Health Minister speaks on Gotabaya candidacy | Sunday Observer

Health Minister speaks on Gotabaya candidacy

Health Minister Dr.Rajitha Senaratne
Health Minister Dr.Rajitha Senaratne

Health Minister Dr.Rajitha Senaratne said the UNP is all out to muster the support of political parties and civil organizations to launch a broad Political Alliance at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium on August 05, so as to ensure the victory of all progressives at the forthcoming Presidential Election. “So far, we have not reached consensus on a Presidential Candidate. The Alliance will decide on the Presidential Candidate in due course.” In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Dr. Senaratne said the stakeholders will get together and put forward the best candidate who will surely win the election.

He said, “If we are really united in our approach with no divisions in our ranks, we will certainly win the Presidential Election.”

Q: Since a new political Alliance led by the UNP will be set up to contest the upcoming Presidential Election, who are the main stakeholders of this new political Alliance?

A: The new political Alliance represents the present stakeholders of the United National Front (UNF) plus there will be some other political parties or their members who will join it later. They are waiting until this broad political Alliance is formed. In addition, more than 100 civil organisations will also join this Alliance as they were frustrated with the incumbent Government after 2015. However, they all agree to support an Alliance with a new program.

Q: What would be the structure of the new political Alliance? Does it represent all communities such as Tamils, Muslims and so on?

A: Yes. The Alliance consists of all main political parties including certain Tamil and Muslim minority parties as well. According to the structure, there will be no single leader but there will be a Leadership Council where the UNP will be given 50 percent plus one. Even in the Executive Committee, over 50 percent will be represented by the UNP with about 50 members. There will be a new office and office bearers. This Alliance is to attract the voters who are not ready to join the UNP but to join an Alliance with a different name, symbol and a policy framework.

Q: Have you already reached consensus in selecting the Presidential Candidate?

A: Once the Alliance is formed, the Presidential candidate will contest from this Alliance. Even our rival camp is going to contest from an Alliance. Therefore, it will be the Alliance which will decide on the Presidential Candidate. So far, we have not reached any consensus in selecting a candidate. First we have to form the Alliance. After that there are other parties who will also join the Alliance. We have to discuss with them also and then decide the candidate. After August 05, there will be many discussions on the Presidential Candidate.

Q: Does the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) possess the potential to form an Alliance against the UNP led political Alliance?

A: The Alliance they formed has become a flop. Even the constituent parties who are with them boycotted the function at which the MoU was signed with some political parties. Some minority parties which don’t have any representation in the country signed the MoU with the SLPP. The UNP led Alliance is far bigger and broader than the SLPP alliance.

Q: Will you field a Common Candidate or a UNP candidate?

A: There should be a Common Candidate who can win the election not as a UNP candidate because a party candidate can never win. Even at the last Presidential Election, it was not a UNP candidate. Even in 2005, the UNP didn’t field its own candidate. They were those who came from outside and contested as Common Candidates. Sometimes, the candidate may be a UNPer but it has to be decided by the Alliance. It may be a UNPer who can win the election and become the President. However, it is immaterial who the person is.

Q: Is it correct to say that a committee has been appointed comprising Ministers Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Ruwan Wijewardene, MP Mujibur Rahuman and yourself to organise the election campaign?

A: Of course, but it is not for the election campaign. A committee was appointed comprising these persons to lead the propaganda campaign. We have already launched our election campaign. The formation of the new political Alliance is the initial step of our propaganda campaign to bring all organisations under one umbrella to face the rival candidate. The new political Alliance will be launched at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium on August 05 at 10.00 am. We have also decided to organise a bigger rally at Galle Face Green , to be held by the end of this month.

Q: Do you think former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa entering the fray is a formidable challenge to the UNP’s Presidential Candidate?

A: If Gotabaya Rajapaksa contests as the SLPP Presidential Candidate, Muslims and Tamils will never vote for him. This means he will lose nearly 30 percent of the vote. We have another 20 to 25 percent of the vote. Within that 25 percent, we have to get the balance 25 percent from the majority 70 percent.

Q: Have any SLFP MPs agreed to join the broad political Alliance to be launched by the UNP?

A: Yes. They have already discussed it with us. There will be a lot of changes and that is why we have moved a motion in Parliament to create a National Government again. Some SLFP MPs who have aligned with the President will also join hands with us. Some might join as a party while others will join as individuals.

Q: Many UNP party seniors including Minister Kabir Hashim have proposed that Minister Sajith Premadasa should be their Presidential Candidate. Your comments?

A: We will decide that issue collectively. There is no problem about any particular person. Whoever who can win the election will be selected collectively with the consent of all parties coming under the purview of the Alliance. We should also discuss with the TNA because they command the Northern vote as well as the Muslim parties in the Eastern Province and Tamil parties in the upcountry. Who the candidate is, is immaterial. We all will get together and put forward the best candidate who can win the election.

Q: Is there any truth in the media reports that the Prime Minister has decided to seek the views of the constituent parties in the United National Front on the Presidential Candidate?

A: All that will be done after the formation of the new political Alliance on August 05.

Q: Are you confident that you will be voted back to power again?

A: Definitely, we will win the election if we go united without any division in our camp.

Q: Some constituent parties in the UNF such as SLMC have said that they will take a decision only after the Presidential Candidate is announced. Could you explain?

A: The selection of Presidential Candidate is not a political decision but it is centered on the most popular candidate. First we have to take the political decision on what we should do in the future. Secondly, we have to decide as to who is the most popular candidate who can win all segments of votes and achieve victory.

Q: It seems there is a division in the Joint Opposition camp and SLFP seniors like MP Kumara Welgama has already expressed his opposition against fielding Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Presidential Candidate. Your comments?

A: There are lots of people who are not ready to support Gotabaya Rajapaksa because they feel that if he gets elected it will be a sort of ‘Army Government’. Even last time, he appointed ex-Army personnel as electoral organisers. Even all his campaign masters are such Army people. That shows that he will be an Army leader, not a political leader if he takes command of their Alliance.

Q: At present talks are going on between the SLFP and SLPP to form a broad political Alliance. Do you think such discussions will ever come to fruition?

A: To my knowledge, those talks are almost abandoned because the SLFP seniors say they will never join the SLPP. I don’t think both these parties will be able to reach consensus.

Q: Most people hold the view that the need of the hour is a full fledged leader not a mere Presidential Candidate, someone who can take the country forward. Your views?

A: That is what we also feel. Now we have elected so many popular leaders. With those leaders also, the country degenerated. So we need a leader with a far-sighted vision who can unite all segments in pursuit of national development.

Q: As a senior politician could you indicate any priority issues the next President should address once he assumed office?

A: The main issue is the misunderstanding among nationalities. We have to have a strong leader who will go into the problems relating to every community and bring all communities under one umbrella giving them their due dignity, respect and equal space in the society. The new President should also give priority to develop the economy and accelerate the ongoing development plans and provide solutions to unemployment.

Q: At present divergent views are expressed on the ongoing Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday attacks. Do you think the PSC could really help bring those who are held responsible for this disaster to book and provide redress to the victims?

A: Those who once criticized the PSC now believe it is conducting its affairs properly and independently. Of course, the PSC is holding a very good inquiry on what really happened and as a result lots of things are coming to light. This will lead to a very good opinion and we can eventually advise the Government on what course of action is to be adopted. 

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