Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena hit back at the senior partner in his coalition Friday suggesting that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government could be more corrupt than the previous regime.
In a scathing attack on the United National Party (UNP), an emotional Sirisena said it was easy to break up, but difficult to reunite and urged mature politicians in the UNP to stop grand standing by its juvenile members.
The remarks were at UNP backbenchers who indirectly blamed Sirisena for delaying local council elections saying that the postponement of polls was detrimental to the future of their party.
“It is easy to separate, but difficult to unite. Success has been achieved only through collective effort,” the President said. “It is easy to create political crisis. But it is the poor people who will suffer as a result.”
He said the former Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa was responsible for several mistakes and that was why he was crushed at the January 2015 elections.
“The SLFP made some mistake, but if the UNP is also making the same mistakes, and even exceeding (the corruption) of the SLFP regime, the people will not approve it.
“If there is any allegation against me, I am will to give up all my posts and join the battle against corruption,” he said amid applause at a public meeting in Nikaweratiya.
He rejected allegations that he was behind the move of some SLFP supporters to seek a stay of the local council elections which were due to be held by late January.
“I want to state categorically that I want these elections held as early as possible,” the President said.
UNP MP Kavinda Jayawardena, the son of UNP stalwart, the late Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, blamed Local Government minister Faiszer Musthapha for a fiasco in drawing electoral boundaries that has held up the vote.
Sri Lanka’s court of appeal effectively suspended the local council vote by issuing an interim stay order against Musthapha’s gazette carving out the electoral councils.
Musthapha was also accused of delaying tactics and deliberately issuing a gazette with legal issues in order to put off the elections. The UNP back benchers hinted that Sirisena was behind Musthapha.
Jayawardena said Thursday’s outburst against the delaying of elections was the UNP’s first salvo. “This is the start, we shall fire more guns unless we get the elections our people want,” he said.
There had been tensions between the President and the government over several issues, including the arrest of several high profile members of the former regime, economic policy and the appointment of key personnel.
Another UNP backbencher, Thushara Indunil said the UNP should not have to take the blame for delaying the elections. Even the parliamentary election was not held soon after the end of the 100-day government to help Sirisena consolidate his hold on the SLFP and it had cost the UNP several seats, he said.
Indunil said the UNP will no longer tolerate the delay of elections.
Last month, the Prime Minister too had pressed for holding the much delayed local council elections.
The election due in mid-2015 was delayed because the previous administration had failed to complete legislation to conduct local government polls under a hybrid system replacing proportional representation.
However, the new government too dragged its feet in demarcating electoral boundaries in line with the new law. The delay was a blessing for President Sirisena. It gave him more time to tighten his grip on his party.
UNP backbenchers said they were conscious that their popularity had waned since forming a government in January 2015, but insisted that further delays in local elections could be suicidal.