MR falls from hero to zero as RW beats Sajith to premiership amidst crisis

  • Japan likely to provide positive response on $ 2 b bridge financing
  • SLPP parliamentary group to back RW with 120 seats in the House
  • President, MR, Basil and Namal muster SLPP support for RW Govt.
  • IGP slammed at SLPP group meeting over failure to provide security
  • Sajith advised not to topple new Govt. if not prepared to take charge
  • SJB group continues to debate party’s role amidst country’s crisis
  • SLFP CC split over decision to back RW Govt.; group ready to back Govt.
  • Two out of three dissident group nominees ready to support RW Govt.
  • Opposition to move motion against President in the House on Tuesday
  • Sumanthiran gives lesson on parliamentary Standing Orders to seniors

“Never let a good crisis go to waste” – former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill

Newly-appointed Prime Minister for a sixth time, Ranil Wickremesinghe last week likened his appointment as premier to the appointment of Winston Churchill in Britain in 1939. “Winston Churchill was appointed Prime Minister with just four MPs in 1939 because the country was in a crisis. I have also done the same. The country is in a crisis,” Wickremesinghe said at the Walukarama Temple soon after swearing in as Prime Minister.

The past week will undoubtedly go down in the country’s political history as one that was full of epic significance. It was a week that portrayed the rise and fall of a once-powerful politician. The leader who until now was touted as the one who saved the nation, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) will now go down in history as the leader who was responsible for the violence, mayhem, and carnage of 9 May 2022. Ironically, MR defeated the LTTE also in May 2009, making the month of May a significant month for Rajapaksa family politics.

On the other hand there is Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who after being defeated at the 2020 General Election and being reduced to enter Parliament on the single National List slot secured by his United National Party (UNP), became the Premier of the country despite holding only a single seat in the House.

Be that as it may, the path ahead for Wickremesinghe will be far from easy, given the multiple crises faced by the country.

In the week leading to Monday’s (9) clashes, the increasing frustration among the general public over the shortages was witnessed, with public protests being carried out in many parts of the country over the lack of LPG. Some of these protests resulted in fisticuffs among the people waiting for days in queues to purchase domestic gas cylinders.

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) warned that a continuation of violence in the country would lead to an increase in patients being admitted to hospitals, which would worsen the existing shortage of pharmaceuticals and medical appliances.

The mounting public pressure on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Prime Minister Rajapaksa to resign as they had failed the nation, and the growing tension between the President and Prime Minister over who should resign, resulting in a division even in the governing party, finally resulted in massive chaos and public unrest.

It was very clear that the plan mooted by MR loyalists last Sunday (8) to bring in thousands of party supporters to Colombo the next day (9) would result in clashes with the peaceful protestors outside Temple Trees (‘MainaGoGama’) and the Presidential Secretariat (‘GotaGoGama’). The speech delivered by former Minister Johnston Fernando at Temple Trees on Monday, where he clearly blamed President Rajapaksa for the current crisis, claiming he had not heeded advice from anyone including MR and that action needed to be taken to address this issue, first riled up the crowd.

The next was MR’s speech, where he too claimed that he would always give priority to the country and act accordingly, giving the impression that he was moving out not due to any fault of his, but due to external pressures.

Moved by both these speeches, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) supporters unleashed attacks on peaceful protestors, resulting in an equally-violent retaliation. The rest is now history.

However, MR and several others were marooned inside Temple Trees last Monday and were only moved out on Tuesday (10) morning amidst heavy security and later transported to the Trincomalee Navy Base.

Meanwhile, President Rajapaksa was faced with the difficulty of ensuring normalcy in the country without a minister in charge of the Police force following MR’s resignation.

Wickremesinghe took over the office of the prime minister amidst all this chaos and crises. The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and certain sections of the party meanwhile continue to attack Wickremesinghe and his move to assume the role of prime minister.

However, several senior members of the Opposition had spoken to Opposition and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa and advised him to now focus on getting the President to resign since he (Premadasa) was clearly not prepared to take over the Government.

One of the Opposition seniors had said: “Don’t try to defeat the Government under Ranil now if you are not ready to take the responsibility yourself. Remember, if you topple the Government now, you will have to become the prime minister and take over the Government without laying any conditions. Are you ready? Otherwise you will be seen as someone who just toppled the Government without any plan to address the crisis.” After listening, Premadasa had agreed and said that it was time to prepare to take down President Rajapaksa by getting the motion against him passed in Parliament as the first step.

