SJB, JVP slam Ranil’s speech 

  • Sajith says will lead any peaceful ‘aragalaya’ and power devolution 
  • JVP’s Tilvin says RW in fear
  • RW hits back, saying he is not ‘aragalaya’ Prez but Constitutional Prez   

BY Safrah Fazal

 The main Parliamentary Opposition parties, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Power (NPP), yesterday (24) condemned President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s speech in Parliament on Wednesday (23), stating that he should refrain from suppressing the “aragalaya” (people’s struggle), as he became the President as a direct result of it, and that it was no surprise that he did not want an election, as he does not honour the mandate of the people.

While noting that former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa had to withdraw due to the people’s power, Opposition and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa said in Parliament yesterday that President Wickremesinghe had no faith in the public’s vote, and called on him to withdraw his statement and to hold elections. 

“While the President arrived and shared his opinion on a number of topics, I think that as the Opposition, it is healthy to provide our response to it. He stated that he would not hold an election. We are unsurprised by this statement, because he came to this position without an election. Through the National List, he entered Parliament, became the Prime Minister after being selected by the President, and thereafter, though a majority in Parliament, he became President. So he doesn’t have faith in universal suffrage; he doesn’t have faith in the public’s vote. 

“We don’t have to be worried by his statement that an election will not be held. That is because those who came to power through an election – the three aforementioned Rajapaksas – had to go home not because they lost the election, but because of the power of the people. They had to leave their positions because they didn’t heed the call of the people. So I make a request to the President who says he respects democracy to recount the opinion he put forward on Wednesday and to hold an election; let’s rebuild this country through a real referendum.”

 Speaking of the President’s statement that he would not allow another “aragalaya” to take place, Premadasa remarked that Wickremesinghe should thank the “aragalaya”, saying that it paved the way for him to become President after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation. 

“He should actually thank the ‘aragalaya’ movement, because it was the ‘aragalaya’ that helped him become the President after Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to leave. We heard him say he will suppress the people’s struggle by using the security forces and the emergency law. We will not allow that to take place. There is no place for that in this country. Any peaceful, democratic people’s struggle is allowed in this country, and we will give strength and leadership to it. No one can stop that. However, if anyone engages in violence, the security forces can act against it.”

 Speaking of the issues in the North and the East, Premadasa said: “I heard the President say that after the Budget, he would hold a special all-party discussion before the Independence Day and will come to a decision on the issue of the North and the East. We will give our fullest support for the devolution of power. We are prepared to lead from the front in this, we will not just follow.”

 Convening a media briefing yesterday, JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva said that an election will not take place if the President is planning to hold elections after rebuilding the country and bringing about the “change” that the youth had requested. 

“He mentioned that he will not hold elections at the moment due to the economic crisis. He wants to rebuild the economy and make the change that the youth asked for and then go for elections. This shows that there won’t be an election. If he is trying to rebuild the country and then hold elections, we don’t think an election will be held, because they won’t be rebuilding the country. An election is needed, because the Government does not have the people’s mandate.” 

Speaking further, Silva stated that Wickremesinghe became President by “coincidence” due to the “aragalaya” and remarked that the latter had allocated a large sum in the Budget for defence as a means of suppressing the people’s struggle.

“The President’s seat was left vacant, so the Rajapaksas took a step back and installed Wickremesinghe there for their own protection. Therefore, he should remember that he was not appointed as President through the people’s mandate. The people did not even vote for him to become an MP.

“He is also trying to threaten the people by stating that he is ready to suppress their voice. On the one hand, to retain the Presidency he obtained from Gotabaya Rajapaksa, he has to make them happy, so he has to lash out at the ‘aragalaya’ and threaten protestors. On the other hand, he is afraid that he too will be chased away. 

“We know that this was not a statement that was made with courage, but out of fear. He said that he will not allow an ‘aragalaya’, and that he will use the emergency law and the security forces to suppress it. If the people decide to take to the streets in protest, then you cannot stop it, because the people’s power supersedes your presidency. Even through his Budget, we can clearly see what he is aiming for. He has allocated the largest sum for defence. This shows that he is trying to procure more tear gas, batons, and water cannons to suppress the people’s struggle and prolong his temporary Presidency.”

Meanwhile, speaking in Parliament yesterday in response to the statements made by the Opposition that he had only become President due to the “aragalaya”, Wickremesinghe retorted that he assumed office after the seat was left vacant by Rajapaksa’s resignation. 

“NPP MP Vijitha Herath said in Parliament on Wednesday that I became President thanks to the ‘aragalaya’, and that now I am trying to suppress the ‘aragalaya’. I didn’t become President because of the ‘aragalaya’. If the President leaves, the position should be taken over by the Prime Minister. So in that case, you should have clung to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. If you had clung to him, would you have been President?” 

Speaking further, he said: “Premadasa said that I asked for the Presidency. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t write letters. I think that Premadasa may have forgotten that on 12 May, he wrote a letter to Gotabaya Rajapaksa.” 

Reading Premadasa’s letter in the House, the President remarked: “By then (when the letter was sent) I had already been sworn into office. So I don’t know why he sent it. There was no use in sending it. After I gave oaths, within two weeks, Gotabaya Rajapaksa left. I didn’t ask him to resign; you asked him to resign. What could I do? What they should have done is to ask him to stay, and told him not to give it to me. Now I can’t do anything about it,” he said, in jest, to resounding laughter from the Government MPs.