brand logo

RW’s ascension to Presidency and actions raise concerns of a jackbooted Government

8 months ago

Share on

  • RW gets tough with diplomats in Colombo, explains incident and says check before tweeting
  • UNHRC expresses concerns over Friday’s attack, Sri Lanka on Council agenda this September
  • Opposition parties yet undecided on accepting President’s call to set up all-party government
  • President moves to prorogue Parliament; House committees and proposed 22A to be terminated
  • After splitting LTTE during the war, RW’s ‘divide and rule’ policy hits SLPP and SJB
  • Basil supports RW’s campaign, organises meet with SLPP MPs who lost their homes on 9 May
  • Rajapaksa family strategy: Basil for RW while MR supported Alahapperuma
  • Opposition parties form core group to continue challenging SLPP’s ‘distorted’ mandate in House
  • Trust deficit between Alahapperuma camp and Opposition parties gave RW the edge at vote
  • Alahapperuma agreed to implement issues agreed between TNA and GR; GL confirms agreement
  • Sajith’s decision to withdraw from race irks group of SJB MPs, many cast a conscience vote
That there’s never a dull moment in Sri Lanka is fast becoming an understatement looking at the events that unfolded during the past few months, which have resulted in the country witnessing, for the first time, a Parliament-appointed President in the form of Ranil Wickremesinghe. While the month of July has great significance following the 24 July 1983 pogrom targeting the Tamil community in the country, which eventually resulted in the country being pushed into a three-decade-long war that took the lives of thousands of Sri Lankan citizens, be it in the north or the south, the incidents that took place in the Galle Face area near the Presidential Secretariat in the early hours of Friday (22) have resulted in fears of an emergence of yet another Black July. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), and many other local bodies immediately condemned the violence against unarmed protesters. The week dawned with the announcement that the country had been placed under a State of Emergency, making it the third time that Emergency had been declared in the country within a period of four months. As pointed out by political analysts, it is also an indicator of how declaring Emergency is becoming the default response of the Government to the Sri Lankan crisis, while above all else proving to be ineffective in resolving the chaos in the country. Nevertheless, the declaration of Emergency was the first sign of the operation the Wickremesinghe Government had planned to unleash. The actions of the Wickremesinghe Government have once again placed Sri Lanka under the microscope of the international community. Apart from the public outcry over the 1 a.m. military operation, foreign mission heads in Sri Lanka and international rights groups as well as media groups have condemned the use of force by the military against the protesters and media personnel as well as lawyers in the ‘clean-up’ operation. Interestingly, the incident at Galle Face in fact stole the thunder of Dinesh Gunawardena being appointed to the post of Prime Minister a few hours later along with the appointment of the interim Cabinet. The Wickremesinghe Government has deliberately called the Cabinet appointed on Friday an ‘interim Cabinet,’ claiming that the actual cabinet will be appointed after the formation of a national or an all-party government following discussions in Parliament. The President during a discussion with parliamentary party leaders after being sworn in as the eighth President of Sri Lanka had noted that he would discuss the formation of a national/all-party government during this week’s Parliament sessions. He also informed the party leaders of his intent to prorogue Parliament for 24 hours to carry out a ‘fresh start’. However, the prorogation of Parliament will also result in the termination of parliamentary committees as well as all matters listed in the House Order Paper. It is interesting to note that the Government’s proposed 22nd Amendment to the Constitution that has been listed in the Order Paper will also be terminated. Another interesting fact is that the prorogation of Parliament could also delay the vote on the Emergency Regulations (ERs) in Parliament since the regulations should be put to a Parliament vote within 10 days of proclamation or the ERs lapse without House approval. As for the formation of a national/all-party government, several Opposition parties, it is learnt, are considering whether they should follow the standards set by Wickremesinghe himself when he, on 9 May following the attacks on protesters outside Temple Trees and Galle Face, announced through a tweet that not only then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa but that entire Government must resign. Wickremesinghe at the time had even stated that he would not support the Rajapaksa Government if it engaged in such violence. RW meets diplomats Soon after the Friday morning fracas outside the Presidential Secretariat and the huge public outcry, followed by strong statements issued by the diplomatic community expressing displeasure and concern over the attacks, President Wickremesinghe decided that he needed to have a direct meeting with the diplomatic