Lankan Political Field Wide Open Even As Rajapaksa Takes Over As PM
The Citizen’s coverage of the current political situation in Sri Lanka
COLOMBO: Last Friday, the Sri Lankan political field seemed to have been taken over by the popular former President Mahinda Rajapaka when President Maithripala Sirisena suddenly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapaksa in his place.
But given the developing political mood in the country over the weekend, it now appears that the political field, far from being closed, is opening up for a possible re-entry of Wickremesinghe.
Sirisena’s sudden offer of the Premiership to Rajapaksa and the alacrity with which the latter accepted the offer, now appear to be thoughtless actions, given the resentment that they have generated in the country over the weekend.
Sensing the mood, the few who had crossed the floor to join the new Sirisena-Rajapaksa power bloc, are now coming back to Wickremesinghe.
Vadivel Suresh and Vasantha Senanayake who had joined the Rajapaksa bandwagon, are back.
According political observers, if the appointment of Rajapaksa was a popular move, or one which had been executed after careful planning, many might have joined the Sirisena-Rajapaksa side over the weekend. But only a handful joined.
It shows the amateurishness of the top secret operation - one about which only Sirisena and Rajapaksa knew.
Sirisena’s expectation that a mere announcement of a takeover by a popular leader like Rajapaksa would result in an onrush of MPs from Wickremesinghe’ camp, has proved to be unfunded.
People now feel that the Rajapaksa group’s claim that is has 130 of the total of 225 MPs with it, could be very widely off the mark. According to Wickremesinghe’s group, those with Rajapaksa could even be less than the 95 they started off with.
The reason for such a grim mood is the distaste that Sirisena’s “coup” has generated in the minds of Members of Parliament and the general public.
Even people, who were no supporters of Wickremesinghe (given his style of functioning) felt that he did not merit the unceremonious and unconstitutional way in which he was shunted out.
Wickremesinghe was sacked unconstitutionally in the sense that according to the 19 th.Amendment passed in 2015, he could not be sacked by the President.
He will go out office only if loses a confidence vote; when his budget it defeated twice; or he himself resigns or ceases to be a member of parliament. He cannot be sacked so long as he has majority support in parliament ( at least 113 in a house of 225 in the Lankan case).
But, as Wickremesinghe told the media on Monday, he had not been defeated in a vote of confidence. His budget had not been voted out. He had not resigned nor had he quit parliament.
But according to President Sirisena and Prof.G.L.Peiris of Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the President has the power to remove or sack the Prime Minister, according to the official Sinhalese version of the !9 th.Amendment. But they admit that it is not there in the English version!
Peiris points out that the constitution allows the President to appoint any MP as Prime Minister if , in his opinion, he or she has majority support in the House. It is pointed out that nobody can question the validity of the President’s opinion. The only constraint is the requirement that the appointee should prove that he has majority support in the house by taking a vote in parliament.
Peiris said that Rajapaksa would demonstrate majority support when parliament is reconvened on November 16. It had been prorogued from October 27 to November 15.
But this is not acceptable to the Wickremesinghe camp which insists that parliament must be reconvened immediately and a vote of confidence taken.
According to former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, parliament was prorogued to enable the Rajapaksa camp to indulge in horse trading. Wickremesinghe said that money was offered to his MPs, but the MPs spurned the offer.
Wickremesinghe’s followers say that they have collected signatures of 120 MPs on a petition to the parliament Speaker asking him to convene parliament immediately and put the issue of the controversial takeover to vote.
Parliament is the highest authority on the matter and the Speaker is the head of parliament, Wickremesinghe pointed out. The Speaker’s decision cannot be challenged by any one including the President, Wickremesinghe asserted at a meeting with Foreign Correspondents on Monday.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has already written to the President asking him to give former Prime Minister Wickremesighe full security till the question as to who is Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister is decided through a parliamentary vote.
It is not known what decision he will take on the petition to convene parliament and whether he would challenge the President’s decision to prorogue parliament without consulting him.
Wcikremesinghe insisted that he has never said that he will approach the courts challenging his removal. His argument is that the most legitimate forum to debate and settle the question is parliament. Even the court will say that, he added.
“They (the Rajapaksa group) says it has the majority and I say I have the numbers. Let us put our claims to test on the floor of the house,” Wickremesinghe said.
Former Minister Mangala Samaraweera asserted that the Rajapaksa camp is not sure of its numbers and has postponed the vote to November 16 to get time to buy up MPs.
It is said in the Wickremesinghe camp, that those around Sirisena and Rajapaksa are put off by the fact that they were kept completely in the dark about the Sirisena-Rajapaksa deal on Premiership. It was a fait accompli for all.
Rajapaksa’s followers have begun to say that prior consultations could have identified the pros and cons of the action that was contemplated. An agreed, constitutional and practicable method to jettison Wickremesinghe from the Prime Ministership could have evolved.
Now the “coup” is coming under fire from the media and also from key foreign powers. The US, UK. EU, India and the UN Secretary General have expressed concern over the non-observance of the constitutional provisions. However, China has chosen to remain neutral. Its Ambassador met both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe.
Parliament Speaker’s Jayasuriya’s letter to the President seeking security for Wickremesinghe has resulted in the government deciding to retain the security squad given to him as Prime Minister.
Wickremesinghe is still operating from his official residence ‘Temple Trees’, claiming that he continues to be Prime Minister till such time parliament meets and decides his fate through a civilized debate and a vote.
Asked why President Sirisena rushed into sacking Wickremesinghe and appointing Rajapaksa, one of the key figues of the Wickremesinghe camp said that he was extremely perturbed by the alleged plot to assassinate him with the help a cabinet Minister (suspected to be former Army chief and Regional Development Minister Sarath Fonseka).
Sirisena suspected that the police under a minister from Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP), were not conducting the investigations properly and expeditiously. He suspected a cover up.
A Rajapaksa camp leader, Wimal Weerawansa, had also fuelled this fear by giving out the name and identity number of a suspected Indian intelligence operative allegedly in the know of the assassination plot.
Replying to Sirisen’s charge of indifference, Wickremesinghe said that he does not interfere with police investigations. His colleague Dr.Rajitha Senaratne said that the man who supplied “information” of a plot and the involvement of Indian intelligence operative had no credibility. The phone calls of this man had no reference at all to any plan to assassinate President Rajapaksa. There was no plot to assassinate the President or former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Senaratne said.