International support

The country’s economy continues to gasp for breath amidst foreign reserves that are nearing zero level, resulting in continuing shortages.

However, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s appointment has gathered wide support from the international community, with the Premier also focused on setting up a consortium of several foreign countries to help Sri Lanka raise much-needed funds.

Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Bagley was one of the first envoys to meet with Wickremesinghe and express India’s support to move forward with financial assistance. The other foreign envoys were Japanese Ambassador Mizukoshi Hideaki, US Ambassador Julie Chung, and Chinese Ambassador Qi Zhenhong.

It is reliably learnt that Sri Lanka is likely to receive funding amounting to several billions of rupees (approximately $ 2 billion) from Japan in the next few days. The Japanese Ambassador yesterday left the country for Tokyo and he is expected to return to Sri Lanka with news on the bridge finance sought by the Government of Sri Lanka to tide through the ongoing crisis.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka on Monday (9) also commenced the second round of talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), seeking financial assistance for the 17th time in its history to bring the country out of its worst economic crisis since independence.

The IMF stated earlier that the virtual meeting with the Sri Lankan authorities would continue until 23 May. “We remain committed to assisting Sri Lanka, in line with the IMF’s policies. Because Sri Lanka’s debt is assessed as unsustainable, approval of IMF financing, including through a Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI), will require adequate assurances that debt sustainability will be restored,” the IMF said in a statement.

However, the resignation of the Prime Minister and dissolution of the Cabinet of Ministers on the same day that talks with the IMF were to resume were of grave concern. The IMF noted that it was closely following the developments in Sri Lanka.

However, the IMF also stated that it would continue with the talks. “On our virtual mission during 9-23 May, discussions at the technical level have just started and continue as planned so as to be fully prepared for policy discussions once a new government has been formed,” the IMF stated, adding, “We remain committed to assist Sri Lanka in line with the IMF’s policies.”

Meanwhile, the World Bank (WB), which had committed emergency assistance to Sri Lanka, last week also expressed concerns over the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka. WB Country Director for the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka Faris H. Haddad-Zervos stated: “We are deeply concerned with the perpetration of violence in Sri Lanka. Those responsible are only standing in the way of the country’s immediate economic recovery and making the task even more difficult for development partners.”

Meanwhile, Bangladesh had last Sunday (8) decided to extend the term of the $ 200 million loan given to Sri Lanka under a currency swap deal by one more year amidst Sri Lanka’s economic crisis.

Bangladesh Bank directors had reportedly made the decision in a meeting last Sunday, keeping the conditions for the loan unchanged, according to the Central Bank’s Spokesman Serajul Islam.

The agreement between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh was reached in May 2021 and it was Bangladesh’s first loan to another country. While Sri Lanka was supposed to repay it within three months, the term was extended several times at Sri Lanka’s request due to the burgeoning economic crisis.

Opposition leaders meet

Monday’s mayhem resulted in the launch of a series of politically-chaotic events starting on Tuesday. Since Tuesday’s priority was to control the violence that was instigated on Monday by MR, focus on appointing the next prime minister started from Wednesday (11).

Moves to secure the premiership and Government were launched by several factions while the President called Opposition and SJB Leader Premadasa to take over as prime minister. Premadasa responded saying that the SJB parliamentary group was meeting that morning to discuss and decide on the latest developments.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Opposition political parties met at the Opposition Leader’s office on Tuesday (10) night to discuss the political crisis and a way out.

During the discussion, Premadasa had been firm in his stance that the SJB would not agree to form an interim government under President Rajapaksa. Despite calls from some members of the SJB for Premadasa to accept the prime ministerial post and put in place an interim government to bring some form of stability to the country to address the economic crisis, Premadasa had refused to budge.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran had then raised the possibility of following a programme where a national consensus government would be formed while also moving ahead with the proposed 21st Amendment that would abolish the Executive Presidency, and holding the referendum for the abolition and the General Election on the same day.

After listening to Sumanthiran’s proposal given the dire state the country is in, SJB’s Eran Wickramaratne had noted that it was a fallback option as the priority was to get the President to step down immediately or in a short period of time. Premadasa had not countered Wickremaratne’s statement that Sumanthiran’s proposal could be a fallback option.

