President Maithripala Sirisena’s recent outburst against his government’s investigation arms shocked many within political circles here, sparking speculation over a perceived rift between him and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. However, days after the two leaders met in Colombo top political sources said the ruling SLFP-UNP coalition faced no imminent danger of a split.
“The meeting went very well, it was very smooth,” Finance Minister and UNP politician Ravi Karunanayake told The Hindu on Saturday. Confirming reports that the two leaders decided to jointly head a new committee that will look into various priorities of the government, he said contrary to “media rumours” the leaders had no differences. “Our enemy is Mahinda Rajapaksa, not anybody within this government.”
It all began with President Sirisena slamming the country’s Bribery Commission and Police on Wednesday for “working to political agendas”, without keeping him informed. Reportedly displeased with the summoning of former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and three Navy commanders to court, Mr. Sirisena said: “There was a purpose in setting up these independent commissions. Those serving the commissions should know the limits and scope of their work.” He was speaking at an event organised by the Defence Ministry.
Responding to his statement, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa – brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa – told BBC’ Sinhala service that he was happy that the President “had finally understood the truth” about the institutions probing corruption. The leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), currently in opposition, said such statements would only weaken criminal investigations and prosecutions.
While Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is yet to respond in public, the two leaders met in Colombo Thursday evening. Senior members of President Sirisena’s Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Mr. Wickremesinghe-led United National Party participated.
It is almost two years since President Sirisena came to power on the promise of good governance, ousting former President Rajapaksa and he is faced with two key tasks -- maintaining a necessary political equation with the UNP which led their coalition, the United National Front for Good Governance, to victory in 2015; and holding the SLFP together keeping future elections in mind. This, amid apparent efforts by Mr. Rajapaksa to strengthen his support base within the party ahead of the local government polls in 2017.
“President Sirisena is a strong SLFP-er at heart. He is keen on preventing a split in the party,” a top source in his office told The Hindu, requesting anonymity. “At the same time, the President knows how crucial his current political alliance with the UNP is. The President came to power with the UNP’s help.”