community in Colombo. Accordingly, meetings were fixed for Friday evening for two different time slots after the swearing-in of the interim Cabinet and the holding of a special Cabinet meeting. The meeting was convened after concerns were raised over the tweets released by several diplomats regarding the military’s clearance of protesters. Attending the meeting with the President was Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Sabry, Secretary to the President Saman Ekanayake, the Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), and the Attorney General. The diplomats had been briefed on the reasons behind the decision to remove the protesters from the Presidential Secretariat, including the concerns raised by intelligence services over two missing guns that had been stolen from security personnel during the recent protest outside Parliament. The diplomats had raised concerns about the timing of the operation, noting that the protesters had been willing to hand over the building at 2 p.m. on Friday. The President had responded saying that the Police had visited the site the previous day with a Court order informing them that they must vacate the area surrounding the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike statue, but the protesters had chased the Police away.  President Wickremesinghe had added that the Police had also informed those occupying the Presidential Secretariat that they must vacate the premises by 6 a.m. on Friday, which they had refused to do. Due to the refusal, a decision had been taken by the security forces to carry out their operation in the middle of the night when the number of people in the vicinity was low in order to ensure no bystanders would be injured in case a tense situation arose with the protesters refusing to leave. The diplomats had also been informed that inquiries would be carried out into any unnecessary use of force on civilians by members of the armed forces. The Attorney General had outlined the legal path that had been followed by the security forces in the operation, including the obtaining of a Court order. Responding to a query by a diplomat as to why ‘GotaGoGama’ had to be dismantled, the President had pointed out that Gotabaya Rajapaksa had in fact gone home and the protest site had achieved its purpose. The President had elaborated on alternative locations that had been provided to the protesters where they could continue to agitate for a change in the system.  Wickremesinghe, however, had firmly noted that law and order had to be returned to the country and while the right to peacefully protest would be upheld, there would be no room given to mobs forcefully occupying buildings or setting fire to homes. Wickremesinghe had then proceeded to question the diplomats as to whether they supported the illegal occupation of the President’s Office while also questioning whether their governments would allow protesters to indefinitely occupy the offices of their heads of states if similar situations were to take place in their countries. One of the key examples cited by him had been the mob attack on the Capitol in Washington DC and the actions taken by the security forces at the time that resulted in the shooting of several protesters and the deaths of civilians. Wickremesinghe had also noted that there had been no tweets and condemnation when his private residence had been burnt down on 9 July. Drawing concern with the tweets that had been released by some of the diplomats, the President had requested that in the future statements made by the ambassadors could be done so based on verified news rather than unverified social media reports. The President had also noted that the main focus of the Government was to resolve the economic crisis as it was the main reason for the people to take to the streets in protest, while several diplomats had tried to explain the importance of political stability as well. It is reliably learnt that some of the diplomats at the meeting had been surprised by Wickremesinghe’s approach as they felt he was unrepentant and lacking self-awareness. However, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung tweeted after the meeting with Wickremesinghe, stating that she had expressed her grave concern over the ‘unnecessary and deeply troubling escalation of violence against protesters overnight.’  “The President and Cabinet have an opportunity and an obligation to respond to the calls of Sri Lankans for a better future,” Chung tweeted. “This is not the time to crack down on citizens, but instead to look ahead at the immediate and tangible steps the Government can take to regain the trust of the people, restore stability and rebuild the economy,” she added. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) core group on Sri Lanka – comprising Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, North Macedonia, the UK, and the US – issued a joint statement as well. “Peaceful protest is fundamental to any democracy. The Human Rights Council Sri Lanka Core Group is dismayed at the violence which took place at Galle Face last night. We call for full respect of human rights and the rule of law,” the statement read. The UNHRC also issued a statement expressing alarm at the incidents that had taken place at Galle Face, while also condemning the assault on protesters, journalists, and lawyers, according to reports. Sri Lanka’s human rights situation is to be taken up at the UNHRC sessions this September and the incident that took place at Galle Face is expected to be taken up at the Council. Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping became the first world leader to congratulate Wickremesinghe on his appointment as President and noted that China would extend its fullest support. Cabinet meets The newly-appointed interim Cabinet held its first meeting on Friday (22) at the Prime Minister’s Office soon after the swearing-in ceremony and after taking the official photograph. Former Ministers G.L. Peiris and Dhammika Perera were not included in the interim Cabinet and the portfolio held by Peiris was assigned to Ali Sabry. Peiris stood for the SLPP’s presidential candidate Dullas Alahapperuma at the presidential election in Parliament while Perera openly called for Wickremesinghe’s resignation as Finance Minister in the previous Cabinet. Chaired by President Wickremesinghe, the meeting focused on the ongoing situation in the country and the need to expedite the programme to get the country back on track. The President had explained to the Cabinet details relating to the clearing of the Presidential Secretariat by the armed forces earlier that day. He had noted that the protesters could continue with their protests and an alternative location could be provided to them as well. The Ministers, while agreeing that the country needed to move forward and normalcy needed to be restored, had noted that the Cabinet should be made aware of such moves in the future, given the criticism it had drawn from the public and international community. The next item to be taken up for discussion had been the fuel shipments that need to be secured for the next few months. It had been decided that a follow-up meeting should be held on Saturday (yesterday) on the matter. RW’s ascension Be that as it may, Wickremesinghe’s ascension to power, after being defeated at the 2020 General Election and returning to Parliament on the single National List seat received by the United National Party (UNP), has become a much-discussed topic in many circles. While a majority of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) backed Wickremesinghe’s candidature at the election for the post of president in Parliament on Wednesday (20), a splinter group of the party backed SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Power (NPP) fielded its Leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake. By the time the election for the president was being held, parties in the Opposition – main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), Tamil National Alliance (TNA), NPP, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), SLPP dissidents’ group and the group of 10 (G-10) SLPP alliance partners – had already formed an all-party bloc to stand against what it termed as the ‘distorted mandate of the SLPP’. Political analysts as well as Opposition parties believe that the SLPP, despite sending the highest number of MPs to the House following the 2020 General Election, no longer held the mandate, given that a significant number of SLPP MPs had already declared independence, while both the President and Prime Minister elected by the party had been forced out of office. As a result, the SLPP’s claim of holding a parliamentary majority continues to be questioned by the public as well as Opposition politicians. Therefore, the public’s mandate at present is believed to be with the core group in Parliament that consists of all members of Parliament in the Opposition. It is this reason that has also brought about the argument that Wickremesinghe’s appointment as Acting President by then President-in-exile Gotabaya Rajapaksa was flawed. However, all these reasons contributed to the Opposition parties deciding to back Alahapperuma in the presidential race. Nevertheless, the campaign carried out by Wickremesinghe supported by SLPP National Organiser, former Minister Basil Rajapaksa, managed to prevail over Alahapperuma, with Wickremesinghe winning the vote with a majority of 52 votes. While initial calculations showed over 120 votes for Alahapperuma (taking into account the parties that publicly expressed support to him), the final vote indicates that there was a split in the Opposition vote bank. Analysing Dullas’s defeat Looking at the vote for the presidency, it was not the fact that Alahapperuma was defeated at the presidential race but the margin between the votes polled by Wickremesinghe and Alahapperuma that shocked the Alahapperuma camp. Although senior members of the Alahapperuma camp believed that Wickremesinghe would have the edge at the election, they expected it to be a close call. It is interesting to note that the number of votes polled by Alahapperuma (82 votes) was merely four votes more than what was polled by Opposition MP Rohini Wijeratne when she contested for the post of deputy speaker of Parliament a few months back. Some Opposition MPs have therefore questioned whether Alahapperuma was only able to bring in four additional votes. However, in reality, the Opposition parties with significant votes were all split when voting at Wednesday’s election. It was a failure on the part of Alahapperuma’s