Not ready to step down

However, the crisis was back at square one when President Rajapaksa on Tuesday night informed several SJB seniors that he was not prepared to resign from his post.

A group of SJB MPs led by Ranjith Madduma Bandara – including Wickramaratne and Dr. Harsha de Silva – met with the President following the Opposition party leaders’ meeting to inform him of the decision reached at the Opposition party leaders’ meeting.

President Rajapaksa, while agreeing to implement the proposals of the BASL national framework, which included the abolition of the Executive Presidency through a constitutional amendment and a referendum, had observed that he would not resign from his post until the abolition of the Executive Presidency was carried out in line with the Constitution.

The SJB delegation had pointed out that the constitutional process would be time-consuming and since the country was in need of urgent solutions, the President should step down, making way for the appointment of an interim president elected by Parliament to take charge while the Opposition formed an interim government to bring back political stability and in turn economic stability to the country.

President Rajapaksa had continued to express his sentiments, saying he would support the abolition of the Executive Presidency and would step down then and not any time before that.

The SJB delegation had noted that they would discuss with the party’s parliamentary group since the majority had been opposed to forming any form of government under the incumbent President.

SJB group heats up

The SJB parliamentary group that met on Wednesday (11) morning saw mixed sentiments on the President’s invitation to Sajith and the SJB. While some in the group had been of the belief that the SJB should not accept the government under President Rajapaksa, another group had opined that the SJB as the main Opposition had a responsibility to prevent the country from being pushed into anarchy by taking charge at this point.

The exchange of ideas had even resulted in a heated exchange of words between MP Harin Fernando and Premadasa. Fernando had been of the belief that the SJB should take charge and take over the government while Premadasa had maintained that the SJB should not just take over the government given the continuous protests by the youth calling ‘Gota go home’. Premadasa had expressed concerns over the possibility of facing public wrath like the Rajapaksas.

Fernando had then threatened to become independent in Parliament. Premadasa had however told Fernando that he would not be able to return to the party fold afterwards and that he was not ready to be pressured into a decision through threats.

A decision was finally taken to lay down several conditions to take over the government and a group of representatives on behalf of the SJB – Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Kabir Hashim, Dr. Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickramaratne – had been appointed to coordinate the matter, with the main condition being for the President to step down from his post.

However, frustrated by the waste of time over discussions and conditions being laid down by the SJB, Fernando and a group of SJB MPs had decided to back Wickremesinghe if he was prepared to take over the challenge of steering the country into normalcy.

It is in this backdrop that Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara met with Wickremesinghe on Wednesday night, saying a group of SJB MPs were prepared to sit independently in Parliament to extend support to him (Wickremesinghe) to form the government. 

SLPP’s shock and awe

It is learnt that members of the Rajapaksa family were not too pleased with the President’s move to invite Premadasa to take over the post of prime minister. A group of SLPP loyalists had also informed them by that time that SJB members and supporters had been among the mobs that had engaged in setting fire to their houses.

The Rajapaksa seniors – MR and Basil – had been of the belief that the future of SLPP politics would be at stake in the event Premadasa took over the premiership.

A message had been communicated to President’s Secretary Gamini Senarath that the President should not look only at Premadasa but should also consider other alternatives like Wickremesinghe.

Basil and Namal Rajapaksa had then made many calls to several SLPP MPs and explained that there needed to be an interim governance mechanism in place to bring stability to the country and that the best person was Wickremesinghe since he was also a friend.

The statement had caught many SLPP MPs off-guard since most of them had been vociferous critics of Wickremesinghe and his previous Yahapalana Government, especially over the Central Bank Treasury Bond scam. The immediate issue of a majority of the SLPP MPs had been the fact that they were being forced to eat humble pie and that they would also have to face political uncertainty if they were to support Wickremesinghe, whom they had discarded in the local political platform.

Finally SLPP General Secretary MP Sagara Kariyawasam had intervened and tried to explain to the SLPP MPs the need to re-strategise. On Friday (13), Kariyawasam announced that the SLPP would sit independently in Parliament but would extend their support to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

President also intervenes

President Rajapaksa yesterday (14) intervened to align the SLPP parliamentary group with the Government being formed under Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. However, less than 70 MPs had attended the meeting and due to the slow turnout, the meeting which was scheduled to commence at 9.10 a.m. had finally gotten underway at 10 a.m.

