COLOMBO: The political conflict in Sri Lanka intensified on Sunday with President Maithripala Sirisena saying that there will be a Presidential Commission to probe charges of corruption and fraud against ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

On January 9, 2015, a coalition government comprising Sirisena’s United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and Wickremesinghe’s United National Front (UNF) was formed with the UNF having a majority of places in the cabinet. In addition, all key economic departments were placed under the charge of UNF ministers.

But the coalition broke up on October 26, 2018, because of ideological differences between a leftist and nationalist President Sirisena and a right wing and neo-liberal Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, which was exacerbated by interpersonal issues.

Speaking to the Foreign Correspondents Association of Sri Lanka, President Sirisena said that there are at this point of time, 17 reports against Wickremesinghe and his cohorts, which had not been investigated because the relevant departments were under Wickremesinghe’s control in the coalition government.

These reports and other issues involving Wickremesinghe will be probed by a Presidential Commission, Sirisena said.

Retracing the issues between him and Wickremesinghe in the last three and a half years, Sirisena said that if parliament had passed Wickremesinghe’s Special Land Act, “foreigners would have been able to buy up Sri Lanka’s lands to the detriment of the country.”

Central Bank Robbery

Within weeks of the formation of the coalition government on January 9, 2015, there was the great “Central Bank robbery, ” Sirisena said recalling the billion rupee bonds sale scam involving Wickremesinghe and his friend, the newly appointed Central Bank Governor, Arjuna Mahendran.

Wickremesinghe had taken the Central Bank under his wing, when, as a financial institution, it ought to have been under the Finance Minister, the President pointed out.

“When the Presidential Commission indicted the Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran, Wickremesinghe made no effort to trace him and bring him back to the country even though there was a warrant against him,” Sirisena pointed out.

Tamil Question

The President said that he had differences with Wickremesinghe on the Tamil question too.

“ Wickremesinghe was taking away powers already devolved to the provinces such as Environment and Sustainable Development,” Sirisena said.

Neo Liberal Policy

Further, Wickremesinghe was continually presenting cabinet proposals based on his neo-liberal policies which were antithetical to the economic interests of Sri Lankans.

“Every leader in every part of the world, including Trump, puts his country and its people first and pursues policies which will serve their interests, but Wickremesinghe’s policies were at variance with this trend. I had to stop many of his proposals with the result, there used to be frequent verbal duels in the cabinet,” Sirisena said.

Electoral Debacle

The Lankan President said that matters came to a head after the debacle government parties suffered in the February 2018 Local Bodies elections.

Sirisena told Wickremesinghe that it was because of his economic policies that the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance and the United National Front were crushed.

“I asked him to step aside and allow somebody else from his party to take up the Premiership. But he would not resign.”

Assassination Plot

The President then mentioned the alleged plot to assassinate him with the help of a foreigner, a cabinet Minister (Gen.Sarath Fonseka) and an LTTE sniper.

A man who claimed he knew of the plot told the media about it and named some of the conspirators. But the police chief, without making any investigations, told the media, that the voices in the relevant telephone conversations did not match the voices of those named.

Later, it was established that the voices matched 95% and that some portions had been deleted.

The police chief also did not explain why two Light Machine Guns were issued to a police unit and why a sniper rifle went missing.

“Despite all this, including the alleged involvement of a cabinet minister (belonging to Wickremesinghe’s party) in a plot to kill the Head of State, Wickremesinghe did not get the plot investigated properly. He did not, even once, brief me about progress in the investigation. “

“Meanwhile, his ministerial colleagues were going about saying the assassination plot was but a joke or a drama. Can any leader in the world work with such a person?” Sirisena asked.

Will Not Re-Appoint Wickremesinghe

On the current political situation in Sri Lanka, Sirisena said that there is no national crisis as such, but “some unrest confined to parliament.”

He said that normalcy will be restored when the Supreme Court gives its ruling on the constitutionality of the dissolution of parliament and the ordering of fresh elections.

The court had stayed the dissolution of parliament till December 7.

“I will accept the court’s ruling irrespective of what it is. If it says the dissolution was constitutional, elections will be held. If the ruling is otherwise, the government in place will have to prove majority support. If the government fails to do so, the opposition may put up a candidate for Prime Minister. But I will not appoint Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister so long as I am alive,” Sirisena said categorically.

“I will choose a Prime Minister who is compatible with me (the Executive President)”, he asserted.

No Confidence Motion

On his refusal to accept the two No Confidence Motions passed against the government of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President said that he will accept the result of the motion if the process is based on the Standing Orders of parliament and if the voting is done by show of hands or by the use of the electronic machine, but not by a voice vote.

Interim Government

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said that the government that was formed on October 26, was an “interim government” meant to hold general elections.

“The whole country can see that only a few members of the Joint Opposition hold office in this government. That is because this is only an interim arrangement,” Rajapaksa said in a statement on Sunday.

Rajapaksa was the leader of the Joint Opposition before he was appointed Premier on October 26.

“The President explained in his address to the nation that he appointed me as the Prime Minister only after things reached a stage where he had absolutely no other option. When the government is entrusted to me in such circumstances, I cannot in all fairness, shun the responsibility. This was not a question of political power. The fate of our country and the futures of our younger generation were at stake,” Rajapaksa said.

US$ 20.7 billion foreign loans

Within a period of about three and a half years, the government had taken a total of more than USD 20.7 Billion in foreign currency loans alone. With the result, the country is facing a “national calamity” Rajapaksa said.

“It should be plain to everyone that those who are trying to revive the previous government and rule without holding elections, are incapable of turning this country around. It was they who destroyed the stable economy that we had created. This is why they are so reluctant to hold elections,” he said.

“The President entrusted the country to us because he knows that we have the capacity to meet such challenges as well. The UNP too is well aware of that fact - which is why they speak to foreign journalists and diplomats on a daily basis in a campaign to convince the outside world that it is undemocratic to hold a general election.”

“The UNP that if a general election is held and a government led by us comes into power, we will solve all these problems. The government that we will form together with the President will be a powerful and people oriented government,” Rajapaksa said.