President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe met at Malik Samarawickrema’s Kandy residence marking the first occasion when such a meeting took place between these two leaders since October 26, 2018
President Maithripala Sirisena, who was in Kandy last Sunday, visited UNP stalwart Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama at his residence. While he was there exchanging pleasantries with Samarawickrama, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also dropped by. Both leaders were in Kandy to attend the function to mark the awarding of the honorary title ‘Sasana Deepana Abhimani’ to UNP Deputy Leader Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs Minister Sajith Premadasa by the Malwatte Chapter of the Siyam Nikaya.
And, it finally led to a private, casual confab involving the President, the Prime Minister and Samarawickrama at the latter’s house. It is the first time that the two leaders met in private in a cordial atmosphere after the incidents that took place on October 26, 2018.
- The Prime Minister remained there and had lunch with malik, but the President left early
- the party had to take into account the expenditure heads of the President’s office and the ministries held by him
- Mahinda Rajapaksa is planning to make a formal announcement of the presidential candidate at the SLPP
President Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe from the Premiership on October 26 setting a political crisis that ended after restoration of the status quo. But, it sowed discord between the two leaders and bitterness rose to an all-time high. It also ended the national Unity Government between the UNP and the SLFP. It is no doubt that President Sirisena’s scathing criticism of the Prime Minister subsequently took a heavy political toll on the UNP ahead of vital national elections.
Against such a backdrop, the meeting between the President and the Prime Minister can be viewed with some interest and as a sign of fresh political development.
According to Samarawickreme, it was a coincidence that the two leaders happened to be at his Kandy residence at the same time.
“The President came first and stayed there for a while. The Prime Minister came later. It was coincidence,” Samarawickrama said.
Besides, the UNP wants a measure of goodwill from the President to strengthen the Government’s stability. In fact, the UNP wants to offer some ministerial posts to four of the MPs of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)
The Prime Minister remained there and had lunch with Samarawickrema, but the President left early.
What had transpired during the meeting at Samarawickrama’s residence was unavailable. However, it leaves scope for interpretation in various ways.
The President has closed ranks with the UNP as he spelled out clearly when Wickremesinghe was sworn in again. However, his plans with the other side- Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) or the Joint Opposition- did not work in the way he expected. He wanted to become the presidential candidate with the support of the SLPP, but his plans went awry.
As such, one may assume that he is making overtures to the UNP once again for political cohabitation. The meeting is presumed by some as a move to work out some working understanding between the President and the UNP.
However, any political understanding between the UNP and the President is hardly imaginable at this hour. Besides, the UNP wants a measure of goodwill from the President to strengthen the Government’s stability. In fact, the UNP wants to offer some ministerial posts to four of the MPs of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), who joined hands with it in Parliament, but the President who has the authority to swear them in has declined to do so up to now.
There were media reports regarding plans for the appointment of these MPs as Non-Cabinet or state ministers. Last week, SLFP MP Lakshman Seneviratne, whose name was mentioned in a newspaper report as a possible nominee to a ministerial post, rushed to President Sirisena along with a clipping of that news article.
Response not positive
He made inquiries about it from the President. Furious over the inquiry, the President retorted saying, “You better ask for a portfolio from the newspaper that published such a news story,”
The SLFP sits in the opposition along with those of the SLPP and its allies. They all work under the banner of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). However, the SLFP is at a loss to decide whether to support the Budget or not.
Its MPs met with their leader, President Sirisena, on Tuesday night and discussed the matter. It appeared to be a herculean task for the SLFP to take a final stand on the matter.
Party’s MP Shantha Bandara said that it would be impossible for the SLFP to vote for the Budget tomorrow evening in Parliament as a party in the opposition. However, he said that the party had to take into account the expenditure heads of the President’s office and the ministries held by him. So, the total defeat of the Budget would affect the President.
It is no doubt that President Sirisena’s scathing criticism of the Prime Minister subsequently took a heavy political toll on the UNP ahead of vital national elections
The SLFP has to reconcile these two aspects in deciding on the vote on the Budget.
In case, it takes a decision such as abstaining or being absent, it will be construed by the SLPP-led political force as a move taken in support of the UNP-led Government. In such an eventuality, it would strain its relations with the SLPP in trying to form a political alliance. The SLFP MPs were absent during the vote after the Second Reading of the budget. The response from the SLPP was not positive.
Ahead of the final vote, the UPFA parliamentary group which comprises MPs from both the SLPP and the SLFP will meet with President Sirisena and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa to decide how best the matter could be sorted out.
Meanwhile Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa is planning to make a formal announcement of the presidential candidate at the SLPP convention scheduled for June.