Sri Lanka power struggle: Can’t work with Ranil, says President Sirisena

Rajapaksa was only third choice, says Sirisena

Updated - December 03, 2021 10:21 am IST

Published - November 25, 2018 04:14 pm IST - Colombo

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena addresses the Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) in Colombo on November 25, 2018.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena addresses the Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) in Colombo on November 25, 2018.

President Maithripala Sirisena on Sunday said he cannot work with Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister “ever”, virtually ruling out a parliamentary resolution to Sri Lanka’s month-long political crisis.

“Even if his party [UNP] has the majority, I have told them not to bring Ranil Wickremesinghe before me, I will not make him Prime Minister,” he told Colombo-based foreign correspondents. “Not in my lifetime,” he asserted, exactly a month after he controversially sacked Mr. Wickremesinghe, installing former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the office. 

All the same, President Sirisena stated that Mr. Rajapaksa was only his third choice, after Karu Jayasuriya, the Speaker and former UNP politician, and UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa declined to be made Premier. “I didn’t have any other option,” he said, as he sought to justify Mr. Rajapaksa’s disputed appointment.

Since October 26, Mr. Rajapaksa has effectively lost four votes in the legislature, including two trust votes whose outcomes Mr. Sirisena has refused to accept, citing “breach of parliamentary procedure”.  

Long-simmering discord 

Mr. Sirisena’s differences with Mr. Wickremesinghe – which he said were not recent but began in 2015 after they jointly formed government – were pegged largely to two issues: Mr. Wickremesinghe’s “ corruption and destructive neoliberal economic policy ”, and his “attempt to underplay” the alleged assassination plot targeting the President.


There were “over 100 instances” of tension – both major and minor -- between the two leaders, and the cabinet was aware of their friction, said Mr. Sirisena.  

However, following the crisis Mr. Wickremesinghe said he was willing to work with Mr. Sirisena , as the Constitution didn’t provide for “personal prejudices”.

Asked how he could partner with Mr. Rajapaksa –  whom he has earlier accused of mass corruption and possible murder – President Sirisena said: “If you look at accusations made in the past, no two politicians can work together…we have now agreed on a common future course for our country. Just the way Ranil and I had agreed in 2015, despite our very different political paths.”

Tamil concerns

On whether he could fulfil promises on long-pending post war reconciliation given that he is now partnering Mr. Rajapaksa, who the minorities emphatically rejected in 2015, Mr. Sirisena said: “Irrespective of who I am with, I take the fullest responsibility for that. I have asked the military to fully vacate people’s land by the end of the year, and have given directions to the task force on the north and east to expedite development efforts.”


While the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration has returned some of the military-held private land to war-affected Tamils, civilians have been protesting incessantly to reclaim their land that still remains under military occupation. Those who have returned to their original land have received little support to rebuild their destroyed homes. Though demands for the release of political prisoners detained for long periods without being charged grew loud in the last year, there has been no official response yet.  

Further, on the fate of ongoing investigations into high-profile cases of abductions, killings of journalists and large-scale corruption – with alleged links to Mr. Rajapaksa’s family –  Mr. Sirisena said “no one can interfere” in those cases. It was Mr. Wickremesinghe and his earlier Law and Order Minister “who stalled” those investigations, he said. 

Further, he spoke of setting up a new commission to probe “corruption under Mr. Wickremesinghe” from January 2015 to October 2018.


Despite critics and several legal experts raising serious question about the constitutional validity of Mr. Sirisena’s moves since October 26 – arbitrarily sacking the incumbent PM, proroguing and subsequently dissolving Parliament – the President said he had sought legal experts’ opinion and claimed “there was no violation” of the Constitution.

On December 7, the Supreme Court is scheduled to deliver its verdict on the validity of his dissolution of the Parliament.

Meanwhile, Mr. Rajapaksa, in an address on Sunday at the Prime Minister’s office that he has occupied since his disputed appointment, said his “new administration” was only a “caretaker government” until snap general elections. He sought wide support for his attempts “to get the country out of the current economic crisis”.

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