camp to engage in a proper political reading of the sentiments of a majority of Opposition party members. The SJB had split over the party’s decision to back Alahapperuma, with Premadasa withdrawing from the race. It is learnt that a significant number of SJB MPs had informed the party seniors of their displeasure at Premadasa’s withdrawal and that they had reservations about supporting Alahapperuma, who was being backed by the likes of MPs Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila, who had continuously incited racial hatred in the country. It is also learnt that the actions of Alahapperuma camp MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara on 15 July, where he outright rejected the agreement reached between Opposition parties to nominate Premadasa as the prime minister, had further widened the trust deficit between the Opposition parties and the Alahapperuma camp. A group of young SJB MPs and several parliamentarians representing minority communities held a separate discussion last week prior to the vote on the next president, where a majority of them had noted the need to cast a conscience vote since they were not bound by party loyalty as the SJB was not fielding a candidate. A similar sentiment was brewing within the TNA parliamentary group as well. It is learnt that the nationalist forces behind Alahapperuma and an image of him (Alahapperuma) carrying a distorted National Flag without the stripes depicting the minority communities that was circulated on social media had made some of the TNA MPs quite uneasy. Despite attempts by TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran to clear the doubts of his colleagues, it seemed he was unable to fully convince them. As for the SLFP, it was once again a trust deficit between them and the Alahapperuma camp that led to a split in the SLFP MPs’ votes. One-third of the Parliament’s composition is represented by minority communities who have continuously accused the likes of Weerawansa, Gammanpila, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera, and Prof. Channa Jayasumana of the Islamaphobia that was pushed, with campaigns being carried out against Muslim ministers at the time as well as the infamous Dr. Shafi Shihabdeen case. Given all these facts, it is evident that Alahapperuma did not receive the SJB votes en bloc as well as those of the minority MPs. Clearing misunderstanding Until Tuesday (19) morning it was unclear whether Premadasa would withdraw from the presidential race and extend his and his party’s support to Alahapperuma in line with a previous agreement reached between the two sides.  The agreement had been shelved with the SJB deciding to field Premadasa as the party’s presidential candidate following a statement on 15 July by MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara that the G-10 leaders had reservations about nominating Premadasa as the prime minister of the interim government. The trust deficit created by Nanayakkara’s words resulted in the SJB withdrawing its support to Alahapperuma and the agreement that he (Alahapperuma) would be proposed for the presidency while Premadasa would be proposed for the post of prime minister. The SJB held a series of meetings from Friday (15) till Monday (18) to iron out the issues faced by the Opposition parties following the breaking up of the consensus reached between the Opposition parties to field two candidates of consensus for the posts of president and prime minister. The SJB parliamentary group on 15 and 16 July (Friday and Saturday) unanimously agreed that Premadasa should be nominated as the party’s presidential candidate. It was last Sunday (17) night that the SJB and its alliance partners had discussed the need for the Opposition parties to put forward a united front to prevent Wickremesinghe from having the edge at Wednesday’s elections. However, a group of senior SJB members had not been agreeable about Premadasa withdrawing his candidacy and supporting Alahapperuma. They had opined that the SJB, as the main Opposition party in Parliament, should field its Leader for the presidential election. They had also pointed out that failure to do so could result in some SJB members also deciding to cast their votes independently during Wednesday’s vote in Parliament. Several disgruntled SJB MPs had said they did not agree with Premadasa’s withdrawal but had noted that the final decision was up to the party leadership. Premadasa, while agreeing with the SJB seniors, had also explained the need to make a political decision as Alahapperuma’s presidential candidature would also result in a split in the SLPP and create an alternative leadership in the Rajapaksa’s nationalist camp. However, Premadasa had noted that a final decision on the matter could be taken after more discussions with Alahapperuma’s faction. Following a series of interventions, representatives of both Premadasa and Alahapperuma held a series of discussions last weekend with even a one-to-one meeting being held between the duo last Monday (18). A meeting was held at SLPP MP G.L. Peiris’s residence last Sunday (17) night from 7 to 9 p.m. and the meeting resumed the following morning, Monday (18) at 9 a.m. The SJB side had pointed out that since the SJB commanded the larger group out of the two sides in the House, the party should field the presidential candidate.  