Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe turned tables on dissidents within his own party and managed to head off a challenge to his leadership after the party’s humiliating defeat at local council elections.
More than a dozen dissidents went into his Temple Trees official residence to read the riot act to Wickremesinghe, but meekly walked out saying they had endorsed his leadership.
They even went as far as to suggest that it would be better for the party to form a government on its own with members of President Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
The private Sirasa television station which had been intensely campaigning for Wickremesinghe’s removal had rushed a television crew to broadcast live what they suggest was the imminent fall of the Prime Minister.
Instead, Wickremesinghe out manoeuvred his opponents and got them to sign letters declaring their support. This is to be presented to Sirisena as proof that the UNP was fully behind the premier.
Despite claims that Sirisena wanted Wickremesinghe to step down soon after election results were known on Sunday, there is no provision in the constitution for the President to sack the Prime Minister unless through a resolution backed by a majority of members of parliament.
The 19th amendment also means that the president cannot sack even a minister without the concurrence of the prime minister. Obviously aware of the constitutional constrains on him, Sirisena has left the future of the government in the premier’s hand.
The UNP has now informed Sirisena they will continue with the current government without any changes and SLFP ministers were welcome to stay or go.
However, the next few days are thought to be decisive for the UNP as seniors raise their voice and demand changes in the party hierarchy.