There’s a groundswell of opinion in favour of change: Hakeem

By Satarupa Bhattacharjya

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) chief Rauff Hakeem by his own admission has been a key negotiator between Tamil and Muslim political parties in their attempts to form the multiparty United National Front (UNF). The UNF, he said, will win the 2010 Presidential election due to a groundswell of opinion in favour of change in the country’s political leadership.

In an interview to the Sunday Times this week, Mr. Hakeem described the executive presidency as an over-powerful institution which, he said, was no longer necessary in Sri Lanka. As such the UNF’s candidate for presidency - recently retired General Sarath Fonseka – could be the catalyst of change, Mr. Hakeem added. Excerpts:

A few days ago you along with leaders of other political parties representing the country’s minorities met in Zurich city. What did you discuss?

I have been involved in talks with Tamil and Muslim political parties for some time now in a bid to persuade them to work out a common minimum programme. The need for such a programme is imminent keeping in mind the aimless drift in the cause to find a lasting solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem.

At the meeting in Zurich, where even ministers of the Sri Lankan government were present, we primarily discussed matters pertaining to relief and resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of the northern districts and the need for political consolidation among parties representing minorities. The meeting was facilitated by the foreign affairs ministry of Switzerland.

Many participants have so far held remarkably different or even opposing views on how the country’s ethnic problem should be addressed. Was the meeting meaningful?

To begin with, I would say, it was a rare phenomenon to get all the parties together on one platform. There are extreme views among the parties on many subjects including on the core issue of struggle for political rights of the minorities.

At the conference we tried to iron out many issues of contention among ourselves. Independent experts on conflict resolution were also present to help us. I would call the meeting meaningful because we have initiated the process of building consensus on matters relating to minorities. We managed to make a brief declaration of our intentions and put forward an option paper for continued dialogue among the concerned parties.

What about the Muslims who have been living in government camps on the west coast for the past 20 years, after the LTTE chased them away from the north?

Yes, this matter was also discussed in Zurich. Around 125,000 Muslims who were displaced from the north by the LTTE have become long-term IDPs. There has been no concrete government plan to resettle them in their places of origin since the war ended in May. This issue is beset with complication because of the many years that have lapsed.

Did you discuss the up coming Presidential election?

Current political developments in Sri Lanka were discussed on the sidelines of the Zurich conference. It was an occasion where we tried to feel one another’s pulse.

And, you returned to Colombo to find retired general Sarath Fonseka emerge as the Oppositions’ candidate for presidency. Do you think he is a strong contender?

The general’s comments to the media in the past have been perceived by many in the Opposition camp as being both controversial and objectionable. Even I for one felt that he should not have said certain things which he was quoted (in the press) as saying earlier.

The SLMC and other parties in the UNF have been discussing such issues with him and I believe that he understands where we stand. I feel he is a strong contender for the post of President because he is a man of conviction.

Will the minorities vote for him?

To vote for the general may be a tough call for the minorities but I think they will also see the UNF’s reason behind projecting him as the common candidate. We have been advocating the need for change in the country’s political leadership and voters from minority communities will understand this. The over powerful institution of executive presidency is something which is no longer needed in Sri Lanka. We want a new model of government and Fonseka could be the catalyst of change.

Do you think he will rise to the role of a civilian leader?

Fonseka is used to a life of regimentation which could be a good thing for politics and public life. We too entered politics from different backgrounds and went through transitions. Our families went through transitions. I think the same will happen with Fonseka.

Why did you choose him over former Prime Minister and United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the UNF’s presidential candidate?

Ranil Wickremesinghe has been gracious enough to endorse Fonseka as the UNF’s common candidate for the post of President. After considering the present political climate, the SLMC and many other constituents of the UNF felt that we could be a formidable force in the election by having a war hero on our side. Fonseka had promised that he would end the war and he delivered. Besides, having the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) on board would not have been possible if Wickremesinghe had been made the UNF candidate.

Why should people vote for the UNF when President Mahinda Rajapaksa is being credited with having ended the war?

The people of this country will soon see through this facade of bravado. There has been extreme corruption and abuse of power in the last four years of the Rajapaksa rule and dynastic politics has been taken to absurd levels. The UNF will win the coming election due to a groundswell of opinion in favour of change.

Top to the page  |  E-mail  |  views[1]
Other News Articles
Pillayan withholds support for President
Commonwealth venue: Govt. launches counteroffensive
TNA looking at options
5 candidates in the fray
Buttala crash: High-level probe on what went wrong
Crashlanding in the East
Under the bridge Lankans facing health problems
Obeysekera case: AG appeals against acquittal of accused
General Fonseka demands enhanced security in fundamental rights petition
Education Ministry officials express displeasure at school closure
School re-opening requires clearance says CP Governor
Indian Media Minister promotes Lankan-style self regulation
A/H1N1: With upcoming poll, health officials warn of public gatherings
There’s a groundswell of opinion in favour of change: Hakeem
Devolution under 13th Amendment insufficient
Support for Palestine group affirms right to freedom
OMI golden jubilee to be celebrated in Kandy
Talk at the Cafe Spectator
Little change in essential food prices despite tax cuts
IDPs free to leave camp from Tuesday
Mother of all presidential battles
Gearing up for the election
Sifting boat people evidence for LTTE links
Lawyers want 17th Amendment implemented
Sinhala one of the world’s most creative scripts


Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and a link to the source page.
© Copyright 2009 | Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved.| Site best viewed in IE ver 6.0 @ 1024 x 768 resolution