Colombo, December 17: The reinstated Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the man he replaced, Mahinda Rajapaksa, are set to clash over two major issues facing Sri Lanka, namely, the continuation of the Executive Presidency and devolution of power to the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern provinces.
Soon after being sworn-in as Prime Minister on Sunday, Wickremesinghe said that he had initiated discussions with a number of political parties for abolishing the Executive Presidency. He had also initiated talks with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) for bringing about a political solution in which all citizens can live in harmony in a unitary state.
But Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned from the Premiership following two adverse rulings from the Supreme Court on two actions of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said that Wickremesinghe has a two-point agenda.
The first is to weaken Sri Lanka by abolishing the Executive Presidency which is necessary for the unity of the country and its rapid economic development. And the second is to divide the country into nine “semi-independent” federal units through an agreement with the TNA.
In another point of divergence from Rajapaksa, Wickremesinghe said that a fresh election, as demanded by Rajapaksa, could not wipe off the stigma of dissolving parliament prematurely and unconstitutionally and quoted the recent Supreme Court judgment to this effect.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was appointed Prime Minister suddenly on October 26, had argued that a fresh parliamentary election would be the ideal way of solving the political issue plaguing the conflict-ridden Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government.
Rajapaksa Still Pitching For Elections
While Wickremesinghe says that fresh elections were not a solution to the current crisis and the solution was in the restoration of the status quo ante, Rajapaksa is still saying that fresh elections are the panacea for Lanka’s ulls.
In a statement issued after he resigned from the Premiership, Rajapaksa said: “We are now in direct confrontation with a group of political parties that have continuously engaged in various subterfuge to avoid facing elections. When this group of political parties tried to get the local government elections postponed indefinitely by petitioning courts over the delimitation of wards, we were able to hold the local government election only because the Chairman of the Elections Commission intervened and declared that he would hold elections at least in respect of the local government institutions that had no delimitation issues pending before courts. If not for that intervention, the people would not have got even the local government election.”
“Elections to provincial councils have been delayed by more than one year and three months but no one has any inkling of when those long overdue elections will be held. The law has been manipulated in such a way that those elections will be put off indefinitely.”
“In September 2017, when the Attorney General said that a two-thirds majority will be necessary to pass the law designed to postpone the provincial council elections, the then government kept Parliament going till night time and with great effort, mustered the necessary number of MPs to get the law passed. So desperate were they that when some smaller political parties said they would not vote for the law unless the proportional representation quota was increased from 40% to 50%, the government agreed to that demand in the corridors of Parliament so as to get the required number of votes.They had to perform demeaning contortions to get the provincial council elections postponed.”
“The people have now been deprived of the general election that had already been declared. After the President dissolved Parliament on 9 November, the political parties opposed to the election petitioned courts and obtained a stay order on the dissolution and with the cooperation of the UNP Speaker, they engaged in various activities to demonstrate that they had a majority in Parliament.”
Abject Dependence on TNA
Speaking about Wickremesinghe’s abject dependence on the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Rajapaksa said: “But it was only on 12 December when a resolution was passed expressing confidence in Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe and requesting that he be appointed Prime Minister that the people of the country were able to see the real state of things.”
“A total of 117 MPs voted calling for Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe to be appointed as Prime Minister. Fourteen of those votes belong to the TNA. Even though the TNA also requested that Mr.Ranil Wickremasinghe be appointed Prime Minister, on the same day, TNA Parliamentarian Mavei Senathirajah made a special statement in Parliament on behalf of the TNA saying that though they voted for Mr. Wickremasinghe to become Prime Minister, they would not join the government and would remain in the opposition. So what has actually happened here is that the UNP which has a minority of 103 seats, has been taken hostage by the TNA. If they do not adhere to the diktat of the TNA, the UNP minority can lose their parliamentary majority at any moment. The TNA now holds the remote control in Parliament.”
Divisive New Constitution
Rajapaksa charged that given the shortage of numbers in parliament, Wickremesinghe had to agree to TNA’s demand for an ethnically divisive new Sri Lankan constitution.
“On 12 December, even before the Supreme Court judgement was delivered, Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe spoke in Parliament about bringing in a new Constitution. This new Constitution has already been drafted and published in the newspapers as well. Under the provisions of that draft constitution, this country will be divided into nine semi-independent federal units.”
“The new Constitution will also abolish the executive presidency which means that the presidential election that is due before 9 December 2019 will not have to be held.”
“The new Constitution will also change the system of electing MPs to Parliament which means that the parliamentary election due in 2020 can also be postponed citing delimitation issues the same way that the provincial council elections have been put off indefinitely. That is what they are now preparing for.”
Rajapaksa said that Wickremesinghe had led Sri Lanka into a debt trap with no plans to use the borrowed money for constructive purposes.
“The United National Party (UNP) government borrowed US$ 20.7 billion in foreign currency loans alone within a period of three and a half years, and we have no idea as to how much more they will borrow in the coming months.”
“The UNP brought our economy to the brink of collapse through such foreign currency borrowings. All that money was borrowed for consumption. Burt we borrowed money to develop the country and that development is visible. But the UNP borrowed money only for consumption.”
President Might Be Ignored
Rajapaksa warned that Wickremesinghe might continue to ignore the Executive President Maitrhipala Sirisena and act unilaterally ,which could in turn fuel conflict.
“Even though some have expressed the view that it will be possible to minimize the damage done by the UNP because the President is no longer with them, we must realize that there is much that the UNP-TNA coalition can do without informing the President.”
“We should bear in mind that back in 2002, the then UNP government signed a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE without informing President Chandrika Kumaratunga,” Rajapaksa said.
(The featured image at the top shows Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe.Photo.Govt Information Department)