Colombo, December 19 (newsin.asia): Ironically, the reinstatement of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka following the Supreme Court’s order negating a Presidential gazette dissolving parliament, has intensified and not mitigated the political conflict in the country. With Sirisena in alliance with the Leader of the Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa, the conflict is set to continue as vigorously as before.
The standoff between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is continuing with the President piling accusation after accusation on Wickremesinghe even after the latter’s reinstatement. On his part, Wickremesinghe has initiated, through the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a parliamentary move to abolish the Executive Presidency which he believes Sirisena is misusing for self-aggrandizement.
The JVP, which had moved the 20 th.Amendment earlier in May to abolish the Executive Presidency but had failed to achive the objective, on Tuesday moved an adjournment motion in parliament to discuss and vote on the abolition of the Executive President.
Wickremesinghe has urged all MPs to support it. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) have supported the move to abolish the Executive Presidency and establish a Westminster style parliamentary democracy.
But Sirisena is keen on retaining the Executive Presidency and using its powers purportedly to save the country from the right wing and pro-Western policies of Wickremesinghe and his cohorts.
And in this, he has the support of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the current Leader of the Opposition and the de-facto leader of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). He believes that Sri Lanka can progress economically and defend itself against internal and external threats, only fi there is a single, highly empowered leader.
In a formal statement, Rajapaksa has accued Wickremesinghe of getting into an agreement with the TNA to present a new constitution which will divide the country into “nine semi-independent federal units”. He also accused Wickremesinghe of of planning to barter away national assets to foreign countries.
On his part, President Sirisena said that the Wickremesinghe government should be prevented from releasing suspected Tamil terrorists unless cases against Lankan military personnel are also dropped simultaneously.
The TNA has been pressing Wickremesinghe to release what it calls “Tamil political prisoners” but these are seen as “terrorists” by the mainstream Sinahelse majoritarian parties.
Sirisena has called for zero tolerance of the government’s alleged bid to sell off assets like the Trincomalee Oil Tanks, the Mattala airport and the East Terminal in Colombo port to foreign parties. These assets were to be operated as joint ventures with Indian entities, but these schemes were thwarted by President Sirisena who had dubbed them “sinful”.
Earlier, the President had said that his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) will function as an opposition party along with Rajapaksa’s SLPP and its allies in the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA).
However, to the President’s dismay, three SLFP MPs,Wikemuni de Zoysa, Lakshman Seneviratne and Indika Bandaranayake, crossed over. Three more, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Duminda Dissanayake and Faizser Musthapha, are likely to follow suit in the guise of “bringing stability to the country.”
In retaliation, the President warned that he will use his power as Executive President to deny sanction for their inclusion in the Council of Ministers.
But Wickremesinghe’s United National Front (UNF) pointed out that the constitution very clearly says that the President “shall” appoint ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister. The President can decide, on his own, only the departments assigned to ministers.
There is also a move in the UNF to deny the President portfolios. Prior to the reinstatement of Wickremesinghe, President Sirisena held the portfolios of Defense, Mahaweli Development, Environement and Reconciliation. The UNF now says that as per the constitution, the President can only preside over meetings of the Council of Ministers.
This is a major challenge to Sirisena, as previously, all Executive Presidents had held cabinets posts with Defense being considered mandatory. And Sirisena has plans to use the Executive Presidency to thwart all “anti-national and sinful” policies and actions of the “corrupt” Wickremesinghe regime. Denial of cabint portfoios will cripple him.
In his meeting with the UNF, the President said that the Constitutional Council set up under the 19 th. Amendment of 2015 to appoint top official personnel, had rejected names of senior judges he had recommended, and appointed juniors.
On the multi-bilion rupee 2015 Central Bank bonds scam, Sirisena said that he found out from the Governor of the bank that it is yet to start a forensic audit of the trasactions related to the scam recommended by the Presidential Commission.
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 amendment to the Bribery and Corruption Commission Act was proposed in 2017, but it gathered 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,” Sirisena told stunned UNF MPs.
On the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement Sirisena said that the Presidential Commission he had appointed found that it was entered into without the concurrence of relevant agencies such as trade, ports, industry and finance. The pact should either be amended or thrown out, the President said.
He had asked government not to imprison soldiers who had defeated terrorism but this request was ignored.
“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 (the Tamil Tigers) should also be punished. If not, both sides should agree to cancel these 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 alleged threat to his life from some members of 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.”.
“But 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.
Meanwhile, a gigantic 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 TNA for a political solution in which “all ethnic communities can live in harmony within a Unitary State.”
But Rajapaksa is campaigning for the strenghthening 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.”
Besides, Rajapaksa is demanding snap elections to settle all issues with the peoples’ mandate. President Sirisena is fully with him on this, having said that he prefers the verdict of 15 million voters of Sri Lanka as opposed to the will of just 122 MPs.
Therefore, Sri Lanka is now divided into two camps: One is the leftist-nationalist combine led by Sirisena and Rajapaksa; and the other is the UNF which os led by right-wing, internationalist and pro-Western United National Party (UNP) led by Wickremesinghe.
These two will fight it out in the coming provincial, Presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019-2020.
(The featured imagea at the top shows President Sirisena with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe)