Official talks with UNP early next year | Sunday Observer

Official talks with UNP early next year

27 December, 2020

Former UNP General Secretary and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya National Organiser Tissa Attanayake in an interview with the Sunday Observer talks of his party’s ambitions for 2021.

Q. What are the Samagi Jana Balawegaya’s key plans for 2021?

A. Our main aim is to strengthen our network in the grassroots and build our political force. For this we have already completed the groundwork. We enacted our new party constitution on Saturday, December 19. Our focus is the 2024 Presidential election. In between we have to face two hurdles, the Provincial Council elections and the Local Government elections.

We expect the Provincial Council elections to be held mid next year, and according to our predictions the Local Government elections would be scheduled by mid 2022.

Therefore, we plan to form a broad coalition – Samagi Jana Sanvidanaya – before these two crucial elections.

Q. Are you certain that these two elections will be held in 2021 and 2022 given that the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to have its worst effects on the country next year?

A. The country will not be in a better footing next year, due to Covid-19 setbacks. The economy is collapsing. The Government seems to have no plans to overcome these new challenges. The single most important factor of Budget 2021 should have been to salvage the economy. We don’t see any important short term plans that should have entailed next year’s Budget.

I’m talking about reviving the tourism industry, the lost income of our workers in Europe and the Middle East as well as the export revenue. The Government did not set out strategies to address these issues in the budget proposals.

The gravity of the situation created by the world pandemic will be felt by the end of 2021. We hear that economic growth has dropped to minus figures. Of course it is due to global conditions, but these figures are extremely worrying. One can argue that it is beyond the government’s control, that all countries are affected by Covid-19. But a government must put forth measures to overcome the predicaments and stand up.

We will see a dangerous hike in the cost-of-living, inflation and unemployment. This is not wishful thinking, we do not take pleasure in people’s miseries. We seek more, active intervention, more precautions by the government to avoid or minimise the effects of Covid-19 on the country and its people. But we are preparing for the elections.

Q. What was the need to have a new party constitution for the SJB?

A. We had to form a new party hastily to face the general election last year. So it was Ape Jathika Peramuna, that did the trick. We changed the office-bearers and made it our own in February, to face the election to be held in March 2019.

Yet it was an old party and the constitution was outdated. We needed to upgrade the constitution to attune it with the present needs. The whole structure needed to be overhauled to appoint new office-bearers, etc. This is the underlying reason. The new constitution was enacted after lengthy discussions with SJB parliamentarians and ex-MPs, activists and other organisations linked to the party. The new constitution was passed unanimously at the last ‘Bala Mandala’ meeting in Bandarawela.

Q. What is the next step?

A. The new constitution compels us to appoint new office-bearers, the working committee and the management board. Thereafter, we have to appoint district organisers and district boards. Finally we have to create organisations at polling station level.

For 2021, we need to reorganise and boost our membership. We will have a handful with these tasks in the New Year. In keeping with the new constitution, we must first appoint the working committee and the management board.

Q. The UNP is to appoint a new party leader next year, will you have formal talks to team up with the green party after the new UNP leadership assumes office?

A. Not just with the UNP, but we have decided to form a broad alliance with the parties who worked with us at the last two elections. These parties are not part of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, hence we need to formalise our alliance.

This new ‘joint force’ will give us directions to work together as a team. The party leader nominated a ten member team including the party General Secretary and national organiser, to discuss with the other parties the modalities of our union.

The second step is to have discussions with the UNP. Frankly, the UNP must realise that their future will depend on this - coming together as a joint force with the SJB.

It is up to them to make a final decision but we will not wait long, we will get the support of the grassroots UNP leaders as we move on, restructuring our lowest strata under the Api Dinamu program.

Q. Have you any set timeframe to begin discussions with the UNP?

A. No such set timetable but we would be happy if they will take the initiative and expedite the process. Before the official talks begin, SJB leader Sajith Premadasa reached out to the seniors in the party to convince them of the importance of this move.I believe some positive development would be witnessed early next year, before the Provincial Council elections.

Q. Former JHU leader Patali Champika Ranawaka, recently withdrew from the JHU and invited the Opposition and other parties to form a broad alliance, what is your stance on this call?

A. He has expressed interest to join the Samagi Jana Peramuna. That was the reason he stepped down from the JHU. We had discussions with him, and are yet to come to an agreement as to what type of contribution he could make in our future coalition and the responsibilities that will be vested in him. There will be others who want to join us, their seniority and talent will be considered when giving them responsibilities.