Alahapperuma’s side had responded saying that the person to be elected president would require a majority in Parliament only on the day of the election, Wednesday (20), and not thereafter, while the prime ministerial candidate would be required to hold a parliamentary majority throughout the term.  The Alahapperuma group had also noted that had Wickremesinghe presented the same argument as the SJB was putting forward at present, the change of power in 2015 would never have happened. “Ranil could have also told Maithripala Sirisena that he had only four MPs supporting him while the UNP had a bigger group in the House and therefore would not agree to field and support Sirisena at the 2015 Presidential Election,” a senior member of the Alahapperuma faction had noted. Besides, it had been further noted by Alahapperuma’s group that the SJB was contradicting its stance of abolishing the Executive Presidency and re-enacting the 19th Amendment by staking a claim for the interim presidency. Representatives of both Premadasa and Alahapperuma had finally decided it best that the two of them meet and make the final decision after each addressed their issues and concerns. Nevertheless, even by Monday evening, the two sides (SJB and Alahapperuma) were not able to reach a consensus on the elections. Finally, after much persuasion, Premadasa agreed to back Alahapperuma’s candidature and held a parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday morning prior to the sessions and explained that the best move for the SJB was to support Alahapperuma and further widen the split between the SLPP Basil faction and the SLPP Alahapperuma faction. RW-Basil campaign Basil played a key role in Wickremesinghe’s campaign in the run-up to the elections in the House for the interim president. In fact, Wickremesinghe was the only candidate to have carried out an election campaign with each ruling party MP being spoken to and the usual election promises full of posts, perks, and privileges being offered. Wickremesinghe’s campaign saw many ruling party MPs being offered ministerial and state ministerial portfolios, while each was asked to keep it a secret from the others. Several senior members were also given the hope of being the prime minister under Wickremesinghe’s presidency. It was quite similar to the Presidential Election campaign of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa during his 2005 campaign, where several senior politicians were promised the premiership – Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, D.M. Jayaratne, Maithripala Sirisena, Nimal Siripala de Silva, and Mangala Samaraweera. However, at the onset of the campaign, an agreement had been reached between Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa that Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena would be appointed as the prime minister. Although G.L. Peiris was also a frontrunner for the prime ministerial post, he was knocked out of the list as soon as he stated that the SLPP should support the party’s MP who would contest at the presidential poll. Another key campaign that managed to attract a large number of SLPP MPs towards Wickremesinghe was his meeting with the ruling party MPs whose houses were burnt down during the 9 May mayhem. Wickremesinghe was accompanied by Basil at this meeting. Wickremesinghe had made an emotional address at the meeting, where he had noted that he too was a victim of the Aragalaya and had lost all his belongings. He had explained that his residence on 5th Lane, Colpetty was his sole residence and that there had been belongings of sentimental value that were priceless.  He had said that photographs of his first birthday, a certificate he had received as a Grade 2 student for a poem he had written, and many valuable books had all been gutted in the fire. Wickremesinghe had further noted that he had been left with only a few shirts and pairs of trousers as all other belongings had gone up in flames. With 71 SLPP MPs having lost their houses on 9 May, Wickremesinghe’s statement resonated with them and they were moved by his empathy. They had been convinced when he said that he would provide compensation to all those who had lost their houses and vehicles to rebuild their homes. While Basil supported Wickremesinghe, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa extended his support to Alahapperuma. He (Mahinda) had in fact told Alahapperuma when the latter had met him in Parliament on the day of the vote, “Dulla, I came today specially to vote for you.” The Rajapaksa family seems to have decided to divide its resources between both camps – Wickremesinghe and Alahapperuma – to ensure that the family’s political interests remain secure while the family also continues to control the SLPP. RW splits the SLPP Wickremesinghe’s shrewdness and knack for creating divisions are nothing new for those who know his ‘divide and rule’ policy.  His approach proved advantageous during his attempt at peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the 2001-2004 Government of the United National Front (UNF) when Wickremesinghe managed to ensure the defection of Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Col. Karuna Amman from the LTTE.  