When the House was debating the 47th No-Confidence Motion in the Sri Lankan Parliament’s history and the third against a Prime Minister last Wednesday (4) lots of other dramas were taking place on the corridors, in committee rooms and at the lobby.
One such took place in a committee room in Parliament where the weekly Cabinet media briefing took place.
Co-Cabinet spokesmen Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and Minister Gayantha Karunathilaka were seen engaged in an animated discussion minutes before the press conference with Government Information Director General Sudharshana Gunawardena also being present.
The crux of the matter was not known to many until an apparent unintended video went viral on social media and other news websites
The video recorded shows the two Ministers having a private conversion not knowing what they were saying was being recorded as the mikes in the room were switched off.
In the video, recorded, Senaratne and Karunathilaka were seen discussing the decision taken by some Sri Lanka Freedom Party members to back the motion.
Senaratne was heard being critical of the Venerable Athuraliye Rathana Thera and also making comments about Ministers Dilan Perera and Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena. He asked Minister Karunathilaka, who is also the Chief Government Whip as to why time was allocated for Ven. Rathana Thera. “Mokatada dunne…denna epa…” (Why did you give time to that one? Don’t give) was what Senaratne said.
The best part comes next, where Senaratne told Karunathilaka that he had advised the Prime Minister not to even bend down to the President.
“I told him not to bend before even the President. Stay straight and if there is any problem I will handle it. (Mama kiwwa agamethi thumata janadhipathita unath newenna epa kiyala. Oba thuma kelin weda karanna monawa hari prashnayak awoth mata bhara denna mama balagannam…)” he said.
As if by taking Senaratne’s words seriously a group of UNP ministers went to meet President Maithripala Sirisena on Thursday night had tried to be ‘tough’ with the latter and demand the ouster of SLFP Ministers who voted in favour of the NCM only to be in for a surprise.
Sirisena has warned the UNP not to bring No-Confidence Motions against the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Ministers who voted in favour of the No-Faith Motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, saying that there was a proposal on forming a Government by finding 113 Parliamentarians from the Joint Opposition (JO) and the SLFP under the Premiership of former President and incumbent MP Mahinda Rajapaksa.
If the UNP goes ahead with the No-Confidence Motions against the SLFP Ministers, he would have to consider about approving that proposal, the President had warned the UNP. The group of UNP Ministers including Mangala Samaraweera, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and Malik Samarawaickrama had gone to meet the President at his official residence.
During the meeting, Minister Kariyawasam had told the President that because the SLFP Ministers are too critical about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, they cannot be allowed to sit in the Cabinet any further.
The President had criticized the UNP Ministers and said if such was the case Ministers such as Mangala Sanaraweera and Harin Fernando also cannot sit in the Cabinet.
They also have criticized me severely in public. If you want to sack the SLFP Ministers for criticizing the Prime Minister, then these UNP Ministers also cannot sit in the Cabinet according to your logic, the President had noted.
He had said if the Collective Agreement of the Cabinet is seriously taken into consideration, he will be in trouble without being able to find 30 members to form the Cabinet, as everyone violates it. According to sources present a particular minister who was at the receiving end of President Sirisena’s outrage had not only apologized for being naïve and vocal but had knelt down and worshiped the President when leaving.
President Sirisena said that he and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had met on 5 April night and resolved to iron out their differences and continue with the Unity Government.
Addressing the media on Friday (6) in Colombo, he said that he and Wickremesinghe had agreed that there would be a comprehensive Cabinet reshuffle next week. The reshuffle “will be on a scientific basis,” he said as there were Ministries that had subjects grouped together that made no sense.
“There are three sugar-producing plants and they are in three different Ministries,” he said.
President Sirisena did not indicate whether there would be a change of personnel, but said that there would be a reallocation of responsibilities.
He said that there had been irritations and differences between the two Parties in the Government, but he and the Premier had decided to iron out these issues and proceed with the Government. They decided to appoint a committee made up of members of both Parties to look into these issues and find solutions, he added.
On the vexatious issue of whether the SLFP Ministers who supported the No-Confidence Motion against Wickremesinghe would be allowed to stay in the Cabinet, Sirisena was not clear whether that would happen.
He said that he strongly believes the SLFP should stay in the Government in the interest of the people and the country.
“My aim is to make the Government strong. It does not matter to me whether a Minister voted for the No-Faith Motion or not. I need to make the Government strong to face the challenges that we have to face in the near future,” he added.
The President denied knowledge of a demand being made by 33 United National Front Parliamentarians that the SLFP Ministers, who supported the No-Confidence Motion, be removed from the Cabinet. He said that the SLFP Central Committee will meet on 9 April to decide whether the Party would stay in the Unity Government or leave.
As we reported in the past few days, in response to the United National Party (UNP) demand, that the pro-No Confidence Motion SLFPers should quit the Government, several of them have said that they would go only if the President wanted them out. Official sources told Ceylon Today that President Sirisena has asked all the SLFP Ministers to stay with the Unity Government.
The SLFP Members first mooted the idea of leaving the Unity Government in December 2017, the President said. But they had decided to stay on until the Local Government Elections were over, he added.
