President Maithripala Sirisena appointed newly sworn-in legislator Piyasena Gamage as state minister for law and order in a move that sought to reduce the authority of a very close ally of the prime minister.
Sirisena, who is at loggerheads with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) gave the influential portfolio to Gamage, a member of the Sirisena-faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
Gamage became a minister after SLFP’s Rajapaksa-faction MP Geetha Kumarasinghe was unseated because she was found to be holding Swiss citizenship at the time of contesting the August 2015 parliamentary elections.
The latest appointment to the law and order ministry came amid SLFP’s criticism of cabinet minister Sagala Ratnayaka, a close ally of Wickremesinghe.
Several ministers have privately accused Ratnayaka of delaying the prosecution of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the former defence secretary, and showing leniency to members of the former first family facing corruption and murder investigations.
Getting an SLFP loyalist to supervise the police ahead of the February local election is also crucial for Sirisena who is in a battle with the Rajapaksa faction to demonstrate who commands more support of among SLFP voters.
Six days ago, Sirisena told SLFP leaders that he has decided to carry out the “second stage” of his daring political bravery of defecting from the then strongman president Rajapaksa’s government in November 2014.
A rank outsider, Sirisena quit his Health ministry portfolio and challenged his former boss at the snap presidential polls of January 2015. He won with the support of a UNP-led rainbow coalition.
On December 22, Sirisena said the way to save the country from the scourge of bribery and corruption was to strengthen the SLFP which he described as the only “clean political force in the country.”
“Without strengthening the SLFP, I don’t see any clean political force that could save the country at this time in its history….
“As I took a courageous and bold decision to leave the (then) government on November 21, 2014, I have today decided to take my next major step. It will be in the interest of the country and its people to ensure a clean political force,” he said.
He said he did not fear consequences of his impending action out of his love for the country and its people.
Since his surprise announcement, he has declared that he will appoint another presidential commission to investigate corruption and mismanagement at Sri Lankan airline and Mihin Lanka.
SLFP sources said the investigation was likely to have a greater focus on Sri Lankan board headed by Ajith Dias, a close college-mate of Wickremesinghe. The Pilots Guild has described Dias as the most inefficient chairman of the airline.
Following Sirisena’s announcement of a probe into the airline all members appointed to its board have said they were willing to resign, but none has actually stepped down and continue to enjoy generous perks, officials said.
Last month, Sirisena suggested that Wickremesinghe’s government could be more corrupt than the previous regime that they toppled together.