by Norman Palihawadana and Shamindra Ferdinando
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was yesterday sworn in as Prime Minister by President Maithripala Sirisena.
Newly elected Prime Minister Rajapaksa told The Island last night that the new government was faced with daunting challenges but it would overcome them all.
Rajapaksa said that action would be taken to hold long overdue Provincial Council polls and national polls in due course. Presidential polls are is scheduled for 2019 and parliamentary polls for 2020.
Rajapaksa assured that the new government would address public grievances.
The new PM was sworn in at the Presidential Secretariat at 7.20 pm soon after the UPFA had informed Speaker Karu Jayasuriya of its decision to quit the UNP-led National Unity Government.
Among those who accompanied Rajapaksa for the swearing-in ceremony were Basil Rajapaksa and Chairman of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Prof. G.L. Peiris.
Sources close to President Sirisena told The Island that the SLFP group loyal to President Sirisena had unanimously decided to leave the government. Sirisena commanded the support of 24 SLFP MPs. In addition to them, the President had the backing of two CWC members.
Previously, Rajapaksa was the PM from 2004 to 2005, when he went on to become the President. Rajapaksa contested the last parliamentary election 2015 August as the UPFA’s prime ministerial candidate but could not secure a working majority in parliament.
Parliament is scheduled to meet in the first week of November, but speculation was rife last night that President Sirisena might prorogue it.
The UPFA group in parliament comprises 95 elected and appointed MPs.
MP Dayasiri Jayasekera said last night that the move made by President Sirisena and his predecessor should be examined against the backdrop of alleged conspiracy targeting President Sirisena.
The UNP had 107 MPs, including one elected on the SLMC ticket. One of its MPs yesterday pledged his support to PM Rajapaksa.
The UNP group includes seven SLMC and five All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) MPs. Party sources told The Island that the SLMC and the ACMC parliamentary groups were having talks at the time this edition went to press.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the JVP parliamentary groups, supportive of the UNP in parliament, consist of 16 and 06, respectively.
Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa last night threw his weight behind the move which took the country by surprise. He said that the new coalition could help rebuild the country.
Political sources told The Island that the current political turmoil could affect plans to present budget 2019 on Nov 5.
Last night around 10.35 Presidential Secretariat released one page letter sent by President Sirisena to Wickremesinghe. President Sirisena said he had removed Wickremesinghe from the post of PM with immediate effect in terms of powers vested in him.
Addressing a large crowd of Rajapaksa supporters outside the official residence of former President Rajapaksa, MP Wimal Weerawansa asked the UNP leaders to leave office or face the consequences. He said the people would take to the streets.
State Power and Renewable Energy Minister Ajith P Perera last night claimed at Temple Trees that the UNP had received assurances from the TNA, SLMC, ACMC and Mano Ganeshan’s party.
UNP MP Ananda Aluthgamage last declared from Wijerama residence that there were many UNP MPs ready to back President Sirisena and PM Rajapaksa. Elected from the Kandy District, he was the first UNPer to switch allegiance to the Sirisena-Rajapaksa duo.
UNP Colombo District MP Hirunika Premachandra told media briefing at Temple Trees she couldn’t understand how Sirisena, after accusing the Rajapaksas of planning to eliminate in case of his defeat at 2015 presidential election could appoint such a person PM.
A senior military official told The Island that the military had not been called in to beef up security in Colombo.