At least three recent developments appear to have incrementally led to President Maithripala Sirisena’s sudden decision on Friday, to sack Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replace him with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
According to top political sources in Colombo it was “a statement”, “a rejection” and “a press conference” that escalated tensions to the brim.
While Sri Lankans knew how fragile their national unity government was, three years since it ascended to power, few expected the fallout to manifest at this time and in this manner. A Rajapaksa-Sirisena regrouping has been on the cards and local media widely reported that they met recently, to discuss an alliance.
All the same, there was no certainty about their coming together, given the complex dynamic between the duo since 2015, when Mr. Sirisena defected from Mr. Rajapaksa’s government and dislodged him. As they joined hands to claim power on Friday, apparently challenging constitutional and parliamentary logic, it was a jolt to many, including some of Mr. Sirisena’s own supporters.
How did the said three factors contribute to the current political crisis?
According to sources close to Mr. Sirisena, “the end” of the unity government began a week ago. Mr. Wickremesinghe’s strongly-worded statement from New Delhi soon after his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 20, precipitated the final crisis before the fall.
“The statement seemed targeted at the President, almost holding him directly responsible for the delay in Indian projects here,” a Colombo-based political source said, requesting anonymity. Reportedly, the PM had not consulted the President’s office before releasing the message that surprised New Delhi too.
On Thursday, Sri Lanka’s Constitutional Council rejected two of Mr. Sirisena’s nominees for vacancies at the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.
On Friday, Sri Lanka police held a special media briefing on the alleged assassination plot targeting Mr. Sirisena – a matter that had caused a storm at last week’s cabinet meeting. Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara told press persons that CID investigations of police informant Namal Kumar’s phone recordings – Mr. Kumara had earlier claimed awareness of the “plot”– had no evidence linking any of the recordings to the said conspiracy. Sources indicated that the police’s message appeared to “belittle” a life threat to the Head of State.
“It was perhaps the cumulative effect of all these different developments,” said a top government source who did not wish to be named.
State media ‘taken over’
Meanwhile State-owned Lake House newspapers were taken over by the Rajapaksa-backed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) trade unions late Friday, the Daily FT here reported.
The State-run Daily News on Saturday led with the story ‘Mahinda Sworn in as PM’ indicating that the newspaper is no longer controlled by the Media Ministry helmed by the UNP’s Mangala Samaraweera. Mr. Samaraweera, in a tweet, had termed Friday’s political developments “an anti-democratic coup”.
Reuters news agency reported that State-run Rupavahini television station went off-air “briefly” when three ministers, including Mr. Samaraweera and Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne, prepared for a live telecast.
Sources close to Mr. Rajapaksa claimed that a new cabinet of ministers would be discussed Saturday morning.