By Chathuri Dissanayake
A defiant Ranil Wickremesinghe held steadfast to his position as Prime Minister yesterday, following President Maithripala Sirisena’s arbitrary move to swear in Mahinda Rajapaksa as Premier, throwing the country into a constitutional crisis.
In a snap move, Sirisena removed his party from the Coalition Government he had formed with Wickremesinghe three years ago and swore in Rajapaksa as Prime Minister last evening. Heavy security was in force Friday night at the Presidential Secretariat with yellow barricades blocking the entrance and large number of armed Police and Army personnel.
Meanwhile, addressing reporters at Temple Trees, Wickremesinghe asserted: “I am still the Prime Minister.”
“I have the majority of the House and I will continue to function as Prime Minister. No one else can be appointed according to the Constitution,” Wickremesinghe told reporters after meeting with party members.
“It is up to the Parliament now. The future can only be decided by Parliament. I defeated the no-confidence motion. They have to bring a no-confidence motion or show their majority. The people have given a mandate, we can discuss and move forward.”
Wickremesinghe insisted that the Coalition Government was formed by three parties – the United National Front (UNF), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). “Only one party has left,” he said.
Responding to questions, Wickremesinghe appeared unperturbed by the sudden change of circumstances, insisting, “In politics you have to be ready for anything.” He also expressed willingness to “work with anyone”.
Wickremesinghe also dismissed there was any instability created by Rajapaksa’s appointment, insisting the mandate given him in 2015 still remained intact. He made the statement following a hasty meeting with the UNP Parliamentary group at Temple Trees in the late hours of the evening.
As the United National Party members scrambled to make sense of the unfolding events, the United People’s Alliance withdrew from the Government, effectively ending the coalition partnership following a decision taken at an UPFA Parliamentarians’ meeting held Friday afternoon.
“The decision to withdraw from the Government was taken at the UPFA Parliamentarians’ meeting; the decision to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new PM was also taken at the same meeting,” Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) General Secretary Prof. Rohana Lakshman told Daily FT.
Following the meeting the President swore in former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister.
The swearing-in was carried out in the presence of several SLFP ministers, notably former SLFP General Secretary Dumiida Dissanayake, UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera and several Joint Opposition MPs, including Thilanga Sumathipala.
Rajapaksa addressing the public said the people requested a take over of the Government. “We request the UNP to respect democracy, respect the country and respect the law,” he added.
President Sirisena has sent a letter to Ranil Wickremesinghe removing him from the post of Prime Minister.
The letter informed Wickremesinghe that he has been removed as the Prime Minister with immediate effect according to Clause (42) 4 of the Constitution. Sirisena stated that as the appointing authority of the Prime Minister, he has the power to remove Wickremesinghe from the post.
The UNP media unit said that Ranil Wickremesinghe had sent a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena asserting his position as the Prime Minister and continues in the same confidence in Parliament as outlined in the Constitution.
The UPFA Parliamentarians were confident of forming a new government and showing a majority.
“We will have majority and we can show it,” MP Dayasiri Jayasekara told Daily FT. He also said that there were no conditions laid out in the decision to appoint Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister.
The President’s Office claims Cabinet will be dissolved, while Jayasekara confirmed a new Cabinet would be appointed soon.
Calling the new appointment unconstitutional, Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera speaking to media asserted that UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe still remains the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.
“According to the current Constitution, the only way to remove a serving prime minister is when the prime minister dies, resigns, or cannot show majority in Parliament. The appointment that was made without fulfilling any of these conditions is not only illegal, but Ranil Wickremesinghe is still the Prime Minister as per the Constitution,” he said.
The senior UNP Parliamentarian also claimed that the Party had requested Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to convene Parliament on Sunday to demonstrate its majority in Parliament.
“We have asked for an opportunity to show our majority in Parliament, we have asked to convene the Parliament at least on Sunday to enable us to show our majority and to end this crisis,” he said.
The Media Minister also confirmed that all State media had been taken over by Rajapaksa supporters and employees of the institutions harassed.
Both State media broadcasting channels Sri Lanka Rupavahini and Independent Television Network have gone off air after being taken over by mobs, Samaraweera confirmed.
Staff members of Government print publication Lake House has been harassed and threatened, with the institution being taken over by mobs as well.
However, Samaraweera dismissed any unrest, insisting that Police and Army were still under the control of the Government and the UNP remained in control of the Government, assuring law and order would be maintained.
Nonetheless, IGP Pujith Jayasundara and Senior DIG M.R Latiff met with Rajapaksa to discuss the security situation as well.