Colombo, October 13 (The New Indian Express): Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s public outburst against the arrest or questioning of top level defense officials associated with the Rajapaksa regime without his knowledge, has brought out a major fault line in the coalition government which is running the island nation.
Ever since the traditional arch rivals, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP), formed a coalition in January 2015, collective decision making has proved to be problematic.
President Sirisena, heading the SLFP, has often overturned key decisions taken by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe heading the UNP, giving the impression that the government is still to work out a stable decision making system.
The President, who is attempting to secure full control of the SLFP from his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has to address the concerns of his party and its traditional voter base. In that process, he has used his Executive powers to overturn several unpopular decisions taken by the UNP, which dominates the cabinet by virtue of its greater strength in parliament.
Among the many controversial decisions taken by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and his team is the arrest or questioning of top defense officials of the Rajapksa regime, including Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and three naval chiefs. Gotabaya had to undergo the ignominy of spending hours in a court detention cell till he got bail.
“Three navy commanders who served during the war and the former Defense Secretary were hauled into court. As President and Defense Minister I am disgusted that the due process has not been followed. I am the President and Defense Minister and the heads of agencies have a duty to keep me informed,” Sirisena told a Defense Ministry function here on Wednesday.
He also deprecated the detention of military intelligence officials for 16 months in a disappearance case. “Either prosecute them or release them. I shall not allow the military to be weakened,” Sirsena said. He castigated investigating agencies for working to a political agenda and threatened to take action.
The President’s remark is significant since the Rajapaksa faction of the SLFP, which still has an edge in parliament, has been accusing the SLFP-UNP government of letting down, weakening and denigrating the armed forces which defeated the LTTE in 2009.
Sirisena had earlier overturned major decisions on taxation and relations with China. His silence about the controversial Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India, which Wickremesinghe wants to sign by year end, is ominous.