Sirisena, Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa Brace for Fresh Battles
The Citizen's coverage of the ongoing political crisis in Sri Lanka
COLOMBO: When Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena bit the dust and agreed to re-appoint Ranil Wickremsinghe as Prime Minister following a Supreme Court ruling against a Presidential order dissolving parliament, the media declared that the political war which had brought the country’s administration to a standstill had ended, and order was restored.
But that assessment was proved wrong a few days after President Sirisena swore-in Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister.
After swearing him in, Sirisena met Wickremesinghe and his colleagues in the United National Front (UNF), to give them an earful on how corrupt and anti-national their government had been since it assumed office in 2015. He said that he continues to think that a fresh general election is the only solution to the problem, and that he should not re-appoint Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister.
A grim faced Wickremesinghe listened silently while the others too let the President talk unhindered on the Prime Minister’s instructions.
The President got his lengthy monologue telecast to derive the maximum political advantage from his unbridled indictment of the UNF and its leader.
Sirisena said that it is going to be very diffilut for him to take a “collective journey” with the United National Party (UNP) led by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe because of the presence of corrupt MPs in parliament where Wickremesinghe has a majority.
“There are some extremely corrupt politicians in the Parliament. When we consider our Cabinet, there are some corrupted individuals. The promise of good governance, which we gave to our people, has been completely violated. I clearly state that I am not the person who was responsible for this calamity. I made all sacrifices towards achieving good governance; however, all those sacrifices were fruitless,” he said.
The distribution of portfolios in the cabinet was unscientific and in violation of his proposals based on experts’ advice. The Constitutional Council set up under the 19 th. Amendment of 2015,which appoints top personnel, rejected names of senior judges he had recommended, and appointed juniors.
Refering to the 2015 Central Bank bonds scam, Sirisena said that he found out from the Governor of the bank that it is yet to do a forensic audit of the trasactions related to the scam as recommended by the Presidential Commission he had set up.
Sirisena said that over the last fifteen to twenty years, the Central Bank had been robbed of LKR 1000 billion. The Wickremesinghe government had failed to arrest the then Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran despite being indicted by a Presidential Commission.
An amendement to the Bribery and Corruption Commission Act was proposed in 2017, but it was gathering dust despite repeated reminders sent to the Minister of Justice. Finally, it was presented to parliament but debate on it was postponed indefinitely.
“The debate will never take place and the Central Bank robbery that cost billions of rupees for over 15 or 20 years will not be investigated and the guilty are not going to be punished. Money cannot be recovered. This is a serious issue,” Sirisena said.
The President accused of Prime Minister Wickremasinghe of grabbing powers which are the President’s under the 19 th. Amendment.
In this connection he mentioned the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Singapore which the Wickremesinghe government signed earlier in 2018. He said that as per a Presidential Commission which went into it, the FTA had a “lot of weaknesses.”
“One paragraph mentions how the agreement had been entered into without the concurrence of relevant agencies such as trade, ports, industry and finance.Therefore, the Singapore trade agreement is a major problem today. It should be suspended temporarily by government.I am not sure if this agreement needs to be amended or completely revoked after seeking the opinion of experts.We must be correct in the future,” Sirisena said.
Later, talking to MPs of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Sirisena advised them not to join the Wickremesinghe government because if they did they would be partcipants in “sinful” acts such as the sale of the Mattala airport, the Trincomalee oil tanks and the Eastern Terminal in Colombo port to foreign countries.
India has been wanting to run the above mentioned assets as joint ventures with Sri Lanka, but Sri Lanka has not been keen, mostly due to opposition from President Sirisena.
Accusing the Wickremesinghe government of being insensitive to cultural matters, Sirisena said that the government had not been careful when arresting Buddhist monks or when denying elephants to temple festivals.
“Over this issue, we lost the whole Bhikku community,” he said.
He said he had asked government not to imprison soldiers who had defeated terrorism. International forces are pointing accusing fingers at Sri Lanka for violating human rights but they allow Tamil Tigers to roam around freely in the world though the Tigers had killed more than 100,000 Lankan military personnel.
“If the members of our security forces are to be punished, they they (the Tamil Tigers) should also be punished. If not, both sides should agree to remove those punishments,” Sirisena said.
On the release of Tamil prisoners, who the Tamils think are political persons but the government thinks are militants, the President said: “If the Tamil prisoners are to be freed, then our soldiers should also be freed from different court cases that have been filed against them. That is justice.’
On the threat to his life allegedly posed by members by the Wickremesinghe government, Sirisena said: “During the recent incidents (political crisis), your platform speakers said that I will be dragged and murdered like Gaddafi. Some of your MPs said I will be burnt in my own house with my family. The NGO operatives who were holding press conferences also said so.”.
“I did not see anyone of you make a statement about the conspiracy to assassinate me. The conspiracy has not yet been proven, but it has certain details should be clearly addressed. Since the police are running under me these days, there is a big progress in these issues. Yet the biggest regret is that when the murder conspiracy against the President of the country was taken up in the courts, there was not a single person of the Criminal Investigations Department to be found in the premises,” Sirisena noted.
On the recent political imbroglio which kicked off with his sacking Premier Wickremesinghe and appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place on October 26, Sirisena said that while only 122 MPs out of 225 did not want election, 15.5 million voters wanted it, and he wanted to empower them.
Sirisena said that his life had been in danger five or six times since 1971 but he could not be killed because he has lived by the Buddha dharma.
“I will clearly state that all, including the NGO persons and all your MPs who threatened to kill me, to come and kill me and set fire on me and my house,” an emotionally charged Sirisena declared.
Meanwhile, a giagantic conflict is brewing between Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the opposition stalwart Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Wickremesinghe has declared that he will start a broad based movement to abolish the Executive Presidency. He said that he is in talks with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) for a political solution in which all ethnic communities can live in harmony within a Unitary State.
But Rajapaksa is campaigning for the strengthening of the Executive Presidency and has dubbed Wickremesinghe’s plan to bring about a new constitution as divisive and anti-national. He has charged that Wickremesinghe has accepted the TNA’s demand for the division of the country into “nine semi-independent federal units.”
Sri Lanka is now divided into two camps – a leftist nationalist one led by Sirisena and Rajapaksa, and a right wing internationalist one led by Wickremesinghe.
These two will fight it out in the coming provincial, Presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019-2020.