The “Sunday Times”Political Editor
A lesser known fact among most politically literate Sri Lankans was a directive Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe issued to all parliamentarians of his United National Front (UNF) ahead of the National New Year. On Monday April 9 he told them to refrain from criticising the 16 Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) MPs who had voted in favour of the no-confidence motion against him. That comprised six Ministers, the Deputy Speaker, four State Ministers and five Deputy Ministers.
The backdrop to Wickremesinghe’s directive, also lesser known, was a meeting a three-member United National Party (UNP) delegation had with President Sirisena, leader of the SLFP, on Sunday April 8. It comprised Ministers Malik Samarawickrema, Mangala Samaraweera and Vajira Abeywardena. Their talks were centred on wide-ranging issues over intra-party relations and how the coalition partners should move forward together. Thus it covered the role played by the 16 SLFP MPs, too.
Though he is loathed by sections in the UNP, Minister Samarawickrema to his credit has won the confidence of Sirisena both for himself and his party. During talks with Wickremesinghe on Thursday April 12, it was the President who told the Premier that he would like to see Malik hold the post of Minister of Social Empowerment (Samurdhi), Welfare and Kandyan Heritage even temporarily. This week he was even acting for Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera who was with the President in London. Samarawickrema has also emerged as a sort of ‘Man of the Match’ after the no-confidence motion against the Premier. He lobbied intensely in Wickremesinghe’s favour. His style of diplomacy paid off and all in the UNF voted against the motion.
The trio reported back to their party leadership that their discussion was “very cordial and Sirisena gave them a favourable hearing.” According to them, he had even concurred with the representations made on behalf of the UNP that the rebellious 16 have ceded their right to remain in the Cabinet. That was expressly on the grounds that they had voiced their no confidence in the Prime Minister and thus their inability to work with him. The delegation left convinced Sirisena would act on their representations. This singular development ahead of the National New Year appears to have augured well for both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, at least for the time being.