Karuna’s defection resulted in a significant split in the LTTE, especially in the eastern wing of the outfit, and effectively resulted in the eventual weakening of the LTTE, while the outfit was also pushed to the Northern Province. Wickremesinghe’s actions at the time went unrecognised, but have resurfaced with his role in dividing the ruling SLPP.  The SLPP made history in the country by becoming a force to reckon with within a short span of time. Formed during the period of the Yahapalana Government, the party first recorded victory at the 2018 Local Government Elections and later worked its way to win the 2019 Presidential and 2020 General Elections. However, the vote in Parliament for the election of an interim president resulted in a clear split in the SLPP. The rift was first witnessed with SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam and Party Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris locking horns over whom the party should back at the presidential election. The clash started with Kariyawasam announcing that the SLPP would support Wickremesinghe’s candidature while Peiris maintained that the party should support Alahapperuma. This resulted in Peiris sending a letter to Kariyawasam asking for details on how and when the party had reached a decision on supporting Wickremesinghe. Regardless of Peiris’s claims, Kariyawasam reiterated that there had been no decision on the SLPP’s support for Wickremesinghe’s candidature. SLPP MPs, in order to prevent a further split in the party, maintained that a final decision on the vote had not been reached yet. It is in this backdrop that former Minister Namal Rajapaksa’s loyalist, former State Minister D.V. Chanaka, representing the SLPP Youth Wing, announced that the youth MPs would follow the party decision without making it clear which of the two – Peiris’s or Kariyawasam’s – was being considered the official stance of the party. The party’s split was finally witnessed on Tuesday (19) when Peiris seconded Alahapperuma’s candidature for the interim presidency that was proposed by Opposition Leader Premadasa while Gunawardena proposed Wickremesinghe’s name, seconded by Manusha Nanayakkara. TNA splits over Dullas? The TNA meanwhile was faced with making the final decision on whom the party would support at the election for president. The TNA parliamentary group held two discussions on Monday and Tuesday respectively. Opposition Leader Premadasa also attended the TNA group meeting on Monday while Premadasa, Alahapperuma, and G.L. Pieirs attended the meeting on Tuesday. Both meetings were held at TNA Leader MP R. Sampanthan’s Colombo residence. The TNA at the outset had been split over its decision since some of the members had issues with supporting Alahapperuma, whom they had stated was backed by nationalist forces like Weerawansa, Gammanpila, et al. The MPs had claimed that such nationalist forces were responsible for the extremist agenda of successive Rajapaksa Governments and that they were the key members who had brought Gotabaya Rajapaksa into politics. However, Sumanthiran had called on all members to think from a moderate standpoint as the country needed a fresh start.  It is in such a backdrop that the TNA MPs had decided to have a discussion with Alahapperuma himself. During the discussion, the TNA MPs had raised the issues faced by the Tamil people and their concerns one after another to understand Alahapperuma’s stance on each of the issues. The TNA MPs had also noted that the issues being raised by them with regard to the illegal land grab in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, the release of Tamil political prisoners, accelerating inquiries into missing persons, and a permanent solution to the national question through a new constitution had earlier been discussed and agreed upon with former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Former Minister Peiris, who had attended the meetings between the President and TNA MPs, had also confirmed that the then President had agreed to address the said issues. Alahapperuma had also agreed to address the issues raised by the TNA and an agreement had hence been reached between the TNA and Alahapperuma. SLFP’s last-ditch effort The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) last week met with the two frontrunners at Wednesday’s election – Wickremesinghe and Alahapperuma – on Tuesday (19) after nominations. The SLFP parliamentary group led by Party Leader, former President Maithripala Sirisena met with Wickremesinghe at his office in the Parliament Complex. After exchanging pleasantries, Wickremesinghe had told the group that, contrary to popular belief that he and Sirisena were angry with each other, it was not so. Wickremesinghe had also noted that the ‘two angry leaders’ had not pushed the country into bankruptcy as they left billions in the State coffers and reserves at the end of the Yahapalana Government. Sirisena had also agreed with Wickremesinghe and the meeting had commenced on that note. During the discussion, the SLFP had questioned Wickremesinghe on his plans to form a national government and how he planned to resolve the crisis faced by the country. He had detailed his plans while also saying that if he was elected interim president, he would immediately invite all political parties in the country to join to form an all-party