MR says President has not asked and will not ask him to quit, but Sirisena tells different story Talks on new govt. distract public attention from public revolt and soaring cost of living    Even if President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is yet to tell Sri Lankans how he will provide uninterrupted supplies of electricity, fuel, [...]


Premier Mahinda in or out as moves take shape to form interim govt.



  • MR says President has not asked and will not ask him to quit, but Sirisena tells different story
  • Talks on new govt. distract public attention from public revolt and soaring cost of living


President Rajapaksa holding talks with 42-member 'Independent' group on forming an interim administration

 Even if President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is yet to tell Sri Lankans how he will provide uninterrupted supplies of electricity, fuel, cooking gas and medical needs of the people once the supplies provided by India’s generosity end in the coming weeks and months, he found the time this week to discuss the formation of “an all-party government.”

This was with 24 parliamentarians who were all once part of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)-led coalition. Ironically, this turned out to be the third week when MPs were devoting their attention to a new government. In the process, the immediate issues faced by the people remain in the backburner. Next week, two motions of No Confidence — one on the Government and another on the Speaker are due to be handed over.

Though by no means illegal, the process for such a new government will be time consuming. Firstly, President Rajapaksa will write to all political parties represented in Parliament seeking their views. The Samagi Jana Balavegaya  (SJB), the main opposition in Parliament, is not in favour. Its leader Sajith Premadasa has declared publicly that his party would not join such an arrangement. So is the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Power (NPP). Its spokesperson Vijitha Herath said yesterday that their party would also not join an interim government where “there is a role by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa or Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa”. Largely, that leaves mostly the SLPP and its constituents in what seems a non-starter.

There is more to these events than meets the eye. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s backers are also mulling another option that they feel will unite the 42-member breakaway faction which now sits as “independent” group in the opposition benches. They have mooted the name of former minister Dullas Allahapperuma as the new Prime Minister and the formation of a new Cabinet of Ministers. The news had wafted in the air for some time that the subject has become a political hot potato. Those for him and against him made strong contributions at a government parliamentary group meeting on Thursday, prompting Allahapperuma to counter accusations of a conspiracy. The idea behind the move, as one source said, is to ensure “we have a stable government.” He said, “We must show this not only to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but also to foreign governments that there is stability in Sri Lanka. It is not there at present.”

Monks walking to Independence Square for a Sangha Convention last evening

Commenting on Friday’s proposal for an all-party government, former President Maithripala Sirisena declared at a news conference just after the meeting that “President Rajapaksa agreed to appoint an interim government and also to a cabinet of ministers without the current prime minister.”  Is this fact or fiction? The nuances behind the statement, which should really have come from the President’s Office and not from Sirisena, are revealing. In rushing to make the announcement, Sirisena seems wanting to make what he declared a fait accompli – i.e. come an interim government and the present Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa would be replaced by another. However, President Rajapaksa has been cautious enough not to concur.

This also raises a fundamental question. Can all the blame for the ongoing economic disaster be placed on the shoulders of the Prime Minister? Even if the answer is a “no,” he has left broken bridges with a sizeable number of his parliamentary colleagues, some of whom were close associates. This explains the exit of the 42 MPs as “independents.” Even in such a situation, the responsibility should be more with the President who is the head of state and head of government among other matters. The family caravan moved until the protestors cried foul.

A President’s Office news release headlined “Steps towards forming an all-party government commenced…”  declared, “President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has extended an invitation to form an all-party government comprising all parties represented in Parliament.” There was no reference to a new prime minister, but a line said the President “stated that he would agree to the points contained in the common proposal presented by party representatives if all political parties supported it.”

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa told his parliamentary colleagues on Thursday that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had never asked him to quit, nor would he asked him to do so. He made the same remarks to members of local authorities. A more elaborate assertion where he said that his family was united and there were no differences was made to our sister newspaper Daily Mirror.

Some 90 MPs took part in the parliamentary group meeting on Thursday.  By hindsight it became clear that the battle lines have been drawn even before the meeting began. Tissakutti Aaratchci fired the first salvo at Allahapperuma for being involved in a conspiracy to oust the Prime Minister and take his place. Other speakers followed. Allahapperuma responded in a hard-hitting speech where he said all kinds of epithets were being hurled at him. Some had called him “kota” because he was short. However, he pointed out, that his commitment to his party was high and he would not be deterred by manipulators who wanted to hurt him politically.

Earlier, two ministers gave briefings to the MPs. One was on the fuel situation whilst the other was on fertiliser imports. Finance Minister, Ali Sabry briefed them on his talks with the International Monetary Fund.  During the discussion, President Rajapaksa had occasion to say there had been claims that he was out to remove his elder brother, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa. He said there was no such move. Once again, there was some laughter when S.B. Dissanayake suggested that the Police should be used to disperse the protestors at Galle Face Green. He claimed that other than that issue, there were no problems in the country. Just weeks earlier, Dissanayake was on a television programme where he apologised on behalf of the Government for the current shortages. Premier Rajapakasa was to add at the end that he had no quarrel with Allahapperuma. President Rajapaksa was visibly annoyed by the remarks made by former minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi. She tried to meet the President after the meeting ended abruptly but was not successful.

Here is what former President Sirisena said at the news conference: “Our party has been discussing the social and economic problems in the recent days. We also have been discussing with the other eleven parties the same issue. We were invited by the President to discuss the proposal put forward by our party for setting up an interim government.

“This is not a move by us to prop up ourselves or to safeguard the Government. We are only taking up the issues faced by the public. There are many who cannot afford three meals a day. The students are unable to come to school due to the lack of diesel for vehicles. Poor students who use public bus services too have been affected due to the price increase in bus fares. Therefore, we have decided to take up these issues due to the difficulties faced by the public, particularly the price increases in fuel and food items.

