We want a change in Muslim representation– Hasen Ali
BY Mirudhula Thambiah
Leader of the newly formed coalition United People's Alliance (UPA) and former General Secretary of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) M.T. Hasen Ali said that the new party has been formed to solve burning issues of the Muslim Community that have not been addressed. "We want a change to take place in Muslim representation. The system should be reformed. It will not suddenly happen but will take a period of time. We have the responsibility to initiate it. There should be a common stand and a common view," he said.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
What is the need to form a coalition of Muslim Political Parties at this juncture?
A: All Muslim related issues have remained unsolved for a long period and it is vital to address those issues at the current juncture, therefore it was necessary to form a coalition of Muslim Parties.
From the beginning, the recently introduced electoral reforms have been a mess for the Muslim community. Muslim political parties have failed to obtain views of various experts when taking crucial decisions. Parliamentarians are just winning by votes and that does not mean they are politically clever. There had been chaos while voting for electoral reforms. Muslim representatives in Parliament had voted in favour of the electoral reforms but have later expressed disappointment. The representatives have complained that they were under pressure.
SLMC took an internal decision not to vote for electoral reforms but some parliamentarians have voted in favour of it. We were able to see similar behaviour in the past. We took a decision in the party not to vote for the 18th Amendment but some vote in favour of it. Therefore when there is improper consultation, the same pattern will continue.
The majority community will not experience issues, but because we are a minority, it is essential to be cautious of decisions. Once amendments and reforms are passed in parliament, it cannot be changed. We don't have large numbers of representatives to bring pressure on the Government. Once passed, it is over! When the Muslim representatives are with the government they are under obligations and cannot pressurize beyond certain levels. Muslim issues have always been pending and there is no solution to any of them. We feel the system is wrong. At the same time individual leaders are releasing statements with their own views.
This is a wrong tactic. In the case of minority communities, all parties representing Muslims should take a common stand. They must release a collective statement on common issues.
I would like to point out that most political parties are controlled by the leader. There is no intra-party democracy in political parties. Therefore every party is being dominated by leadership. We have discussed this issue with the Commissioner of Elections. He too had this view. Even the commissioner took initiatives to bring in intra-party democracy. If that is practiced within the party, leadership domination can be controlled.
The upcoming Local Government (LG) elections are viewed like a referendum by national parties. They will only consider who secures the most number of local councils. They are only worried about the numbers but have no idea of how to win councils.
We want a change to take place in Muslim representation. The system should be reformed. It will not suddenly happen but will take a period of time. We have the responsibility to initiate it. There should be a common stand and a common view.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was a very strong coalition, now there are problems within their party. I don't think Tamil people will accept those outside the TNA. People are of the opinion that their issues should be addressed collectively. Any community should remain united in a coalition for their development.
There is no point in functioning as small separate parties as vote collecting agents for the bigger parties.
There are criticisms that you have formed a coalition with the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) led by Minister Rishad Bathiudeen to antagonize the SLMC. What is your stand on this?
A: Definitely SLMC supporters would have such views. When I was in the SLMC I had continuous disagreements since 2003 with the leader. There were many issues; I clearly explained my stand at a convention held in Nintavur. I have no need to antagonize the SLMC.
SLMC does not practice the same constitution brought in by founder leader M.H.M Ashraff. I was one of the founders of the SLMC. Those in important positions within the party are being looked after well by the leader. I disagree with curry favouring with the leader. Therefore, I walked out. They did not throw me out. I stepped down from my post with SLMC. My struggle had been long term.
How far is it practical to follow the same Constitution introduced by M.H.M. Ashraff? Most of those who are in your new coalition have once walked out from the SLMC?
A: We are now a registered political party. Our coalition is a recognized political party. We have adopted Ashraff's constitution. We will follow from where he left us.
After you walked out from SLMC what were your observations about the party?
A: Only people can decide. We have adopted the same constitution practiced by Ashraff within SLMC to our new coalition. It is mainly focused on the leadership council. When Ashraff was the leader, he followed the correct procedures and worked for the betterment of our community, but the leader who took over after him made changes to the Constitution about two to three times. Ultimately he became a dictator.
A General Secretary of the party will be decided at the delegates' conference. The high command will select a person for the post.
But currently, even the General Secretary's position will be selected by the leader only. If the current secretary fails to follow the leader, he could be sacked and replaced by another. What is the meaning of this? A General Secretary is the most important position of a political party. He can only communicate with the Elections Commissioner and Parliament on behalf of the party. I don't want to be under him. It is a one man show, so I walked out.
When he brought this change I began to defend the post. I said, "Do not take revenge on the institution just because you are angry with me. I don't want the secretary position but you give it to somebody from my area,"
But he took his own decisions and those who were at that meeting also accepted his decisions. I don't want to say why but everyone raised their hands.
When you were General Secretary of SLMC you have criticized ACMC several times. But how is it possible now to join hands with them?
A: Joining is not the same as merging parties. We will have our own policies. Yet we have reached a common understanding. We formed this coalition to preserve the identity of Muslims. This does not mean we are asking for a separate state. Tamil speaking people are a majority in the Ampara District, but we are governed by certain regulations of the Government and the Centre of administration is in the hands of the majority community. It is more than 60 years since Ampara district was demarcated, but we are not in a position to appoint a Tamil speaking District Secretary. There is nothing in the Constitution that a Tamil speaking District Secretary should not be appointed, but there are unwritten rules in this country. Ampara has 74 per cent of Tamil speaking people but so far, it is Sinhala speaking District Secretaries who do not know a word in Tamil that have been appointed.
I'm not accusing them in the capacity of an individual but this is common sense.
The administrative head should be able to communicate with the people in the area. There is a big vacuum. Our land issues have increased, but nobody is taking notice. They just give promises but none of the issues are sorted. Problems cannot always continue to be the same. Therefore to solve all these issues we must unite as a coalition and take a common stand. Otherwise your organization will be manipulated by others and that is happening now.
There were allegations that you left SLMC as you were denied a slot from the National List. Is that true?
A: I did not walk out because of this. Everyone in the high command knows the reason. After I walked out, the Leader came with around 10 high command members to my residence claiming he will offer a slot on the National List and they wanted me to take up the chairman's position in the party. Therefore if I left for the National List, I may have accepted their offer. But I didn't!
What is your party's stand on the North-East merger?
A: We cannot bluntly speak about the North-East merger. Before everyone, the Muslims and Tamils should first initiate a dialogue, North and East is their area. However, these representatives are now not in a position to speak at a single platform because now they are at logger-heads. How can you bring about a solution to this problem? We cannot bring a political solution to this country when the leaders of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims discuss in different groups.
Will you be contesting at the upcoming elections and what are the main features of your election manifesto?
A: Ensuring self determination for Muslims, that the North and East will be separate states and also that the Eastern province should not be merged with any other region. Also small areas or villages that were merged with the eastern province, as part of the planned agenda since 1960 should be removed. Power devolution should be beyond Provincial Councils. Power should also be devolved to local councils. Executive Presidency should not be abolished and the President should be voted directly by the people.
Proportional representation system should be followed in each electoral. There should be restoration of lands that were grabbed in the North-East. Tamil and Sinhala languages should be national languages and all religions should be treated equally.
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