By Chathuri Dissanayake
United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday insisted that only he commanded the majority in the House needed to form a government, reiterating the need to return to the constitutional framework before the country could opt for elections.
“Only the UNF (United National Front) and I can command that majority today,” Wickremesinghe insisted while speaking at a press conference held at Temple Trees flanked by UNF party leaders, National Union of Workers (NUW) leader Palany Thigambaram, All Ceylon Makkal Congress Leader Rishad Bathiudeen and UNP party seniors.
The ousted Prime Minister Wickremesinghe spoke to the media after talks with President Maithripala Sirisena held on Monday night failed to make headway in easing the deadlock, with Sirisena refusing to reappoint Wickremesinghe.
The UNP leader also emphasised the need to follow the law to ensure the constitutionality of the actions taken, noting that the President could not make decisions based on his preferences.
“A President can’t decide this is what I want. It is a parliamentary government, the Parliament majority decides the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister determines the ministers, so they are all controlled by Parliament,” he said, reinforcing that Sirisena’s move to appoint a new Prime Minister and actions thereafter were unconstitutional.
Noting that two recent court decisions upheld their stance on the need to allow for a constitutional process to be followed, Wickremesinghe said that the UNF was ready to face elections provided a lawful government was established.
“All we want is for the Constitution to be followed,” he stressed.
“First ensure that there is a legitimate government, legitimate according to the Constitution, and thereafter ensure that all parties have come to a consensus on the date of the elections,” Wickremesinghe noted.
Drawing parallels with leaders such as Hitler, Wickremesinghe warned of the dangers of bypassing the Constitution to achieve political goals, pledging that they would not allow this to happen.
“We cannot go beyond the Constitution. Hitler said the people were with him and put the Constitution aside and brought laws to protect his government,” he noted.
“Don’t be like Hitler and some of the other dictators who used referendums and elections and other means of bypassing the Constitution. That we are not ready to do. We are not going to allow anyone to bypass the Constitution. Within the Constitution, act according to the Constitution and act according to the 19th Amendment which was passed jointly by the UNP, UPFA, TNA and JVP.”
Wickremesinghe also noted that his party was ready for elections at any time provided that the process was lawful. Noting that all parties should agree to hold early elections, the UNP leader said that once a legitimate government was in place Parliament could be dissolved with a two-thirds majority.
“All the parties must agree, so we have told the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) to speak to all parties. The JVP has already said there should be an election in 2019. Let’s decide when the date should be, and when there is consensus we will go head; that is all that we have said. First ensure that there is a legitimate government, legitimate according to the Constitution and thereafter to ensure that all parties have come to a consensus on the date of the elections,” Wickremesinghe insisted.
In an apparent reply to the statement made by Mahinda Rajapaksa, who called for an election earlier this week, Wickremesinghe claimed that those who call for elections “without following the Constitution are those who don’t want elections”.
“They are hiding under the cover of elections to hang on to the office and now they have been deprived of that office also.”
Speaking at the media conference, UNP deputy leader Sajith Premadasa urged the President to restore the pre-October status quo to prevent the country from plummeting further into a crisis. Premadasa also accused the current administration of withdrawing funds for housing projects that were initiated under him while allowing unlimited spending on helicopter rides.
Former Health Minister and senior UNP parliamentarian Rajitha Senaratne warned of serious repercussions if the current political crisis was allowed to stagnate, noting that close to 100 medical products were now in short supply in the state health service.