By Meera Srinivasan
Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said he would move a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe next week, and claimed he had the support of some legislators in the PM’s United National Party (UNP).
Declaring that he was close to bringing the government down, Mr. Rajapaksa said: “The UNP’s own members are doing that, I don’t have to do [much].” He was speaking to Colombo-based foreign correspondents at his residence on Thursday.
In late 2016, about two years after his election defeat, the former President had vowed to topple the successor government. The country’s first national unity government helmed by President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe remained stable through 2017 despite tensions.
However, the outcome of the local government elections held in February 2018 pushed the government to a virtual split.
A new party backed by Mr. Rajapaksa outdid both the UNP and Mr. Sirisena’s faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) — the other faction supports Mr. Rajapaksa in Parliament as an opposition block — and secured a majority of local authorities in the island. The partners in the ruling alliance blamed each other for the poor show. While the post-poll split was averted with a compromise between the partners over a cabinet reshuffle, the coalition is fragile.
‘We are with Sirisena’
Asked if he is open to working with President Sirisena, Mr. Rajapaksa said: “If he wants to nominate an SLFP member for PM we will support the candidate… We are with him [Sirisena] at the moment.”
On whether the government had gone soft on cases involving the former first family, Mr. Rajapaksa said: “Why, they have taken action”, pointing to pending corruption cases against his brother and former Minister Basil Rajapaksa and his sons Namal and Yoshitha. Former foreign Minister G.L. Peiris, who was seated by Mr. Rajapaksa’s side, said: “No court has found anyone guilty — all these people spent weeks and months in jail.”
Speaking on the recent anti-Muslim violence in Kandy, Mr. Rajapaksa said while some in the government and sections of international media “were trying to implicate us…, we have nothing to do with it.”
Violence against Muslims has been on the rise in Sri Lanka since 2012. Critics have accused the Rajapaksa administration of protecting the suspects, including a Buddhist monk seen instigating violence. The former President has in the past denied the charges.