At the outset of the meeting, the MPs had expressed their plight following their houses being burnt down last Monday. A majority of the SLPP MPs had expressed their displeasure in the manner in which events had panned out over the last week and had called for the resignation of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) over his failure to provide security to parliamentarians, who had eventually lost their houses and vehicles.

The President had then summoned the IGP to the meeting. Once the IGP had arrived, the SLPP MPs had shouted at him. The IGP had then explained what had happened from the side of the Police while the President had played the role of intermediary.

Finally, the President had called on the MPs’ group to support Wickremesinghe in Parliament and they had said that they would support the Wickremesinghe Government. Accordingly, the SLPP group had stated that they would show a 120 majority for the new Government in Parliament.

Dissidents oppose and propose

Meanwhile, the dissidents’ group met last Monday (9) morning to discuss the way forward on the proposed national consensus government since the SJB had – on 7 May – agreed to support the national framework proposed by the BASL.

Leaders of the dissidents’ group had met at SLFP Leader Maithripala Sirisena’s residence and discussed the importance of forming a national consensus government with whoever agreed to join such a mechanism, including members of the Opposition.

However, SLFP Leader Sirisena, who had remained silent allowing the majority decision to prevail at the meetings, had finally spoken out at Monday’s meeting.

He had said the SLFP would not be part of any national consensus government unless the main Opposition SJB was not part of it. The SLPP independent group had also expressed similar views.

The G-10 leaders at the meeting had then noted that they too would not push for the national consensus government as they could not form such a mechanism without the participation of the SLFP, which was the main political party in the dissidents’ group.

Sirisena had also proposed that the dissidents’ group should look at forming a political alliance as it needed to build its strength to prepare for the next election.

However, the dissidents’ group on Wednesday (11) met again to discuss the next course of action.

It was proposed that the dissidents’ group should prepare to work on forming a national consensus government and a decision was taken to shortlist several members of the group who could be nominated for the post of prime minister.

The three names that had been shortlisted were Nimal Siripala de Silva, Dullas Alahapperuma, and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. However, several senior SLFP members had not accepted this move, saying that the President should not be asked whom he wished to appoint and that the dissidents’ group should instead give the name of the person the group wished to form the government.

Several SLFP MPs had walked away from the meeting, objecting to the decision to send the names of three members of the group to the President to choose a prime minister.

However, what the dissident group leaders had been unaware of at the time was that two out of the three persons being proposed by the group were already in discussion with Wickremesinghe.

Moving RW

Wickremesinghe entered the fray last week after a group of UNP members met at Sagala Ratnayake’s residence in Colombo 7 on Tuesday (10) evening and discussed the country’s latest developments at length. During the meeting, Wickremesinghe had been asked by several members at the meeting to make a play for the prime minister post.

Wickremesinghe had immediately rejected the idea, saying he did not have the required support and that he was just one MP in the House. He had noted that cross-party support would be required for him to take a shot at the premiership.

A little while later, several members of the SLPP independent group had approached Wickremesinghe with the same idea.

Accordingly, Wickremesinghe had met with MPs Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Susil Premajayantha on Wednesday (11) morning. Even during the discussion Wickremesinghe had noted the need for cross-party support, especially the backing of the SJB and Tamil National Alliance (TNA). It had then been proposed that disgruntled members from all parties, especially the SJB, would support Wickremesinghe.

On Wednesday evening, a group of SJB MPs – Fernando, Nanayakkara, Hashim, and Thalatha Athukorale – had met Wickremesinghe to discuss a solution to the crises faced by the country. Several other SJB MPs had also telephoned Wickremesinghe to discuss solutions as the country was facing anarchy at the time.

Following the meeting with Wickremesinghe, Fernando had announced that he was going independent and would support an interim government to resolve the crisis faced by the country. Nanayakkara was to announce the same on Thursday (12).

Wickremesinghe meanwhile had met with President Rajapaksa on Wednesday evening and informed him that he (Wickremesinghe) had the required numbers in the House. Wickremesinghe had also presented several conditions to the President: Repeal the 20th Amendment and revert to the 19th Amendment immediately; move the 21st Amendment to the Constitution to abolish the Executive Presidency; the President to relinquish all portfolios, leaving the Government to take charge of all; and build cross-party support and allow the public protest sites to continue without hindrance. President Rajapaksa had agreed to the conditions.

