Sri Lankan politics is full of confusions, contradictions and contrasts. The political situation was hotting up even with the possibility of a change of government a week ago. It happened after speculation was rife that President Maithripala Sirisena was contemplating the formation of a new government. The media reports about a secret meeting between President Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the residence of MP S.B. Dissanayake gave rise to such speculation.
However, political euphoria, generated by it within the opposition, fizzled out last Sunday as the President communicated that he would prefer such a change of government only after the 2019 budget was passed in Parliament.
- The President, through his emissaries informed his position to the JO or the MR camp
- After a month-long debate, it will be put to a vote only on December 5, 2018
- The Prime Minister is slated to visit India this weekend and will meet with Premier Modi
The President, through his emissaries such as MPs S.B. Dissanayake and Dilan Perera, informed his position to the JO or the MR camp.
Incensed by the latest position of the President, the MR camp now believes that it was yet another ruse by the President to hoodwink them with the false promise to form an interim government. According to the President, the United National Party (UNP) has the numerical strength in Parliament to defeat even the annual budget of the interim government. As such, the President believes it is not advisable to form such a minority government with MR at this hour. So, he indicated his interest in considering such a proposal only after the budget.
The dates are already fixed for the budget debate. After a month-long debate, it will be put to a vote only on December 5, 2018. Afterwards, everyone will be in holiday mood for the New Year. After the holiday vacation, things will be on track properly only in January, next year.
After weighing pros and cons, on the contrary to what the President appears to be thinking, the MR camp sees that it is not the correct timing to form a government. All in all, the formation of a new interim government now remains a remote possibility with such contrasting thoughts between the President and the former President coupled with skepticism. Also, the JO makes it conditional that the SLFP led by the President should detach itself from the government for any dialogue on the formation of a new government. A formal decision by the SLFP to this effect is also unlikely under the current circumstances.
The President’s meeting MR created rumblings within the UNP last week. Now, the UNP can breathe a sigh of relief because a change of their government is not imminent.
President, PM lash out each other at Cabinet
Be that as it may, animosity between President Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe took new heights on Tuesday as the two leaders embroiled themselves in a heated exchange of words at the weekly Cabinet meeting. It started after Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe presented a Cabinet memorandum seeking approval to develop the East Container Terminal of Colombo Port by Sri Lanka Ports Development Authority (SLPDA).
The Prime Minister, however, opined that that it should be done under an Indian investment. Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama also stressed the need to hand over the terminal for development to India.
The suggestion infuriated the President. In an excited mood, the President unleashed his verbal barrage in all directions sparing no one, and even charged that the country would compromise its sovereignty by alienating its seaports to external parties in this manner.
While rapping the government for leasing out of the Hambantota Port to a Chinese company, he said it would spell more doom in the event of alienation of a stake of the Colombo Port to another country in the same way. “If we act like this, we will not be able to berth our own ship in our own port,” he said.
The Prime Minister defended his position saying that a bulk of transshipment business at Colombo Port was done with India. He cited it as justification for handing over the East Container Terminal for development to India. But, the President, at this point, referred to his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in Kathmandu, Nepal last month.
“PM Modi does not mind the SLPDA developing it single-handedly,” he said.
It enraged the Prime Minister prompting him to remark in Sinhala, “Modi agamethithuma dannawanam, ona Bambuwak (Hang it if PM Modi knows it!) The Prime Minister is slated to visit India this weekend and will meet with Premier Modi and discuss the issues at hand. The President did not stop at that. He struck a note of criticism on Chinese involvement in development projects as well. “I met with Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammad. He asked me to exercise caution in dealing with China,” the President added.
RAW conspires to kill me- President
In addition, the President spoke out his disillusionment with the lack of progress in investigations into the alleged assassination attempt on him.
“If I am the person with authority in this case, I will not keep the present Inspector General of Police (IGP) even for a week,” he thundered.
Commenting on the Indian national questioned over the assassination plot, the President called him an agent of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). In this way, he tried to tell that RAW was conspiring to eliminate him physically.
“I know Indian PM Narendra Modi does not know about it,” he said.
Earlier, the accusation was that RAW played a pivotal role in unseating the MR regime and installing the current President. Today, the President accused the very same RAW of hatching a plot to kill him.
Sirimavo’s foreign policy the best - Rajitha
Amidst tension between the President and the PM, Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne tried to douse the fire. He opined that Sri Lanka, as a small nation, could not dictate terms to big powers. Instead, he said Sri Lanka needed cooperation of all. In this respect, he cited the foreign policy of former Prime Minister, late Sirimavo Bandaranaike as the best model for Sri Lanka.
“She nicely balanced out relations with China and India,” he said.
Come what may, the President seems to be toeing a national-minded approach which is, in fact, characteristic of his political upbringing with the SLFP. The SLFP has given leadership till recent times to the left-of-centre political forces of this country. In contrast, the UNP is pursuing the liberal economic model.
The policy contrasts between the UNP and the President are becoming more and more prominent. It has led to indecision in the government on crucial issues. Some of the UNP Ministers doubt whether the President has struck a deal with MR to topple their government. Rising bitterness between the President and the PM has given reasons for them to harbour such thoughts. However, the JO is not that keen to form a government at this hour. Instead, its leaders who met at MR’s Colombo residence and discussed measures to apply pressure on the government to conduct provincial council elections.