President Maithripala Sirisena today expelled a member of his own party from the government in his first major move to assert his authority as the leader of the fractured Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
The President’s office said Tourism and Christian Affairs deputy minister Arundika Fernando was sacked with immediate effect days after he threatened to lead a breakaway faction from the coalition government.
Fernando’s claim to fame was his claim during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime that abducted cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda was living in France. However, he later retracted his comments after being summoned as a witness by courts.
Eknaligoda was abducted two days before the 2010 presidential election and has not been seen since. He is thought to have been killed by a military intelligence unit.
In recent weeks, Fernando was the main spokesman for a group of 12 SLFP ministers and deputies who were reportedly unhappy with the United National Party (UNP)-led coalition and wanted to lead an exodus.
The brief statement from the Presidential Secretariat did not give a reason, but official sources said the sacking prevented Fernando engineering defections.
“The President has sent a powerful signal to ther others who may have been threatening to leave hoping that the President will accomodate them and offer them more perks,” an official source said.
“The President has begun to assert his authority as leader of the SLFP.”
Fernando was not immediately available for comment, but he told the Lankadeepa daily website that his sacking may not discourage others from quitting before any sacking.
Sirisena’s party which is the junior partner in the coalition. It is split between Sirisena and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa who still commands widespread support among SLFP stalwarts and rank and file.
Three weeks ago, Sirisena sacked justice minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe who publicly denounced the government’s $1.1 billion sale in July of a 70 percent stake in a port to state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings.
Sirisena and his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have vowed to continue their unity government till 2020 when the next general election is due.