By Waruni Karunarathne
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) is among the minority political parties that joined forces with the United National Party (UNP) led alliance to contest the upcoming general election. SLMC General Secretary Hasan Ali said that they are ready to accept a government that is willing to give an alternative solution to address the concerns of the Muslims in the Ampara district
Q. On what grounds did the SLMC join the UNP led alliance?
A. We have decided to join the UNP led alliance with the same intentions following the presidential election held in January. President Maithripala Sirisena was given a mandate by the people to establish good governance and eradicate corruption and various other misconducts. During the interim period, we could not achieve those objectives fully as the 225 members of the parliament remained intact even though the president changed. Even though most of the MPs lost their electorate, they still maintained their clout in parliament and they brought all sorts of pressure on the new president. The idea of good governance could not be established fully. They did not even allow the interim budget to be passed in parliament.
They brought lot of pressure on us when we were trying to pass the 19th Amendment. They presented various conditions and it took more time to pass the resolution and the 20th Amendment suffered the same fate. That is the reason why the general election also came in between. The President had to declare the election without getting the 20th Amendment passed in parliament in a hurry. This general election is a continuation of the presidential election.
We need a strong government in the country that falls in line with the President’s mandate. That is why this new alliance was formed. We are all under one umbrella to achieve those targets.
Q. Is the SLMC content with the number of candidates fielded under the UNP ticket?
A. Yes. We had a small set back in the Kurunegala district. One of our candidates was not included in the list, at the last minute. His name was removed and was replaced with another candidate. We have already started negotiating with the prime minister and we are sure to find some remedies to that.
Q. Does that mean you are seeking one extra seat for the SLMC in the national list?
A. Yes. They will have to give a clear answer for that. We are negotiating that.
Q. The UNP already has a Muslim representation of their own and the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) has also joined the UNP led alliance. In this context, how confident are you that your candidates will be able to secure victory at the upcoming election to enter parliament?
A. Those other Muslim representatives will not be able to disturb our voter base. We have a lot of strength in the areas where we have fielded our candidates. Even in the past, in every electorate, we have descendants. They are always with the SLMC. We have a very steady voter bank. The other Muslim parties who are contesting as opponents of the SLMC have their followers. They will get more or less the same votes as before.
Q. The SLMC previously had differences of opinion with the ACMC. Now, both parties have joined the UNP led alliance. Have you overcome the differences?
A. Our parties have different policies. The people have the right to choose. We have no issue with them being in the same alliance. It is a democratic country and anybody has the right to contest. It is for the voters to decide as to who should be their representatives.
Q. In future, do you expect to join forces with the ACMC to address issues related to Muslims in the country?
A. We have been working together with them when it came to the 20th Amendment. We have been working with all other Muslim parties and minority parties. We have no issue working with them. That process will continue.
That has nothing to do with the general election. Issues that exist are common to all and so all the communities will join together and try to find solutions to those problems together.
Q. How do you describe your strength in the East?
There has not been any change. The people are satisfied with our performance since the last elections. We have managed to address issues of the Muslims both locally and internationally. We have brought up the Muslim issues in the international arena. Even related to the Aluthgama incident, we raised our voice with courage.
Q. How many seats do you expect in parliament this time?
We will be able to secure more than nine seats.
Q. What is the main focus of your election campaign this time?
Muslims must preserve their political identity in this country and we should be represented as a separate entity within the democratic set-up.
Q. Previously, the SLMC was demanding a separate administrative district in Ampara. Do you still have those demands?
We have not deviated from that. Solutions can be found. If the government is willing to give us an alternative solution to the problem, we will accept it.
Q. Have you discussed with the UNP as to how they will address this issue if a UNP government comes to power?
We have taken up the discussion related to those issues and those are under negotiation. The answers have been favourable.
Q. There was a feeling that the previous UPFA government was backing the extremist groups against the Muslim community. That was one reason why former President Rajapaksa was defeated at the last Presidential election. This issue seems to be raising its head again. What is your take?
A. That is a dangerous move. Even in the election platform, we fear that they will pass negative remarks on the Muslim community and direct various allegations. Something that these extremist groups have been claiming is that the Muslim community has connections with ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Taliban groups. If they start directing such allegations in the election platform, the Muslims have no alternative other than to vote for the Muslim parties. It will be polarized again. It is up to them to be careful.
Q. Earlier, the SLMC was with the UPFA alliance and now you are with the UNP led alliance. How do you guarantee your voters that you will not break away from this alliance?
A. When we were in the UPFA alliance, the SLMC was not satisfied throughout. The UPFA used tactics to destroy all minority politics. All the minority parties were divided and destroyed by the UPFA. They engaged in dirty politics to internally divide the parties. All the parties suffered and left the UPFA alliance at the end I do not think that the UNP will do that. They are minority friendly and democratic. They have so many plus points that encourage minority parties as well as other parties to work with them.
Q. Why didn’t you make the move to join the UNP earlier during the previous UPFA government?
A. We made that move to work with the UNP during the last presidential election. It was the right time. With that move, we brought about the desired change expected in the country. Because of the minority and right thinking majority, we could make that change.