President Rajapaksa addressed the nation on Wednesday night where he stated that a new prime minister and government would be appointed before the end of the week. He also agreed to re-implement the 19th Amendment and to initiate the mechanism to abolish the executive presidency.

Pressure on Sajith

With news of Wickremesinghe’s play for the prime minister post entering the public domain, pressure started to mount on Premadasa. The SJB Leader was under pressure to commence discussions with the President on forming the next government.

The SJB parliamentary group met again on Thursday (12) morning after hearing that Wickremesinghe was to be sworn in as the prime minister that evening. It was decided at the SJB group meeting to soften the conditions initially laid down by the party and reduce the conditions to four points – the President to resign from his post at an early set date; the President should not interfere in the interim all-party government; the abolition of the Executive Presidency at the earliest possible time in line with the Constitution; and holding a General Election for a new public mandate as soon as the country returned to normalcy.

The SJB seniors had convinced the group of party members who were considering going independent to support an interim government and to not make hasty decisions as the SJB as the main Opposition party and Opposition Leader Premadasa were prepared to take over the responsibility of setting up the next government.

Meanwhile, President Rajapaksa had also invited SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka for a discussion last Wednesday evening. Fonseka had met with the President after informing Party Leader Premadasa and receiving his approval.

While the President had reportedly requested Fonseka to take over as the prime minister, Fonseka had declined the offer, saying he would not accept any portfolio under the Rajapaksas. However, the conversation had then focused largely on national security and what could be done to bring normalcy back to the country.

As the President prepared to move ahead with Wickremesinghe’s appointment as the prime minister even after receiving the SJB’s latest set of conditions, several SJB MPs had telephoned President’s Secretary Senarath saying the SJB and its Leader were prepared to take over the government. Senarath had conveyed the message to the President and President Rajapaksa had in turn responded saying that the premiership and government had first been offered to the SJB and Premadasa on several occasions and that they had turned it down. President Rajapaksa had also noted that he could not go back on his word as he had already agreed to appoint Wickremesinghe.

The President also took steps to respond to Premadasa’s last letter in writing, where it was pointed out that another prime minister was being appointed after he (Premadasa) had turned it down. The letter was also made public.

Last minute decision

However, with the group of SJB MPs informing Wickremesinghe of the difficulties faced by them in extending support to him following the SJB’s decision to take over the government and also hearing that other parties in the Opposition were also not likely to extend their support to him, Wickremesinghe called a group of his party loyalists for a meeting.

During the meeting, several UNPers had been of the opinion that Wickremesinghe should go ahead and take over the premiership since other party MPs would gradually join in once they saw the government moving forward with the support being extended by the international community.

Another group had noted that Wickremesinghe should call Premadasa’s bluff by saying that he should accept the premiership and form the government as the Opposition Leader, knowing very well that Premadasa was not prepared to take over the responsibilities of a nearly-bankrupt, crises-ridden economy.

Nevertheless, the SLPP had already informed Wickremesinghe that it would help him secure the numbers required in Parliament.

Meanwhile, the Mahanayakes and a leading Catholic Bishop had also telephoned Wickremesinghe and given him their blessings to move forward and accept the premiership. The religious leaders had noted that Wickremesinghe needed to think of the crises faced by the country and give priority to addressing these issues as others would eventually extend their support to him.

Encouraged by the religious leaders, Wickremesinghe had decided to accept the premiership and was sworn into the post at 6.30 p.m.

SLFPers meet President

On Thursday (12) morning, several MPs – including Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) MPs Nimal Siripala de Silva, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Duminda Dissanayake, Mahinda Amaraweera, and Nalin Fernando – also met with President Rajapaksa.

SLFP Leader Maithripala Sirisena had been unaware of the meeting between a group of SLFP MPs and the President.

The discussion had focused on the appointment of a new prime minister and government. President Rajapaksa had reiterated that Wickremesinghe would be appointed to the post in the evening.

Both de Silva and Amaraweera had informed the President that they were prepared to support Wickremesinghe once he assumed duties as the prime minister.

Sirisena had then found out that de Silva, Amaraweera, and Dissanayake had met with the President without the party’s knowledge. He was irked upon learning that de Silva and Amaraweera had agreed to support Wickremesinghe.