“Trade unions, political parties and the public have taken to the streets in the recent weeks to protest these issues and call for a complete change of the Government. Considering these facts, we decided to meet the President since the proposal for the formation of an interim government was our own proposal as well.

“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he was agreeable to the establishment of an interim government. We expressed the opinion that all parties represented in parliament should be included in the interim government. We took part in the discussions on behalf of the people, mainly the youth who are calling for a change of government.

“Yesterday (Thursday), for the first time all trade unions and government employees took part in protests across the country. More than thousand trade unions were reported to be involved in the protest. This is the reflection of the unrest in the country. Therefore, we took part in the discussion to relieve the people of their difficulties. There has been a consensus among the public about an interim government. Even the Buddhist prelates have come to an understanding that an interim government should be formed.  Civil society organisations, chambers of commerce, the business community and others have been calling for the formation of an interim government.

“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa believed if all parties are collectively agreeable to the formation of an interim government, it could be done. The interim government will be responsible for running the Government. This is only the first step until the elections are held.

“Political parties should discuss and decide whether it is for six months or one year till elections are held. This will help to bring relief to the people by giving solutions to the economic problems, the food crisis, the lack of funds among people and similar issues.

“It is not a matter as to who the head of the government is or who is presiding over the government. This would also help to give confidence to the international community and lending agencies so that Sri Lanka could seek help from those countries or agencies. It would also help us to get medical supplies.

“We cannot call for elections immediately because the situation is not conducive. There needs to be a calm situation, there cannot be conflicts if we are to hold elections. The fuel issue and the electricity issue need to be resolved. Even the election commission has issued a statement calling for the formation of an interim government and hold elections thereafter.

“Therefore, civil society, Buddhist prelates, chamber of commerce and others have reached consensuses that the formation an interim government is the best solution that should be taken immediately.

“If there is no electricity, no gas and no papers to print the ballot papers, it could have an impact on elections. Therefore, there will not be a conducive situation to conduct elections. We need to build up the background for the conduct of elections.

“The President will send out invitations to the other parties to form an interim government. The President is agreeable to form the interim government under a new prime minister. In the interim government, the number of cabinet ministers should be between 15 and 20. We also proposed that a National Council should be appointed. It will take important decisions including appointment of ministers and resolving national issues.

“The National Council should be taking decisions, regarding the appointment of ministry secretaries, the Attorney General and even the Inspector General of police. The appointment should be done by the National Council. It will be making the recommendations.

“An Executive Committee appointed by the National Council will be advising the President as well. The president and the cabinet of ministers will be working according to the advice given by the National Council.

“Therefore, this is not done to prop up the Government or to save the Government and obtain positions in the Government. The only objective is to work and get relief to the people who have been affected in many ways. This is a move to restore normalcy in public life, if we do not create the background we cannot go for an election.”

“Even the National Election Commission proposed for an interim government in order to ensure that a conducive climate could be created to go for elections.

“Therefore, the discussions were a success as the President agreed to appoint an interim government and also to appoint a cabinet without the current prime minister, With the formation of an interim government we could get the assistance of the United Nations, the European Union and other international bodies.”

The absence of any activity by the SLFP about alleviating the immediate issues faced by the people is most striking. It is in this backdrop that the SLFP has focused time and energy to set up an interim government. That too, after taking up the position that it would no longer hold talks with President Rajapaksa. This was until two of its members — Shantha Bandara and Suren Raghavan — are removed from the State Minister positions conferred on them. However, the Government changed its mind.

In the official statement, the Presidential Media Division said: “President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has extended an invitation to form an all-party government comprising all political parties represented in the Parliament.

“The President made these remarks at a discussion held at the President’s House in Colombo today (29) with party leaders and representatives who are now operating independently in Parliament.

“Attention was drawn to the need to form a National Consensus Government to continue the activities of the Government and to appoint a National Council with the participation of the leaders of the political parties represented in Parliament as its initial step.

“The President stated that he would agree to the points contained in the common proposal presented by the party representatives if all political parties supported it. It was also decided to nominate five representatives from among those who took part in the discussion, to take forward the mechanism of forming an all-party government.

“Discussions were held on formulating a systematic programme after obtaining the views of other political parties in Parliament, including the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna.

“Former President Maithripala Sirisena, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Susil Premajayantha, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila, Mahinda Amaraweera, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Tissa Vitarana, W.D.J. Seneviratne, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Nimal Lanza, Jayantha Samaraweera, Jayarathna Herath, Tiran Alles, Jagath Pushpakumara, Nalin Fernando, M.M. Athaullah, Gevindu Kumaratunga, Weerasumana Weerasinghe and Asanka Navarathna were present at the discussion.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of Buddhist monks gathered at Independence Square yesterday for a Sangha Convention urging the President and the Government to immediately implement the proposals of the Mahanayake Theras. The monks called on the Prime Minister to immediately resign to make way for the appointment of an interim Government comprising all parties represented in Parliament. If this is not done, they said that as per the Convention of the Mahanayakes of the three Nikayas, they will pledge to reject all politicians.

How the proposed interim government would take shape is still cast in more than little doubt, particularly in the light of some parties not joining in. Former President Sirisena’s news conferences has created an entirely different impression. The All India Radio said in a tweet “Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya agrees to replace his elder brother @PresRajapaksa as Prime Minister in a proposed interim government to solve a political impasse caused by the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.”

Even if such a government is not established at the end of the day, the SLFP has been successful in gaining political mileage by claiming that it did its best to pull the country out of the morass it is in. This is at a time when a major general strike is pending next week and threatens to cripple civilian life.

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