I am carrying on as PM: Ranil

Prime Minister to meet President next week; Cabinet reshuffle on the cards

February 16, 2018 10:05 pm | Updated 10:06 pm IST - Colombo

 Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe speaks during a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Friday.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe speaks during a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Friday.

Despite some government MPs threatening to quit if Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe does not resign, the Sri Lankan premier said on Friday that he would stay on, scotching speculation that he may step down.

Following a major setback in a recent local election, legislators of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), a junior coalition partner to Mr. Wicremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) in the national unity government, asked the Prime Minister to take responsibility for the ruling alliance’s drubbing and resign.

“As far as I am concerned, I am carrying on as the Prime Minister under the law and convention. I don’t see any reason why I should not,” he said, in a media briefing at Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister. “This is coalition politics…it is not easy.”

Big setback

Citing the “economic situation” as one of the main reasons for the poor showing of the ruling parties in the local polls, he said a severe drought and the delay in implementing reforms promised in 2015 had led to it.

The government is reading the people’s message closely and will take corrective measures, he said, terming the mid-term polls a “barometer” on public sentiment.

“It is a big setback for us, for the government parties, but we have time to correct it,” he said, adding that he as Prime Minister took responsibility. The country’s first national unity government has two years remaining in its term before the next general election.

In the island-wide local polls held on February 10, the UNP and the SLFP lost a majority of the local bodies to Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), or Sri Lanka People’s Front, a new party backed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The SLPP won 239 councils of the 341 councils which went to the polls. A political crisis soon gripped the uneasy ruling coalition, as the two partners traded blame for the poll debacle.

Some MPs in the two parties have since been keen on a split. Claiming that they can form a single-party government, they have been trying hard over the last few days to muster the majority 113-figure in Parliament.

Party restructuring

However, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said the coalition government would stay. “I have had discussions with President Maithripala Sirisena, I will be meeting him again next week,” he said, adding that a Cabinet reshuffle was on the cards.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said a “massive restructuring” programme will be undertaken with the UNP. A new leadership group will play a greater role to build the party, he added, while political sources indicated that a section of UNP legislators is demanding that Mr. Wickremesinghe step down from the post of party leader, making way for younger members.

Refuting claims that he was being asked to give up the post, he added: “We want a transition without disruption.” Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena cancelled a media heads’ meeting scheduled for Friday morning, where he was expected to make a crucial statement on the current political situation.

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