Earlier last week, President Rajapaksa on Sunday (8) turned to the SLFP for an answer to the issue of finding the next prime minister. The President then called senior SLFPer Mahinda Amaraweera, who had been assigned by the party to coordinate with the President’s side on the matter of forming an interim government. The President had explained to Amaraweera his conundrum over the appointment of the next prime minister.

He had informed Amaraweera that MR had proposed Leader of the House, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena as the prime minister of the national consensus government. Amaraweera had said the SLFP and the dissidents’ group were not likely to support Gunawardena.

The President had then asked Amaraweera to meet him on Sunday (8) night, to which Amaraweera had responded saying he would respond after discussing with the party.

Finally, it had been decided by the SLFP to propose the name of party senior – former Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva – as the SLFP’s nominee for the post of prime minister of the national consensus government. The meeting had been held at Amaraweera’s residence.

The meeting had also been attended by several MPs of the SJB. The discussion had been focused on the proposed national consensus government, especially the post of prime minister since SJB Leader Premadasa had stated he would not accept the position.

Nevertheless, seeing the growing split in the party over the new government in the making, the SLFP leadership had immediately decided to convene a meeting of the party’s main decision-making body the following day, Friday (13) to make a final decision on the party’s stance.

SLFP CC decides

The Central Committee (CC) of the SLFP met last Friday (13) morning to decide the party’s stance on Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s appointment and the setting up of a new government.

The CC meeting had been a lengthy one with divisions, arguments, and counter arguments on the issues at hand. By then a group of SLFP members, especially in the parliamentary group, had already commenced discussions with the new prime minister and were of the belief that they should extend their support to Wickremesinghe. The CC meeting had therefore been one of extreme importance for the party to reach a middle ground to prevent a split.

At the outset of the meeting, a majority of the CC members had asked Party Leader Sirisena to brief the gathering on his views of the latest political developments and the path he believed the SLFP should take.

Sirisena had expressed the many difficulties faced by him when he governed the country with Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister under the Yahapalana Government. He had noted that being part of a government under Wickremesinghe would not be the best move for the SLFP.

Several young CC members had expressed similar sentiments afterwards. Thilanga Sumathipala had also spoken, saying that he and Party General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera could not be part of a government after being extremely critical of Wickremesinghe after leaving the UNP.

Duminda Dissanayake had then spoken and emphasised the need for the SLFP to make a political decision on the latest developments and how the party should be steered without focusing on personal issues. He had further explained that he had stood by the party decision to support the Rajapaksas and be part of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government after he and several others from the SLFP had worked to defeat him (MR) at the 2015 Presidential Election. He had noted that as a party, it was important that a political decision be made without personal feelings.

Several CC members had asked Dissanayake to explain his proposal to the committee. Dissanayake had noted that the SLFP had been one of the first political parties to push for an all-party interim government to address the growing crisis and that the party should not veer away from it.

He had further noted that the party should maintain the stance that it would support a government that was formed with the participation of all political parties.

Dissanayake’s aim had been to bring all CC members to a middle ground that would prevent a split in the party. Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa and Dhamma Dassanayake had also agreed with Dissanayake, saying that it was important for the party to reach such a stance.

Finally, after a lengthy discussion, Jayasekera had posed the question to the CC as to the final decision that should be announced. Dissanayake and several seniors had explained that the party should maintain that the SLFP continued to stand for an all-party government. Another CC member had questioned what the party’s response would be if Wickremesinghe invited the party to discuss and form an all-party government. Jayasekera had explained that the party would stand by its decision that it would only join if and when an all-party government was formed.

The party seniors attended a press conference that was organised at the Party Headquarters afterwards and Sirisena explained that the party would not be part of the new Government as the party’s stance was that an all-party government was the need of the hour.

On Friday evening, Nimal Siripala de Silva had also spoken to Wickremesinghe, explained the SLFP’s stance, and noted that the party could reconsider its position if the new Government had a majority in Parliament and could muster the support of other political parties as well.

Speaker under pressure

The attacks on ruling party politicians that commenced last Monday and continued until Tuesday night resulted in Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena cancelling the parliamentary party leaders’ meeting that was to be held on Wednesday (11) to decide on convening an emergency session of Parliament to discuss the crisis situation in the country.

The Speaker also claimed that a special parliamentary session would only be held once the security of all parliamentarians are ensured.

However, the Speaker on Tuesday called on President Rajapaksa to immediately convene Parliament during last week since the next date for Parliament had been fixed for Tuesday (17).

