First Muslim Chief Minister of East Speaks Out: An Interview with Najeeb A Majeed

by Kamani Hettiarachchi

Despite several political upheavals the government last week managed to appoint the new chief minister to the Eastern Province, Abdul Majeed Mohammed who polled 11726 preference votes contesting under the UPFA banner in the Trincomalee district.

He also created history in the annals of the PC polls in Sri Lanka by becoming the first Muslim chief minister since Provincial Councils came into being way back in 1987.

Excerpts of the interview with the new Eastern Province chief minister:

How do you view the new chief minister’s post that you have been appointed to?

I wish to emphasize at the outset that I am not a rookie politician. I have been a MP for no less than 13 years. Hence this particular post is nothing new. Some time ago I also worked as the Development minister for the Trincomalee district, working for the welfare of the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities in the East without any discrimination, and treated everyone equally.

I have given Rs 30 million for the renovation of kovil’s in the province, and the road network and libraries were also upgraded.
Therefore I consider the chief minister’s post as another opportunity given to me by the president to serve all the communities in the East to the best of my ability.

Could you briefly explain how you entered politics?

My father, the late Abdul Majeed was a politician who was in the past held in esteem in the East. He was a prominent politician of the SLFP as well.

Back in 1960, he first emerged as the SLFP MP for Muttur. In 1970, he was the deputy minister of Information and Broadcasting. Then in 1987, at the height of the North-East conflict, my father was assassinated by the LTTE.

Afterwards, Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaika appointed me as SLFP’s Muttur organizer. I entered parliament after the 1994 general election and did likewise at the 2000 parliamentary polls as well.

After the 2000 polls, I was appointed as the deputy minister of Posts and Telecommunication. I lost the 2002 polls, and won once again at the general election in 2004.

It was at that time that President Rajapaksa appointed me as the Trincomalee District Development minister. In 2006, I was also given the portfolio of Minister of Cooperatives and Development.

I lost my seat at the 2010 parliamentary polls. I was given nomination by the UPFA to contest the recently concluded PC polls in the East.

Three major communities live in the East. As the new chief minister would you be able to serve all of them without any discrimination?

I don’t think that will be an insurmountable problem. I know the issues the people of this province face and they know who Abdul Majeed is. Otherwise they would not have voted for me. I have understood the sectors that need rapid development in the East such as health, education, infrastructure, agriculture, etc.

It must be said that the people of all communities live like brothers and sisters here and it was never more evident than the time when the tsunami struck the area in 2004.

Even during the height of the North-East conflict this solidarity was evident. The president has already told me that he will back me to the hilt, and I should work for all the communities without any discrimination. And I also fervently hope that the main opposition UNP too will extend their support to me in my efforts to develop this province.

Are you confident that the youth of the East will never resort to arms and give life back to the now defunct LTTE?

I am positive that nothing of the sort will ever happen again, at least not during my lifetime. If we can solve the pressing issues of the people in the East there won’t be any room left for another armed struggle to take off.

Most politicians who have came to power since independence looked at the national issue from a parochial angle. It is only President Rajapaksa who identified the concerns of the people in the East. Given these reasons I don’t think there will be any scope for the emergence of another armed rebellion.

Some Muslim political parties are divided in the East. They have even gone to the extent of assaulting each other. In this backdrop will you be able to bring about any form of national reconciliation in the East?

Though there are a number of political parties, it is the people of the East who believe in the president. Therefore I have no doubt that the people of the East will flock behind the president and the SLFP.

When I was sworn in as the new chief minister of the East, all my political friends and rivals were invited for the ceremony. Nobody would be able to deceive the people of this province – be they Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, and they know that I have the president’s blessings to carry out my responsibilities.

The government has promised to hand over the chief minister’s post in the East to the SLMC after two and a half years. As such isn’t your appointment temporary?

I too have come to know of such an agreement and if it is made by the president then I have no issues.

What are your plans to develop this province?

There are ample natural resources available here and by using these resources I intend to develop this province during my tenure as the chief minister.

I also intend to further develop the tourism sector by making use of the beaches in the Eastern Province. courtesy: LakbimaNews