by Rathindra Kuruwita
United National Party (UNP) Gampaha district MP Karu Jayasuriya spoke to LAKBIMAnEWS about his participation at the R. Premadasa memorial meeting on May 1, his attempts at maintaining party unity and the display of the LTTE flag during the UNP rally in Jaffna.
Question: You were the United National Party (UNP) deputy leader until a few months ago and one of the party’s most senior MPs. Why did you not attend the UNP May Day rally in Jaffna, and was this an attempt on your part to belittle an event organized by Ranil Wickremesinghe?
Answer: First of all I have to say that the Premadasa memorial was not an attempt to compete with the party’s May Day rally in Jaffna, nor was it a show of strength – as an attempt to say we can bring in a much larger crowd than that at the Jaffna rally.
Let me speak about my involvement with the Ranasinghe Premadasa memorials. I am the chairman of the Ranasinghe Premadasa Commemoration Committee and have been involved with it from the mid 90s at the invitation of the family. I have always been an active participant/organizer of previous memorial events, and I must add that this is not a new event. We have been commemorating it since the death of the late President Premadasa.
Traditionally, the memorial is held in the morning with the participation of UNP leaders, family members and a few thousand UNP supporters, while the UNP May Day rally is held in the afternoon in Colombo or the suburbs. That way, people could participate in both events. However, this tradition changed last year when Ranil Wickremesinghe decided to hold the rally in Bandarawela. I informed the party that I will not be able to attend, since I have to be present at the Premadasa memorial.
You said that you did not attend the May Day rally last year as well. But there was no such controversy then?
What happened this time is that the UNP leadership made it mandatory for the members to participate in the Jaffna May Day rally, and that triggered a series of events which made the matter a great controversy. In addition, there was an attempt to show that the Premasada memorial was an attempt to compete with the main party event, a claim we have denied from the beginning.
The fact that the leadership made it mandatory for us to attend the Jaffna event left many of us in a dilemma. On the one hand it would have been ungrateful not to attend the Premadasa memorial, to commemorate a man who sacrificed his life in a rally held to celebrate the working class, while on the other, there was an indirect threat of action against you if you did not attend the rally in Jaffna
What will you do if disciplinary action is taken against you? Although you say that the Premadasa memorial was not held in competition with the main rally, why did you hold it in the evening when it was held in the morning on previous occasions?
There has been no action taken against anyone who attended the memorial, as yet. We will have to see what happens.
As for the second question, we had to hold it in the evening due to two reasons. First, there were a number of requests from many affiliated bodies and supporters to hold the Premadasa memorial on a grand scale.
Second, there have been continuous complaints by outstation party members stating that when the Premadasa memorial is held at 8.30 a.m. it makes it impossible for them to attend it.
After careful deliberation, the organizing committee decided to accede to both requests, and for six to eight weeks we have been organizing this event, and trying to overcome great difficulties placed before us by various parties.
The fact that around 25,000 people attended the memorial at a time when we are not in power, and attempts were made by sections of the party itself to sabotage the event, I think gives everyone a clear message. The people want us to remember our roots and they want us to unite and ensure we capture power.
You have been speaking of party unity for years. When you contested the party leadership you emphasized the need to unite all factions. However, it seems that the UNP is getting more factionalized and fragmented
I have always reiterated that the UNP leaders should think about the thousands of our supporters who have been victimized by the administrations led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) since 1994. Many of our supporters have lost their jobs, others have been given ad hoc transfers, thousands of businessmen who supported us are being harassed and people are sick and tired of the fighting among ourselves.
They want us to unite and form a UNP administration as soon as possible.
Some may say that my attempts have fallen on deaf ears. I also had to pay a price for my attempts to unite the UNP. I am no longer an office bearer or a member of the Working Committee, but I am not disappointed. And I believe that there is now a greater push towards uniting the party which was evident from the views expressed by everyone who spoke at the Premadasa memorial.
What do you think about the allegations levelled by the government stating that there were men who were carrying LTTE flags at the UNP rally held in Jaffna?
I cannot comment on that since I was not there. However, the general secretary of the UNP has issued a statement highlighting the party’s stance.
You have attempted to usher in a Freedom of Information Bill to Parliament a few times without success. When the government rejected the Bill they stated that they are to present a Freedom of Information Act. What is the current status?
That was a promise given by the government a few years ago and so far nothing has been done. The way things are going I doubt the government would want to take a more transparent route. Therefore I am planning to present a Freedom of Information Bill in parliament soon. courtesy: LakbimaNews