Nevertheless, the Speaker’s statement on cancelling the party leaders’ meeting gathered much criticism, with demands for the meeting to be held online. It was then decided to hold the party leaders’ meeting via Zoom at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Speaker, Opposition Leader, Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella, Madduma Bandara, Rauf Hakeem, then MP Ranil Wickremesinghe, Rishad Bathiudeen, TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran PC, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Dinesh Gunawardena, and Ali Sabry PC had participated in the Zoom meeting.

The SJB had noted that the motion already presented to Parliament against the President should be taken up during the next parliamentary session. The TNA and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) had also backed the proposal.

However, the meeting had concluded without a final decision being reached on the matter.

Opposition prevails

The parliamentary party leaders had several meetings last week due to the inability to reach consensus on moving the No Confidence Motion (NCM) against the President in Parliament on Tuesday (17).

The decision had finally been pushed through by the Opposition political parties during the party leaders’ meeting last Thursday (12). While the Opposition party leaders had attended Thursday’s meeting, the SLPP had been represented only by MP Dilan Perera.

Speaker Abeywardena had raised concerns over moving the motion as the Government side needed to appoint a leader of the House. He had noted that the Speaker had to consult the leader of the House and without the leader of the House, it could not therefore be moved.

Opposition party leaders, especially Kiriella and Sumanthiran, had questioned the Speaker on whether there would be Parliament sessions starting 17 May. They had also noted that a new deputy speaker had to also be appointed on the 17th.

The Speaker had said yes, but added that the parliamentary Standing Orders noted that he (the Speaker) had to consult the leader of the House. Sumanthiran had explained that the Standing Orders stated that the Speaker ‘may’ consult the leader of the House, making it the Speaker’s prerogative to make the final call and that the leader of the House needed to be consulted only to check on government business for that day. The Speaker had asked if there was any government business for that date and the response had been negative.

SLPP’s Perera had then taken the Sinhala Standing Orders book and noted that the word ‘may’ was not in the Sinhala print. The Secretary General of Parliament had also agreed with Perera, while bringing out the Sinhala Standing Orders book.

Sumanthiran had responded to Perera saying that he (Sumanthiran) never expected him to bring about language issues to create a division. Perera had apologised saying he did not have any such intention, while the Secretary General had also withdrawn the Sinhala Standing Orders book.

The Opposition lawmakers had then urged the Speaker not to engage in petty politics, with Sumanthiran, Kiriella, and Anura Kumara Dissanayake calling on him not to be a dictator or behave like a Local Government chairman or a puppet. The Opposition members had also asked that proceedings of the meeting be recorded as well.

Kiriella had then asked the Secretary General to make a decision on the matter as a majority of the party leaders were calling for the motion to be taken up in the House on Tuesday (17).

The Secretary General had then said that the motion was required to be in the Order Paper for five days. Sumanthiran had immediately started to count the days from 9 May (the date the Speaker had said the motion would be included in the Order Paper). The TNA MP had said the five days would be completed during the weekend, enabling the motion to be taken up in Parliament on the 17th. The Secretary General had then explained that the motion had been included in the Order Paper on Wednesday (11). Sumanthiran had said that even if it was entered into the Order Book on the 11th, the five days would be completed by Monday (16).

The Secretary General had however contradicted saying that the five days excluded Sundays and public holidays. Sumanthiran had then reminded the Secretary General that since he (the Secretary General) was also a lawyer by profession, he knew very well that it would have been indicated in the relevant document if the number of days stipulated excluded Sundays and public holidays. The Secretary General had agreed but said it was the practice in Parliament. 

The Opposition legislators had asked whether the motion could be taken up if a motion was passed with a majority vote in the party leaders’ meeting to push for the motion, stating that the House resolves to take up the motion expressing displeasure against the President on Tuesday (17) notwithstanding Clause 27(3) of the Standing Orders.

It was finally agreed that the motion against the President be taken up on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had, on an earlier occasion, expressed support to the motion against the President, and it will be interesting to watch the Premier’s actions come Tuesday.

The reactions of MR, Namal, Basil, Chamal, and Shasheendra Rajapaksa will also be interesting to watch when the motion against the President is taken up in the House. However, it is doubtful whether they will attend this week’s Parliament sessions, given the growing public protests.