Colombo, August 17: The Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is expected to resist an overwhelming demand to sack the maverick Minister of Justice and Buddha Sasana, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, writes P.K.Balachandran in Daily Express.
According to well placed sources, Wickremesinghe may not sack Wijeyadasa for speaking against the collective decisions of the cabinet on critical issues and cultivating a particular political constituency by speaking against government policies.
The Prime Minister is more likely to take the less precipitate step of warning him or disciplining him in some way.
Seventy MPs of the ruling United National Party (UNP) have signed a draft Motion of No Confidence against Wijeyadasa for saying publicly that he would not rest until the Hambantota port, given to China for 99 years on payment of US$ 1.12 billion for 70% equity, is taken back by the Sri Lankan government.
Wijeyadasa had said this despite knowing that the July 29 Concessional Agreement between the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and the China Port Merchant Holdings Co., (CMPort) had secured cabinet approval.
A number of Ministers issued statements condemning Wijeyadasa for ignoring the cabinet’s collective responsibility for its decisions. Reportedly UNP MPs also complain that Wijeyadasa is leaking information to the Joint Opposition led by Mahinda Rajapaksa.
However, it is learnt that the Prime Minister does not think that Wijeyadasa’s utterances should be brought to parliament as it is an internal matter of the ruling United National Party (UNP).
As a party in the alliance led by the UNP put it: “Members of the UNP don’t need a No Confidence Motion in parliament to throw a minister from their party out. The Prime Minister could simply tell the President (who is the head of the cabinet) to remove him and appoint somebody else he recommends. Each alliance party has a quota of ministers and it is the party leader who decides who will be a minister.”
The Prime Minister is aware of Wijeyadasa’s arrogance, but he will not take the extreme step of sacking him or even asking him to resign just yet.
This is because Wickremesinghe is aware that the Buddha Sasana, headed by the three Mahanayakes, have warned that they will stop supporting the government if action is taken against Wijeyadasa.
Wijeyadasa is the only member of the top echelons of the UNP who is actively and vocally espousing the cause of Sinhala-Buddhist-Nationalism. And the Mahanayake’s words carry weight with the Sinhala-Buddhist voters.
Furthermore, though the UNP is the single largest party in parliament, it is in coalition with the avowedly Sinhala-Buddhist-Nationalist Sri Lanka Freedom Party-Sirisena (the faction now with President Sirisena). SLFP-Srisena will not like strong action against Wijeyadasa.
It is therefore unlikely that Wijeyadasa will exit or be forced to exit for the time being at least.
Sources say that Wijeyadasa himself will not want to quit in a hurry as he will have no clout if he loses his seat in the cabinet. If he is heard and quoted today, it is because he is Minister of Justice and Buddha Sasana.
Call for referendum on new constitution
The leaders of the United National Front (UNF), the group which fought the 2015 Presidential and parliamentary elections to put Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesighe in power, would be meeting President Sirisena next week on Monday to discuss key issues.
They want the President to hold local bodies and provincial elections without delay and go for a referendum to get public support for a draft new constitution.
The Minister of National Languages and Dialogue, Mano Ganeshan, said that the constitution drafting process has got stuck in the Steering Committee, the penultimate stage. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) under President Sirisena and the Joint Opposition led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, have not submitted their proposals yet, while all others have. This is because each is waiting for the other to reveal its cards, Ganeshan said.
Ganeshan feels that there is no valid reason to delay the submission of proposals as the existing constitutional proposals are not controversial. Sri Lanka will not be a federal state and Buddhism will continue to have “foremost status” in the country, he explained.
Ganeshan is confident that the constitution, as per the present proposals, will get endorsement in a referendum. The current delaying tactics are untenable, he said.
(The featured image at the top shows Si Lankan Prime Minster Rani Wcikremesinghe)