interim government. Once the meeting concluded, the SLFP group had left for lunch and met with Alahapperuma. During the meeting, Alahapperuma had presented the economic plan prepared by his group and explained his plans for an all-party interim government and holding of fresh elections as soon as possible. Soon after Alahapperuma, Premadasa, and Dissanayake announced their candidacy for the presidential election, the SLFP parliamentary group held a lengthy discussion on the matter on 16 July. The group had discussed how the party should address the development and cast its vote at the election. Prior to the misunderstanding between the SJB and the G-10, all parties in the Opposition except the NPP had reached a consensus that Premadasa would be nominated as the prime minister while Alahapperuma would contest for the presidency with the support of the Opposition parties and a splinter group of the SLPP. However, the SJB’s decision to field Premadasa while Alahapperuma had also announced his candidature placed the SLFP in a dilemma. The party seniors had discussed that it would further divide the Opposition, giving an edge to Wickremesinghe, who had managed to secure a majority of the SLPP votes. Finally, the SLFP seniors, along with Party Leader Sirisena, had decided that that party should push the Opposition parties to return to the previous decision and unite once again. It had been agreed that the party should announce that it would not vote at the presidential election in Parliament. Sirisena had noted that the party should meet on Tuesday (19) to make a final decision on the party’s stance and the party’s Central Committee (CC) had been informed of the meeting. The CC meeting started at around 4 p.m. and went on till after 6 p.m. The CC members had discussed that there would anyway be several members of the parliamentary group that would vote in favour of Wickremesinghe. However, the majority view had been that the party should work towards gaining the support of the growing public movement calling for change and should therefore put their support behind Wickremesinghe’s opponent – Alahapperuma. By this time members of the Aragalaya movement had also met with the SLFP parliamentary group and expressed their anti-Wickremesinghe stance and that the protests would once again intensify if Wickremesinghe were to become interim president since he did not have the people’s mandate. This matter had been discussed at length at the CC and it had been finally decided that the party should support Alahapperuma at Wednesday’s election. Anura’s conditions Dissanayake, meanwhile, put forward two conditions, saying he was willing to withdraw from contesting for the presidency in Parliament.  The first condition was for all parties to get together and agree to nominate candidates for the posts of president and prime minister who did not have aspirations of holding these positions in the long run. The next condition was that the president and prime minister appointed in such a manner should agree to stabilise the country in a short period and hold fresh elections at the earliest possible time. Dissanayake on a previous occasion had communicated this to the SJB during a meeting between him and MP Mano Ganesan as well as with TNA’s Sumanthiran. RW wins the SLPP However, Wickremesinghe managed to win over a significant number of SLPP MPs in the course of his presidential election campaign. The two main reasons for the SLPP MPs’ change of heart towards Wickremesinghe was the fact that he was prepared to face the violent elements of the Aragalaya movement head-on without any fear of using force to prevent them from continuing further on their destructive path, and the next was his empathy towards those who had lost their houses due to the 9 May mayhem since he too had been a victim of the same violent elements. Also, many SLPP MPs who did not have access to former President Rajapaksa had easy access to Wickremesinghe, since he had made sure that he was accessible to almost all ruling party parliamentarians. The other reason for SLPP MPs to turn to Wickremesinghe is the fact that he (Wickremesinghe), once vested with a position of power, would not look at prematurely dissolving Parliament to hold elections. It is no secret that Wickremesinghe is well aware that he will not enjoy the same opportunities as he is being served with at present and that he will not be able to hold a pro-Wickremesinghe Parliament if he were to dissolve and go for fresh elections. This works well for a majority of the SLPP MPs who are also well aware that chances of them being re-elected to Parliament are very slim and first-time MPs will therefore want to complete their term in the House. Negatives for RW Nevertheless, the path ahead for Wickremesinghe will not be an easy one to tread. It would do well for him to keep in mind that a president who was elected to office by 6.9 million voters was forced to flee the country following the anti-Rajapaksa campaign that had been building through the years and finally reached a peak during the past one-and-a-half years. It is a similar anger that is being harboured among the public, including the Colombo elite, towards Wickremesinghe. Concerns over the betrayal of some of the key promises given by Wickremesinghe during the previous Yahapalana