| by Dushyantha Kumara
Courtesy: The Daily Mirror, Colombo

( September 16, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Uva PC election is only a few days away. We sought the views of the UNP’s Chief Ministerial candidate Harin Fernando regarding his prospects and the election in general at a brief meeting with him.

Some people monitoring your election campaign in Uva opine that your efforts are more bent on promoting yourself rather than registering a victory for your political party. Isn’t it the real situation?

If my political aspirations were self-centred, I would not have quit the Parliament. I sacrificed my Parliamentary career and lots of privileges for the sake of the party. In fact, I have set an example to the others in my party. I have taken up a formidable challenge on behalf of my party. All my efforts are now concentrated on successfully meeting this challenge to add new vigour to my party.

The opposition says that they have suffered most from the violence unleashed on them. Government says that they have suffered much damage at the hands of opposition elements. Isn’t the opposition making allegations against the government in a bid to stage-manage a reason for the inevitable defeat in the offing?
I personally have not made the allegation that I had to face violence. The incidents that have occurred so far are typical of those that have become a regular feature in the run up to elections in our country. The more regrettable feature than election violence is the abuse and misuse of state-owned property and resources for electioneering by the government. Another corrupt practice being resorted to by the government is the blatant misuse of state-owned TV channels for propaganda purposes.

The long standing ‘cold war’ between Tissa Kuttiarachchi and Ranjith Madduma Bandara appears to have taken an active turn in the run up to the Uva PC election. Aren’t they bent on building up their power spheres at the expense of the party?
Clashes of this type are commonplace in political parties. Such feuding local party leaders are doing a disservice to their political parties.

During the election campaign, you told the people that Ranil and Sajith would appear together on the same stage to support your candidacy. They did appear together, not on the same election stage, but at the party’s anniversary celebrations…?
Ranil -Sajith duo as well as other stalwarts of our party are very active on the campaign trail in the province. They are addressing propaganda meetings in various parts of the province. They all are a great source of strength to me and I am grateful to them for the valuable contribution they are making towards my victory. Our party seniors are demonstrating team spirit and mutual understanding in party activity. This is a happy augury for the party.

People in Uva are suffering due to the scarcity of safe drinking water. The government is unable to find solutions to the pressing problems of the country’s peasantry for want of proper management in all sectors. Farmers don’t ask for big things; they want only water and fertilizer.

Our political parties usually engender a popular tide to win elections. The SLFP staged a grand show of their 62nd anniversary celebrations in Badulla. The UNP followed suit by staging their 68th anniversary celebrations in Passara. But isn’t the UNP reduced to such a pass, they have now to row upstream against a swift tide?
People in Badulla know well which party is now being taken to the goal of victory by the popular tide. Only 11,000 attended the ruling UPFA’s anniversary celebrations held in Badulla. These attendees were passengers transported by over 600 buses from all parts of the country. But our supporters that attended our anniversary celebrations from the Badulla district alone could match the entire turn-out at their celebrations. Their crowds were mostly those attracted by the liquor bottle and the meal packet. Our crowds attended on their own out of the loyalty for the party. Our celebrations were held in an esplanade three times the size of the ground where the SLFP held their celebrations. The esplanade where we held the celebrations was a sea of heads- it was filled to capacity. If there is such a popular backing for us, we don’t worry about swimming upstream, so to speak.

There was a time when the Uva province was under the UNP administration. Didn’t the present day problems of the province exist at that time? If you had identified those problems when you were in office, why didn’t you solve them then and there?
Our party held the administration of the Uva PC about 20 years ago. One going round the Uva Province today would invariably witness the achievements of the then UNP administration. Uva peasants even today talk about these achievements while working in paddy fields and Kamathas(paddy threshing grounds). People in Uva at that time had a Chief Minister who had been born and bred among them – not one transported from elsewhere. At least 95 percent of peasants in Uva have yet to see in person a Chief Minister called Shashindra Rajapaksa. The UNP’s Uva administration will herald a new re-awakening in the province. The UPFA administration has not done even half of what the UNP had accomplished for the people. I have come forward to solve the problems in the province that remain unsolved from the days of our administration as well as those new problems that have come into being for the last 20 years which the UPFA administration has miserably failed to address.

Would you mind briefly dwelling on your plan of action to address the problems of the people in Uva?
Uva is a comparatively large province in the country with an economy based on plantations and agriculture. The peasant adjudged the Best Farmer in the country also hails from Uva-Paranagama in Uva. The former Chief Minister did not take the trouble to meet this exemplary farmer during his tenure. We are committed to implementing a national programme aimed at protecting the farming community in the country. People in Uva are suffering due to the scarcity of safe drinking water. The government is unable to find solutions to the pressing problems of the country’s peasantry for want of proper management in all sectors. Farmers face issues that lead to assaults on their self-respect. Their means of livelihood are under threat. We have to enable the farmers and their children access new technology. Our first and foremost priority is to uplift the farmers. Developing schools in the district is another priority. School sports badly needs uplifting. We have to accomplish all that is necessary to elevate the children with sports skills hailing from schools in remote villages in Uva to the national level and to give them pride of place. Another urgent need is to provide vocational training to school drop-outs. There are problems in the health sector that require urgent solutions. Proper planning is more important than finding funding for the implementation of the relevant programmes. Kidney diseases are widely prevalent in Badulla and Mahiyangana areas possibly due to the widespread use of chemical fertilizer in these areas.

The former Chief Minister restored 170 Wewas (tanks) in Uva. He took the initiative to establish a department of Agriculture. How can you say that he had done nothing during his tenure?
What he has done is confined to reports. Rehabilitation of tanks may have been planned. But the funds sanctioned for such projects may have gone into pockets of some people. If the tanks were rebuilt, why should peasants complain that they have no water when we visit their villages? Even the Uma Oya has been diverted to provide water to Hambantota district. Farmers in Uva are suffering as there has been no proper management of water resources. These pressing problems require urgent solutions.

Victory in Uva would be a great moral boost for the supporters of the UNP which lost a number of elections in a row. Former president D.B. Wijetunga once remarked that the Uva contest for the Alliance and the UNP would be a battle on a rock. What have you got to say about this?
I believe that the result of this election will mark a historic landmark in the political history of this country. All eyes in the country are focused on this election. I hope that the people of Uva will give a historic verdict decisive for the future of our party and the country. It was the people of Uva who gave the leadership to the Uva-Wellassa rebellion against the British rulers. I believe that the descendants of such a heroic people in Uva will mete out justice to a political party committed to uplifting their standard of living. I had some misgivings about my decision at the time I quit Parliament. I felt the brunt of a formidable challenge. But I harbour no such misgivings now. People in Uva have placed their trust in me. I solemnly pledge the people of Uva to herald a much better tomorrow for their children and develop this province into a prosperous area in the country. Our political party is no longer crisis-ridden. We have now embarked on a new journey. Our victory is certain.