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Dr. Thusitha Wijemanna, first woman PC Opposition Leader:

‘We maintain cordial relationship with ruling UPFA’

The Provincial Council system was introduced to Sri Lanka during J.R. Jayewardene's presidency in 1987 under the 13th Amendment amidst objections from various parties including some of his own party stalwarts. The main reason for setting up PCs was to find a solution to the North and East problem which had been dragging for years.

It is doubtful whether this purpose was served by the then merged North East provincial council which had only a short life-span and functioned under the Chief Ministership of Varatharajah Perumal who made a UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) and vanished from the country. However, all other Provincial Councils took firm root in the provincial administration and worked cordially with the Central government.

Provincial Council elections are held in all the provinces and there had been six PC elections since the system was introduced.

Elections for the Sabaragamuwa, North Central and Eastern provinces were held recently and there ruling UPFA retained power in all three councils. It had been observed that senior parliamentarians in both camps introduced their relatives into parliamentary politics through provincial councils and almost all the politicians of both main parties endorsed the PC system wholeheartedly.

The Sri Lanka Freedom party and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna vehemently rejected the PC system when it was introduced and refrained from even contesting the PC elections at the beginning.

However, later on, accepted it since it entailed perks, privileges and power in addition to providing service to the area and party supporters.

The Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council (SPC) was under UNP rule for three consecutive terms since its inception, but during the last two terms, was ruled by the UPFA under the Chief Ministership of Maheepala Herath.

After the UPFA's success at the recent PC election, Maheepala Herath was re appointed by the party hierarchy as the Chief Minister.

The United National Party reposed confidence on the highest scorer at the election from Kegalle district, Dr. Thusitha Wijemanna and appointed her Leader of the Opposition of the SPC, replacing the former leader A.A. Wijethunga from the Ratnapura district.

The Sabaragamuwa Province consists of two districts: Ratnapura and Kegalle and includes 17 electoral areas with a total population of over four million and close to three million registered voters.

The Sunday Observer had an exclusive interview with Dr. Thusitha Wijemanna, the new Opposition Leader of the SPC.

Excerpts of the interview:

Govt service

Q: You are a qualified medical officer attached to the government service and enjoying a good private practice as well. What made you take to politics?

A: yes, I worked for 10 years as a doctor in a number of hospitals in the province and thought I could provide a better service to the people in my area through politics. That is why I resigned from my job and took to politics. It doesn't mean that I have completely given up my profession. I still practise my profession and help the poor as often as I can. I do not practise this profession to amass wealth, but to enjoy myself and help the needy people in my area.

Q: Who is your political mentor?

A: Undoubtedly, its my father, who was a politician from my childhood. He was the Chairman of Ruwanwella Pradehsiya Sabha for a long time and UNP politics is in our blood. He worked closely with all UNP leaders of yesteryear.

I could still remember how he brought to the notice of party leaders, the problems faced by people in our area and sought redress for their grievances. So, I naturally developed a liking to politics.

Q: When did you enter active politics?

A: I first contested the Provincial Council elections in 2004 and emerged third from our party. At the 2008 Provincial Council elections, I was the first from the Kegalle district. In 2008 I was appointed Chief organiser of the party of the Provincial Council and I performed my duties to my fullest potential.

I was appointed chief organiser of the United National Party for the Ruwanwella electorate when former Minister Rukman Senanayake stepped down from active politics after the 2004 elections. Since then, I have been engaged in full time politics in the area.

I was also appointed as the president of the UNP's lak Vanitha movement of Kegalle district and still function in this position. I have taken various measures to garner the support of our rural members to the party.

In fragments

Q: It is quite evident that the United National Party is fragmented into a number of groups such as Ranil's group, Sajith's group, Karu's group etc. To which group do you belong?

A: Let me put the facts straight. There are no groups in our party. We are a united party and I belong to that party. Unscrupulous media institutions are making a desperate effort to create problems among our membership.

In any organisation, not only in a political party, the top leaders have their own confidants and loyal people who are very near and dear to them. It doesn't mean that the leaders are divided.

During the last PC elections, both Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa rendered their unstinted cooperation to me and all other candidates in the district. They never had any favourites. So how can you say there are various groups in the party?

Our leader is Ranil Wickremesinghe and deputy leader is Sajith Premadasa. I have equal respect for both of them. In any democratic political party there could be differences of opinion among the front-runners on certain political issues. It doesn't mean that they are divided.

I know there are some disgruntled political elements who are envy of our resurgence; they are engaged in a malicious campaign to tarnish our image. We are not worried, disturbed or bothered by such futile efforts.

Q: You are representing the Kegalle district. Ratnapura however, a bigger district than Kegalle and with a larger population. As the Opposition Leader of the Province, you are expected to coordinate and supervise the party activities in both districts on provincial level. How do you hope to do this?

A: All these years I have been maintaining a cordial relationship with all our party members in the Provincial Council as well as all local bodies and my senior members in parliament who represent both districts. I hope to work closely and more effectively with every one of them and am sure that I should be able to handle the affairs of my new post to the satisfaction of my party leaders and all other stakeholders.

Q: Do you have a comprehensive program or blueprint to revive the party in the province?

A: Well, the party development activities are conducted according to the guidelines provided by our party headquarters. We hope to go into the interior areas of both districts and identify the people's problems, obtain first-hand information and make a feasibility study on how we should strengthen the party at rural level.

We have already identified our lapses on certain matters and we shall not leave room in future for those to be repeated under any circumstances. We will educate the masses as to how the party policies would be effected under a future regime of ours.

Relationship with ruling party

Q: How is your relationship with the ruling party members of the Provincial Council including Chief Minister Maheepala Herath? Didn't you have any problems during the run-up to the election?

A: I would proudly say the relationship is very cordial. In fact, I have had many things done for my party supporters' through our Chief Minister Maheepala Herath during the last few years. We argue, disagree, oppose and debate on policy matters in the council, but we always maintain our dignity and remain as decent politicians outside the PC building.

Even during the run-up to the election, I didn't have any major problems except for petty issues such as somebody pasting a poster over mine, which are common in any election.

Q: Do you think that the PC system has achieved its target as far as the Sabaragamuwa PC is concerned?

A: I wouldn't say that it had fully accomplished its target, but you have to understand that a substantial amount of development activities had been carried out from its inception under both parties.

Q:What are your independent views on devolving Police and land powers to PCs?

A: It's a controversial issue. I personally feel that vesting land and Police powers to PCs could lead to a number of unprecedented problems. Moreover, it could lead to a rift between the PC and the Central Government.

Q: Some of the constituent parties of the Government are agitating for the abolishing of the 13th Amendment. What is your party's stand on this?

A: Our party's stand is very clear about the 13th amendment. Even the present government was talking about a 13+ sometime back. Why didn't these constituent parties agitate at that time? This is a political farce to suppress the burning issues of the day.

Q: As the very first woman leader of the opposition in a PC, you have already made a remarkable achievement. What have you got to say about it?

A: Well, I am proud about it and am grateful to the people in the Kegalle district and my party leader for making this achievement possible.

 

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