Government, like the issue of accountability and actions against fraud and corruption as well as justice for slain journalists, remain high among a majority of anti-Wickremesinghe protesters. Another factor is that Wickremesinghe was appointed as Prime Minister by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and is seen as a continuation of a Rajapaksa government, which will not bode well for the new President. The protesting public would have considered giving a new government a few months to perform, but it is doubtful whether Wickremesinghe and his Government will be given that ‘time’ since he is continuing with the policies that were put in place during his premiership. Not forgetting the fact that some groups consider Wickremesinghe as a symbol of failure, a majority of the public is now beginning to believe that Wickremesinghe does not enjoy the fullest support of the international community. Despite initial claims that the Japanese Government was prepared to provide the required bridge financing to the country soon after Wickremesinghe assumed office as Prime Minister under Gotabaya Rajapaksa, there has been no movement on that aspect, apart from several discussions with Japanese officials. The US, India, China, and Russia have also been very wary in their approach towards Wickremesinghe and his Government so far. It is therefore evident that the path ahead will not be an easy one for Wickremesinghe. Economic woes While the country’s political turmoil continues, the economic situation continues to worsen, with Sri Lanka now being considered an example for other countries to be mindful of when it comes to economic policies. The country also recorded two deaths in fuel queues on a single day on Friday, bringing the number of overall deaths in queues close to 20. Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe last week stated that the country’s economy continued to stand on precarious ground. However, he did give some confidence to the people when he said that the situation could be turned around by next year. The business community has also called for stabilising the country’s economy following Wickremesinghe’s appointment as President. IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva recently pointed to Sri Lanka as a “warning sign” for the challenges that would be faced by other countries with high debt levels and limited space for policy interventions. Speaking to officials from the Group of 20 (G20) major economies at a meeting in Bali, Indonesia, she urged that action be taken to combat inflation, warning that the “exceptionally uncertain” global economic outlook could turn worse if higher prices persisted, with countries unable to manage their debt at risk of “reversing three decades of catching up with advanced economies”. “Look no further than Sri Lanka as a warning sign,” she cautioned. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Government is also continuing with its preparations to face the litigation process initiated by Hamilton Reserve Bank in the US. The pre-trial conference has been listed for 26 August before Judge Denise L. Cote and representatives of Sri Lanka’s legal advisors, Clifford Chance, have already submitted Notice of Appearance on behalf of Sri Lanka. India discusses Sri Lanka The all-party meeting convened by the Indian Parliament last week was in an uproar as the Centre had shown a comparison of the economic situation in Indian States, according to the Indian media. The Hindu reported that the Centre had told the all-party meeting on the situation in Sri Lanka that “fiscal prudence and responsible governance” were the lessons the country had to learn from the crisis in the neighbouring country and that there should not be a “culture of freebies”. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had stressed that the Indian Government had warned the Rajapaksas about the economic slide on several occasions, but that Colombo had not been “fiscally prudent” or responsible in the crisis. Listing India’s assistance of about $ 3.8 billion since January 2022, Jaishankar had said that India had provided Sri Lanka with a currency swap of $ 400 million, a debt deferral of more than $ 1.5 billion, Lines of Credit totalling $ 1.55 billion for food, fuel, fertilisers and other essentials, and listed gifts from the Central Government and the Tamil Nadu Government of medicines, kerosene, rice, and milk powder.  The Indian Government last Sunday (17) decided to convene an all-party meeting on Tuesday (19) to discuss the crucial issue of the Sri Lankan crisis. The Indian Government’s announcement came a day after India assured Sri Lanka that it would continue to support democracy, stability, and economic recovery in the country. India’s Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Pralhad Joshi made the announcement about the all-party meeting, saying: “On Tuesday, we are calling for another all-party meeting to brief on the Lankan crisis. We have requested Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to hold this briefing.” Quoting unnamed sources, foreign news agencies had reported that the Indian Foreign Secretary was likely to make a presentation before the members on the situation in Sri Lanka and the assistance that India had given in the past to the island nation.  

You may also like