By Chathuri Dissanayake and Nuwan Senaratne
President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday stood by his Prime Minister, insisting that he had the 113 MPs needed to hold Parliament and defended the move as a last ditch effort coming after he had offered the position to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and UNP MP Sajith Premadasa.
Thousands of supporters flocked to show support to President Maithripala Sirisena’s controversial move to appoint President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s as Prime Minister on Monday. As traffic police cordoned off parts of Parliament Road to facilitate the rally with tight security, busloads of Rajapaksa loyalists gathered at the Parliament Roundabout despite continuous rain to show support to the newly formed union.
The rally, named ‘Ratama Rakina Jana Mahimaya’, organised to show the strength of the Mahinda camp as the faceoff between the two Prime Ministers intensified, was participated by a majority of the higher echelons of United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), with majority airtime being dominated by the members of the latter.
Getting on the same stage together, four years after bitter rivalries began in the later part of 2014, both Sirisena and Rajapaksa expressed ‘happiness’ of being back in the same camp after ‘brief animosity’.
The President said he was determined not to be deterred by any challenge and vowed to not back down from the steps he had taken to appoint former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister, claiming the appointment and the sacking of sitting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe which preceded it were both legal and constitutional and was done following consultation with legal experts.
“I will not take my steps back, despite challenges. Let’s protect and build our country together,” Sirisena told the cheering crowds soaking in the rain.
Speaking at the rally held in gloomy weather, the President told thousands of Rajapaksa supporters that he offered the job to both Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa before settling for Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“When the Speaker asked me, ‘did you not have any other alternative, except for Mahinda Rajapaksa?’ I responded, ‘Speaker don’t you remember? I gave you that solution. After the Local Government election, then during the No-Confidence Motion taken in the Parliament against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, I asked you to take over the Premiership.”
Outlining his fallout with Premier Wickremesinghe, Sirisena said that the ideological and cultural differences were irreconcilable and needed change.
“I was not just changing two individuals. The change was from a vision that was not according to our culture and norms, that didn’t suit us, which was formed under foreign agenda, to a vision which upholds local culture and values,” he said.
Alleging that the UNP’s outward-looking economic policies, which included negotiations on free trade agreements, were undermining the independence of the country, Sirisena also insisted he was not ready to work according to foreign agendas. He also said that during the last three-and-a-half years had suppressed the working people of the country through Ranil Wickremesinghe’s economic policies that included tax increases and inconsistent policymaking.
He charged that Ranil Wickremesinghe had created a situation where only the elite class of the country could live well while the rest of the country was pushed into more constrained economic circumstances.
The President pointed out that Wickremesinghe had followed an extremely limited policy in governing and forgot the local culture to solve the problems that prevailed in the country. The President charged that Wickremesinghe, together with a few close associates, made critical decisions, leaving out Sirisena and other senior members of Cabinet.
He pointed out that he had taken the decision to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister by himself. “I took the decision to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa, not just according to my fancy, but after seeking expert opinion, seeking legal advice, and after it was deemed unconstitutional.”
He asserted that he and Rajapaksa had to free the people from the suppressive economic policies of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
“We can see that over 80% of the people of this country are with us on the decision we took. We ask Ranil Wickremesinghe to let the people decide what they want.”
Sirisena said that he and Mahinda Rajapaksa would solve the problems of the people from North and East of the country for a better future.
“Those who have been in the Cabinet know how difficult it was to commence the project to build 50,000 houses for the North. Ministers of the Cabinet have been fighting to get the ownership of the project.”
He also went on to say that he and Mahinda Rajapaksa would work to strengthen the friendship with India while accusing Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Ministers of trying to break the relationship with India.
Speaking at the rally, Mahinda Rajapaksa said he appreciated the President’s decision to join them.
“This is a very serious decision. I told him that if I was him, I wouldn’t have done it. I would have managed.”
He pointed out that the separation was temporary and they had known each other since the 1970s. The taxes imposed by the coalition Government had led to increases in the cost of living, which was one of the biggest challenges people had to bear, he added.
“I went to the Finance Ministry and checked if we could remove the taxes. It was possible and we have done so. They could have done the same.”
Rajapaksa said Wickremesinghe did not care about the well-being of the citizens of the country. “We have come together to work towards the prosperity of the country.”
He also urged the minorities to work with him to form a Government for the future.