President Maithripala Sirisena Saturday announced taking over economic management responsibilities which had been with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for the past three years.
In a surprise move that is certain to further sour relations between him and his coalition, Sirisena said he will manage and guide the economy through an special council he had set up three months ago.
“Although the UNP was allowed to manage the economy in the past three years, from this month, the President will take it over,” Sirisena’s office said in a brief statement.
The statement was based on a speech he had made in Kegalle while campaigning for his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the junior partner in what is known as a “unity” government.
It was not immediately clear if Sirisena will go as far as to take over the three key economy-related portfolios currently held by the UNP.
The all-important National Policies and Economic Affairs portfolio is held by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe while his UNP also holds Finance and Development Strategies and International Trade [portfolios.
There was no immediate reaction from Wickremesinghe or the UNP, but official sources said the Prime Minister was due to address the nation on Sunday when he is likely to refer to the latest crisis within the coalition.
On December 23, Sirisena told his SLFP loyalists that he had decided to carry out the “second stage” of his daring political bravery of defecting from the then strongman president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government in November 2014.
A rank outsider, Sirisena quit his Health ministry portfolio and challenged his former boss at the snap presidential election of January 2015. He won spectacularly with the support of a UNP-led rainbow coalition clamouring for good governance after a decade of autocratic rule.
However, his attempt to extend his term of office by one more year to 2021 was shot down by the Supreme Court last week dealing a blow to his plan to drum up support for his local government election campaign ahead of the February 10 poll.
President Sirisena is already on public record saying that Wickremesinghe’s government could be more corrupt than the previous regime.
Sirisena’s latest move also follows a heated cabinet meeting last week when he accused the UNP of unleashing a smear campaign against him.
Last week, Sirisena re-imposed a four-decade-long ban on women buying liquor, just days after minister Mangala Samaraweera had lifted the restriction.