After the Polls, there was a movement among the SLFP Members in the Government who had wanted to leave, that they should propose a Motion of No-Confidence against the Prime Minister, and there was also a group within the UNP which also wanted this, he added.
“In addition, the SLFP and United People’s Freedom Alliance MPs, who are sitting in the Opposition, also met me and said that they can bring forth a majority of Members against the Prime Minister and therefore I should remove him. My reply was that according to the Constitution, the Prime Minister is the person who has the majority in the House and that has to be tested,” he went on to say.
“As the President of the country, my duty to the people is to ensure that there is a strong and stable Government. Weakening the Government is not what I wish to do.”
The President pointed out that since 2015 no single political party has garnered enough seats in the Parliament to form a Government on its own. “Therefore we need to form a Government by asking other parties to join us and strengthen the Government.”
“I call on all the 225 MPs to join the Government and make it strong and stable,” he said.
President Sirisena admitted that due to various reasons, the efficiency of the Government has been affected by the political uncertainty that started with the Local Government Elections in February. “After that we had the disturbances in the Kandy District and thereafter the No-Confidence Motion. While developmental efforts are going on, it could have been better.”
On the same night, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe asked the UNP Members of Parliament, who filed seven No-Confidence Motions against SLFP Cabinet Ministers, who voted in favour of a similar motion against the PM in Parliament on Wednesday night, to withdraw the motions.
A Press release issued by the Director General of the Department of Information said that the PM has issued this directive.
The UNP had filed the motions as these SLFP Ministers had opposed the Prime Minister during the NCM and they had felt that they should not sit in Cabinet.
The Central Committee of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) will meet tomorrow (9) to take a final decision on whether to quit the Unity Government, with the United National Party, or to continue.
The Central Committee meeting was fixed to discuss recent political developments following the No-Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, which saw a clear division in the SLFP’s Government ranks.
The 16 SLFP Parliamentarians, who voted in favour of the No-Confidence Motion (NCM), against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, have handed over a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena requesting that they be relieved of their positions within the Unity Government, but be allowed to remain in the Party. Minister of Sports Dayasiri Jayasekera told Ceylon Today that the letter was sent to the President on Thursday (5).
“If the President permits, the 16 of us are prepared to quit our positions in the Government and sit with the Opposition. However, we have not yet received a response from the President,” he said.
Minister Jayasekara said that President Sirisena however told the group that the matter should be forwarded to, and discussed at, the Central Committee. The group is to demand that the SLFP, as a party, including those who were absent on the day of the NCM vote, should resign from the Government.
Asked as to whether they are only resigning from the ministerial portfolios, several ministers, including Jayasekara, said, “We want to resign from our portfolios and sit in the Opposition.”
Ministers Dayasiri Jayasekera, S.B. Dissanayake, Susil Premajayantha, John Seneviratne, Chandima Weerakkody and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa voted in favour of the NCM brought against the Prime Minister on 4 April. State Ministers Dilan Perera and T.B. Ekanayake, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardana along with Deputy Ministers Sudharshani Fernandopulle, Anuradha Jayaratne, Sumedha G. Jayasena, Susantha Punchinilame and Tharanath Basnayake also voted in favour of the No-Faith motion against the PM.
On the other hand, the much anticipated changes in the United National Party leadership have become a damp squib, with the Party’s Working Committee and the Parliamentary Group, which met at Party Headquarters, Sirikotha, last evening, deciding to continue with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as their leader.
The decision was reached following lengthy discussions and Wickremesinghe pointing out that a new leader, who would take the reins of the Party, would not have adequate time to lead the Party to victory at the 2020 Presidential Election. Therefore, the Party had decided to hold a general convention before 30 April to appoint new office-bearers. Accordingly, new individuals will be appointed to key positions, including the Chairperson, General Secretary, Treasurer, National Organizer and three deputy leaders.
Meanwhile, the ongoing three-day discussion, which started last Friday at the Temple Trees, to propose means and ways of reforming the Party, will conclude today.
According to Party sources, it has been proposed to have an open vote to appoint all office-bearers and the Party leader but the proposal had to be put-off last evening.
However, apart from major changes, it has been agreed to give a large portion of party’s responsibilities to Housing Minister Sajith Premedasa.
These include operational work of the Party in view of future elections and so on. Meanwhile, Minister Ranjith Maddumabandara has been tasked with identifying key issues and coming up with a proper plan to take the Party closer to the masses and what the public actually expect from the party.
Meanwhile, the backbenchers who vociferously demanded a radical change in Party’s leadership expressed their disappointment over the latest decision of the party.
“The Prime Minister came up with a strategy to win the No-Confidence Motion and we voted in his favour, at the last minute, keeping faith in him. However, we are disillusioned by this decision. He will continue as the Party leader and the Prime Minister till 2020,” State Minister Palitha Range Bandara said.
A group of backbenchers, led by State Ministers Range Bandara and Vasantha Senanayake demanded that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe step down from the party leadership paving the way for youngsters.
They also threatened to support the NCM, in the event Wickremesinghe did not step down. However, they opted to vote in Wickremesinghe’s favour and against the NCM following an alleged assurance by Wickremesinghe that party reforms would take place soon after the NCM. Keeping his promise Wickremesinghe initiated discussions on Friday.