can't understand why the
leadership reckons it is important to join forces with them.
Our struggle within the party is over three issues. One is to restore
internal democracy, second to thrust the party back into its original
socialist democratic course, that has secured us electoral victories in
In any democratic party, when a leader loses one or two elections, he
choses to step down and make way for a new face. We saw this change in
UK. When Labour party lost elections Gordon Brown stepped down and
groomed Tony Blair. Then a new labour policy was adopted and this change
steered the party into a landslide victory. Then again the Conservatives
did the same. We have examples also in Australia, New Zealand, etc. The
leaders who stepped down remained within the party, they were not
banished. Our third intention is to make this change within UNP.
Some of the Sri Lankan political leaders think we still have a feudal
system, that the country is theirs to control and the parties belong to
them. We have to change from this mind set. The struggle within UNP is
against these undemocratic forces. We want the leadership to listen to
the voice of the party supporters and the voters.
Q: Isn't there a legal procedure in line with the party
constitution to change leadership?
A: We are taking all that is possible within the legal
parameters. But there is a handful of people, that represent the elite
class, who do not feel the pulse of the people. This elite do not want
to loosen their grip and let go. Ours is a party who set golden
examples. A person like Premadasa became the first citizen of the
country, due to these independent policies. Only people from certain
cast were able to ascend to Presidency before that. All these barriers
were broken by the UNP. We must once again go back to that era.
Q: One allegation against Sajith is that he is not politically
matured to take up the leadership?
A: That is not a reason for Ranil Wickremesinghe to hold on to
power. It is not a matter if the next leader is Sajith or Karu. The
opposition leader has to realise what people demand. How old was
President Obama when he was elected. David Cameron was just a London
Economic School graduate.
We must command at least 33 percent of Sinhalese Buddhist votes. We
cannot win elections only by the minority votes. This is the reality.
We have been unable to get even 20 percent in Sinhala Buddhist
dominated areas under the present leader. Hence we no longer can allow
him to be a burden to the party.
Q: Why can't you join forces with the present leadership?
A: When we come to an agreement, you have to abide by that.
When the opposition leader agreed to appoint Sajith Premadasa as the
Deputy Leader he agreed to consult him in every key decision that
concerns the party but that pledge has not been honoured.
He is trying to artificially groom another Wijewardena.
He is a good person but leaders cannot be appointed by someone, they
have to be elected by people's choice. That is what we are fighting for.
UNP Leader has to be honest with his actions.
In view of the Dambulla issue Sajith Premadasa and even Janaka
Bandara Tennakoon has taken strong stands eventhough, as Sinhala
Buddhist politicians they may be risking their future. Those I see as
leadership qualities. When there is a critical issue, a leader should
not hide behind others or party statements, he must come out and express
his views and make known his stand.
Q: Is it possible if Ranil Wickremesinghe refuse to step down
the party would split?
A: I don't want to think of that possibility yet. It is not a
joke if people refuse a leader for 20 straight years.
Q: What is actually the issue with Dambulla mosque. It is
claimed that this is an unauthorised building?
A: If it was an unauthorised building, there are legal
procedures to be followed to take action. According to the Muslim people
this mosque had been there since 1963 and before that as a place of
worship. Min Janaka Bandara says the place had been there at the time he
was born also. This issue should not be allowed to grow into such an
unpleasant state. The psychological impact would then be hard to erase.
Right thinking Sinhala crowd is against the removal of this place.
That is a consolation. A small percentage of every community involve
in these type of actions, their reasons vary from power, business needs
to rivalry in the profession.
In Sri Lanka the majority of people are not driven by racial factors.
This is why I cannot beat Tilak Karunaratne in Kalutara district and be
the first in the preferential list although the vast majority of the
people in Kalutara are Muslims. The voters don't hold communal feelings
when in an election booth.
Those who abide by Buddhist teachings will not discriminate others.
In Syria there is this famous Umayyad Mosque where the mosque and a
Christian church stand side by side. When the previous Pope visited
Damascus a common service by the Muslims and the Christians were held in
his honour and they prayed to a common god. This is a beautiful message
the world has given us.